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If you live in or have traveled through Phoenix since November 2019, you’ve probably seen Waymo — the world’s first driver-less taxi service — at work. Developed by Alphabet (the parent company of Google), these autonomous cabs navigate freely throughout the city, reacting in real time to changes in their environments. Powered by some of the most advanced artificial intelligence in the world, these vehicles stop at stoplights, avoid collisions, and safely transport passengers to their destinations.

Pretty amazing, right?

Considering this, here’s a basic question to ask yourself before engaging in your next SEO strategy: Do you really think the same company that builds these remarkable automobiles needs you to stuff your page with keywords to understand what it’s about?

Demystifying Google’s Algorithm

There’s sadly an abundance of misinformation regarding how Google determines its search rankings. So much so that it can deter B2B companies away from thoughtfully creating SEO strategies and optimizing their digital channels. While there are undoubtedly a ton of nuances that go into building an effective SEO program, why Google makes the decisions it does is actually pretty straightforward.  

Google is a business, just like any other. And their algorithm is just a product. Their searchers are just customers. (Technically, advertisers are their customers, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.) Good businesses offer the best products they can to keep their customers as happy as possible. The major updates Google makes to its algorithm are done for that exact reason: to keep customers coming back again and again. 

And they’re really good at that. Keep in mind, Google still controls nearly 90% of the search engine marketplace. They didn’t do that by arbitrarily determining how many keywords need to be crammed into your page copy or whether you used all 150 characters in your meta description.  

Still don’t believe me? Take the word of John Mueller, Google’s webmaster trends analyst and SEO spokesperson, who ranked “awesomeness” as one of the company’s most important ranking factors.

SEO in 2020 Is All About the Individual User

It’s estimated that Google receives roughly 70,000 searches per second. Even more mind-blowing: 15% of all of those searches are from phrases Google has never seen before. How can this be?
For starters, Google’s command of the search engine market yields them roughly 1 billion active monthly users. Simply put, the scales we’re talking about here really are that large. 

For another, the average person’s search habits have become increasingly sophisticated over time. Consider how you might have searched for a pizza place 10 years ago. Maybe you just searched “pizza places near me”. 

Today’s searchers know that they can be a lot more specific than this in order to receive search results that are the most meaningful to them. Now you may search for “pizza parlors near me that offer vegan cheese alternatives”. Or maybe you’re speaking directly to your mobile device to not only find the perfect restaurant, but to know how to get there as well: “Ok Google, get me directions to the coolest pizza place in Dayton, Ohio”. (Spoiler alert: it’s Pizza Factory.)

Rethink SEO at Its Core

The little linguistic nuances described herein can easily spin hundreds of thousands of variations. Every person is unique, and consequently their search terms are unique. Our goal as marketers shouldn’t be to fixate on the handful of keywords that we’re most comfortable using. It should be to account for the beautiful complexities of language and offer content that will show up for whatever phrase a user might type into their search bar, as long as it’s a relevant fit.  
How do we do that? Here are two basic rules to follow: 

  1. User intent is more important than keywords. 
  2. User experience is more important than “best practices”. 

That’s not to say keywords don’t matter anymore. They’re still hugely helpful in determining if/where audiences exist and how they may broadly be talking about your products or services. Even light keyword insertion into your page’s elements (copy, header tags, title tags, etc.) still has some merit. There are just so many other higher-impact aspects to explore that can separate a modern SEO program from an outdated one.

What Google Cares About (and Doesn’t)

“Awesome” is obviously an ambiguous target to hit. This can either be frustratingly vague or inspirationally freeing, depending on how you look at it. But that’s entirely the point. The SEO industry is still rife with tactics that drag the user experience down in order to fit into pre-packaged, watered-down campaigns. Automated tools promise cookie-cutter content templates, the perfect “keyword densities” and the right “backlink profiles”. Companies waste thousands of dollars on keyword ranking reports that track only the tiniest fraction of what users may actually be using to find you — while neglecting whether or not truly meaningful business results are being achieved. 

In our webinar, “5 New Principles of SEO”, we’ll explore more of this philosophical framework to help structure your SEO program for success. We’ll also cover things we know Google looks for when determining “awesomeness”, including:

  • Brand reputability
  • Content development
  • Natural language
  • User engagement
  • Technical website performance