At this point, it is important to understand that SEO has fundamentally changed over the past few years. Google search is now powered by semantic search, and an SEO strategy that may have worked well in the past is not an indicator of SEO success today. In fact, using a strategy that might have generated a top Google ranking in 2010 could very well see your website penalized by Google and even delisted from the search engine index.
In the early days when Google was a purely keyword-driven search engine, SEO revolved around two primary constants: keywords and backlinks. Keywords were important to establish relevance to a search query, whilst links were needed to help the website rise in the search rankings.
Although this is an oversimplification of the Google search ranking process, it is safe to say that keywords and links were the main drivers of SEO, which made it relatively easy to game the system.
Black hat SEOs did so by purchasing hundreds of aged domains to create massive private blog networks (PBNs) that were used purely to generate artificial links. This type of black hat SEO strategy was so successful that there was a three to five year period when PBNs of this nature were used to dominate the Google front page.
The Hummingbird update in particular was not just a regular update like previous updates before it. In fact, it was a complete restructuring of the Google ranking algorithm that incorporated all of the most powerful updates before it, including Panda and Penguin.
The Hummingbird algorithm introduced semantic search with Google+ at its core. This has completely transformed SEO into a socially-driven and complex amalgamation of processes. This requirement has made it difficult for spammy tactics to thrive on the Google search engine as was the case in the past.
Google further complicated matters by introducing artificial intelligence into its SEO ranking algorithm. It stepped into artificial intelligence with semantic search and the Knowledge Graph, and Google’s acquisition of the UK-based artificial intelligence outfit DeepMind for $400 million has made Google even better at identifying manufactured links. As a result, Google’s effectiveness in search and the ranking algorithm is now light-years beyond what it used to be.
SEO Is Based On Trial and Error
No one outside Google knows what it takes to guarantee a top Google search ranking. Google’s ranking algorithms are a closely guarded secret, and for obvious reasons, Google doesn’t provide any clues whatsoever on how to rank a website on its search engine.
What Google has provided however, is a list of webmaster guidelines which is a list of manipulative tactics that could lead to your site being penalized or worse, removed entirely from its index of the web. It is critically important to understand that once a website has been penalized by Google, it will never attain a high organic search ranking, even when the penalty has been removed.
Search engine optimisation techniques have been in a constant state of flux due to the ferocity of Google’s frequent algorithm updates. Consequently, every tactic and strategy that SEO practitioners have been using to rank websites for the most part has been based on trial and error.
It has therefore been necessary to continue testing and evolving SEO techniques and strategies in response to those updates to find out exactly what works in SEO. This involves devising new strategies and assessing results on a constant basis.
This now begs the big question: how in the world can you safely get to the top of Google’s search results without contravening any of Google’s strict rules and guidelines?
Despite everything that has happened and continue to happen in SEO, the truth is ranking on Google is not a big mystery. Backlinko’s 200 ranking factors give a strong insight into what is required to rank high on Google. In fact, the steps required to rank high on Google’s search engines are much clearer today than they have been for some time in the last few years.
Understanding Google’s Mission
It is important to understand that Google’s mission is to provide the best search experience possible for its users. Google wants to remain the number one search engine of choice for its users by providing links to the very best answers to users’ questions.
This means is that if you want to rank well in Google’s search results your content needs to align with that mission. Your web pages need to provide information that can be considered the best answer to any given search query.
Why is this important?
If your site is able to reach the top of competitive results, you can count on Google taking a closer look at your site. This means they will perform a deeper algorithmic analysis or your site or even a manual review.
Google has tens of thousands of quality raters and manual reviewers who constantly analyse the quality of their search results pages and the sites that are featured in them. If your site is not a high quality site or the methods you’ve used to attain your high search ranking are considered to be spammy or manipulative, you may find your site slapped back 40+ search pages.
This is why it is critically important to have a quality site with content that is just as good as those of your top competitors.