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How to Rank: 25 Step SEO Master Blueprint

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Posted by Cyrus Shepard

If you’re like most SEOs, you spend a lot of time reading. Over the past several years, I’ve spent 100s of hours studying blogs, guides, and Google patents. Not long ago, I realized that 90% of what I read each doesn’t change what I actually do – that is, the basic work of ranking a web page higher on Google.

For newer SEOs, the process can be overwhelming.

To simplify this process, I created this SEO blueprint. It’s meant as a framework for newer SEOs to build their own work on top of. This basic blueprint has helped, in one form or another, 100s of pages and dozens of sites to gain higher rankings.

Think of it as an intermediate SEO instruction manual, for beginners.

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Timeframe: 2 to 10 Weeks

What you need to know: The blueprint assumes you have basic SEO knowledge: you’re not scared of title tags, can implement a rel=canonical, and you’ve built a link or two. (If this is your first time to the rodeo, we suggest reading the Beginners Guide to SEO and browsing our Learn SEO section.)

How To Rank SEO Blueprint

Table of Contents


Keyword Research

1. Working Smarter, Not Harder

Keyword research can be simple or hard, but it should always be fun. For the sake of the Blueprint, let’s do keyword research the easy way.

The biggest mistakes people make with keyword research are:

  1. Choosing keywords that are too broad
  2. Keywords with too much competition
  3. Keywords without enough traffic
  4. Keywords that don’t convert
  5. Trying to rank for one keyword at a time

The biggest mistake people make is trying to rank for a single keyword at a time. This is the hard way. It’s much easier, and much more profitable, to rank for 100s or even 1,000s of long tail keywords with the same piece of content.

Instead of ranking for a single keyword, let’s aim our project around a keyword theme.

2. Dream Your Keyword Theme

Using keyword themes solves a whole lot of problems. Instead of ranking for one Holy Grail keyword, a better goal is to rank for lots of keywords focused around a single idea. Done right, the results are amazing.

Easy Keyword Research

I assume you know enough about your business to understand what type of visitor you’re seeking and whether you’re looking for traffic, conversions, or both. Regardless, one simple rule holds true: the more specific you define your theme, the easier it is to rank.

This is basic stuff, but it bears repeating. If your topic is the football, you’ll find it hard to rank for  “Super Bowl,” but slightly easier to rank for “Super Bowl 2014” – and easier yet to rank for “Best Super Bowl Recipes of 2014.”

Don’t focus on specific words yet – all you need to know is your broad topic. The next step is to find the right keyword qualifiers.

3. Get Specific with Qualifiers

Qualifiers are words that add specificity to keywords and define intent. They take many different forms.

  • Time/Date: 2001, December, Morning
  • Price/Quality: Cheap, Best, Most Popular
  • Intent: Buy, Shop, Find
  • Location: Houston, Outdoors, Online

The idea is to find as many qualifiers as possible that fit your audience. Here’s where keyword tools enter the picture. You can use any keyword tool you like, but favorites include Wordstream, Keyword Spy, SpyFu, and Bing Keyword Tool and Übersuggest.

For speed and real-world insight, Übersuggest is an all-time SEO favorite. Run a simple query and export over 100 suggested keyword based on Google’s own Autocomplete feature – based on actual Google searches.

Did I mention it’s free?

4. Finding Diamonds in the Google Rough

At this point you have a few dozen, or a few hundred keywords to pull into Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

Pro Tip #1: While it’s possible to run over a hundred keyword phrases at once in Google’s Keyword Tool, you get more variety if you limit your searches to 5-10 at a time.

Ubersuggest and Google Keyword Tool

Using “Exact” search types and “Local Monthly” search volume, we’re looking for 10-15 closely related keyword phrases with decent search volume, but not too much competition.

Pro Tip #2: Be careful trusting the “Competition” column in Google Adwords Keyword Tool. This refers to bids on paid search terms, not organic search.

5. Get Strategic with the Competition

Now that we have a basic keyword set, you need to find out if you can actually rank for your phrases. You have two basic methods of ranking the competition:

  1. Automated tools like the Keyword Difficulty Tool
  2. Eyeballing the SERPs

If you have an SEOmoz PRO membership (or even a free trial) the Keyword Difficulty Tool calculates – on a 100 point scale – a difficulty score for each individual keyword phrase you enter.

Keyword Difficulty Tool

Keyword phrases in the 60-70+ range are typically competitive, while keywords in the 30-40 range might be considered low to moderately difficult.

To get a better idea of your own strengths, take the most competitive keyword you currently rank #1 or #2 for, and run it through the tool.

Even without automated tools, the best way to size up the competition is to eyeball the SERPs. Run a search query (non-personalized) for your keywords and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the first few results optimized for the keyword?
  • Is the keyword in the title tag? In the URL? On the page?
  • What’s the Page and/or Domain Authority of the URL?
  • Are the first few results authorities on the keyword subject?
  • What’s the inbound anchor text?
  • Can you deliver a higher quality resource for this keyword?

You don’t actually have to rank #1 for any of your chosen words to earn traffic, but you should be comfortable cracking the top five.

With keyword themes, the magic often happens from keywords you never even thought about.

Case Study: Google Algo Update

When SEOmoz launched the Google Algorithm Change HIstory (run by Dr. Pete) we used a similar process for keyword research to explore the theme “Google Algorithm” and more specifically, “Google Algorithm Change.”

According to Google’s search tool, we could expect a no more than a couple thousand visits a month – best case – for these exact terms. Fortunately, because the project was well received and because we optimized around a broad keyword theme of “Google Algorithm,” the Algo Update receives lots of traffic outside our pre-defined keywords.

This is where the long tail magic happens:

Long Tail Keywords

How can you improve your chances of ranking for more long tail keywords? Let’s talk about content, architecture, on-page optimization and link building.


Content

6. Creating Value

Want to know the truth? I hate the word content. It implies words on a page, a commodity to be produced, separated from the value it creates.

Content without value is spam.

In the Google Algorithm Update example above, we could have simply written 100 articles about Google’s Algorithm and hoped to rank. Instead, the conversation started by asking how we could create a valuable resource for webmasters.

For your keyword theme, ask first how you can create value.

Value is harder to produce than mere words, but value is rewarded 100x more. Value is future proof & algorithm proof. Value builds links by itself. Value creates loyal fans.

Value takes different forms. It’s a mix of:

  1. Utility
  2. Emotional response
  3. Point of view (positive or negative)
  4. Perceived value, including fame of the author

Your content doesn’t have to include all 4 of these characteristics, but it should excel in one or more to be successful.

A study of the New York Times found key characteristics of content to be influential in making the Most Emailed list.

New York Times Most Emailed
Source: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1528077\

7. Driving Your Content Vehicle

Here’s a preview: the Blueprint requires you create at least one type of link bait, so now is a good time to think about the structure of your content.

What’s the best way to deliver value given your theme? Perhaps it’s an

  • Infographic
  • Video series
  • A new tool
  • An interview series
  • Slide deck
  • How-to guide
  • Q&A
  • Webinar or simple blog post

Perhaps, it’s all of these combined.

The more ways you find to deliver your content and the more channels you take advantage of, the better off you’ll be.

Not all of your content has to go viral, but you want to create at least one “tent-pole” piece that’s better than anything else out there and you’re proud to hang your hat on.

If you need inspiration, check out Distilled's guide to Viral Linkbait or QuickSprout’s Templates for Content Creation.

8. Title – Most Important Work Goes Here

Spend two hours, minimum, writing your title.

Sound ridiculous? If you’re an experienced title writer like Rand Fishkin, you can break this rule. For the rest of us, it’s difficult to underplay the value delivered by a finely crafted title.

Write 50 titles or more before choosing one.

Study the successful titles on Inbound.org, Mashable, Wired, or your favorite publication.

Headline Formulas Work

Whatever you do, read this fantastic post by Dan Shure and the headline resources at CopyBlogger.

9. Length vs. Depth – Why it Matters

How long should your content be? A better question is: How deep should it be? Word count by itself is a terrible metric to strive for, but depth of content helps you to rank in several ways.

  1. Adds uniqueness threshold to avoid duplicate content
  2. Deeper topic exploration makes your content “about” more
  3. Quality, longer content is correlated with more links and higher rankings

I. Uniqueness

At a minimum, your content needs to meet a minimum uniqueness threshold in order for it to rank. Google reps have gone on record to say a couple sentences is sometimes sufficient, but in reality a couple hundred words is much safer.

II. Long Tail Opportunities

Here’s where the real magic happens. The deeper your content and the more in-depth you can explore a particular topic, the more your content becomes “about.”

The more your content is “about”, the more search queries it can answer well.

The more search queries you can answer well, the more traffic you can earn.

Google’s crawlers continuously read your content to determine how relevant it is to search queries. They evaluate paragraphs, subject headings, photographs and more to try to understand your page. Longer, in-depth content usually send more relevancy signals than a couple short sentences.

III. Depth, Length, and Links

Numerous correlation studies have shown a positive relationship between rankings and number of words in a document.

“The length in HTML and the HTML within the <body> tag were the highest correlated factors, in fact with correlations of .12 they could be considered somewhat if not hugely significant.

While these factors probably are not implemented within the algorithm, they are good signs of what Google is looking for; quality content, which in many cases means long or at least sufficiently lengthy pages.”

– Mark Collier The Open Algorithm

This could be attributed longer, quality content earning more links. John Doherty examined the relationship between the length of blog posts on SEOmoz and the number of links each post earned, and found a strong relationship.

Links based on wordcount

10. Content Qualities You Can Bank On

If you don’t focus on word count, how do you add quality “depth” to your content?

SEOs have written volumes about how Google might define quality including metrics such as reading level, grammar, spelling, and even Author Rank. Most is speculation, but it’s clear Google does use guidelines to separate good content from bad.

My favorite source for clues comes from the set of questions Google published shortly after the first Panda update. Here are a few of my favorites.

Google Panda Questions

11. LDA, nTopic, and Words on the Page

Google is a machine. It can’t yet understand your page like a human can, but it’s getting close.

Search engines use sophisticated algorithms to model your sentences, paragraphs, blocks, and content sections. Not only do they want to understand your keywords, but also your topic, intent, and expertise as well.

How do you know if your content fits Google’s model of expectations?

For example, if your topic is “Super Bowl Recipes,” Google might expect to see content about grilling, appetizers, and guacamole. Content that addresses these topics will likely rank higher than pages that talk about what color socks you’re wearing today.

Words matter.

SEOs have discovered that using certain words around a topic associated with concepts like LDA and nTopic are correlated with higher rankings.

Virante offers an interesting stand alone keyword suggestion tool called nTopic. The tools analyzes your keywords and suggests related keywords to improve your relevancy scores.

nTopic

12. Better than LDA – Poor Man's Topic Modeling

Since we don’t have access to Google’s computers for topic modeling, there’s a far simpler way to structure your content that I find far superior to worrying about individual words:

Use the keyword themes you created at the beginning of this blueprint.

You’ve already done the research using Google’s keyword tool to find closely related keyword groups. Incorporating these topics into your content may help increase your relevancy to your given topic.

Example: Using the Google Algorithm project cited above, we found during keyword research that certain keywords related to our theme show up repeatedly, time and time again. If we conducted this research today, we would find phrases like “Penguin SEO” and “Panda Updates” frequently in our results.

Google suggests these terms via the keyword tool because they consider them closely related. So any content that explored “Google Algorithm Change” might likely include a discussion of these ideas.

Poor Man's Topic Modeling

Note: This isn't real LDA, simply a way of adding relevant topics to your content that Google might associate with your subject matter.

13. Design Is 50% of the Battle

If you have any money in your budget, spend it on design. A small investment with a designer typically pays outsized dividends down the road. Good design can:

  • Lower bounce rate
  • Increase page views
  • Increase time on site
  • Earn more links
  • Establish trust

… All of which can help earn higher rankings.

“Design doesn’t just matter, it’s 50% of the battle.”
-Rand Fishkin

Dribbble.com

Dribbble.com is one of our favorite source of design inspiration.


Architecture

Here’s the special secret of the SEO Blueprint: you’re not making a single page to rank; you’re making several.

14. Content Hubs

Very few successful websites consist of a single page. Google determines context and relevancy not only by what’s on your page, but also by the pages around it and linking to it.

The truth is, it’s far easier to rank when you create Content Hubs exploring several topics in depth focused around a central theme.

Using our “Super Bowl Recipes” example, we might create a complete section of pages, each exploring a different recipe in depth.

Content Hub for SEO

15. Linking the Hub Together

Because your pages now explore different aspects of the same broad topic, it makes sense to link them together.

  • Your page about guacamole relates to your page about nachos.
  • Your page about link building relates to your page about infographics.
  • Your page about Winston Churchill relates to major figures of World War II.

Linking Your Content Hub

It also helps them to rank by distributing PageRank, anchor text, and other relevancy signals.

16. Find Your Center

Content Hubs work best with a “hub” or center. Think of the center as the master document that acts as an overview or gateway to all of your individual content pages.

The hub is the authority page. Often, the hub is a link bait page or a category level page. It’s typically the page with the most inbound links and often as a landing page for other sections of your site.

Center of the SEO  Content Hub

For great example of Hub Pages, check out:


On-Page Optimization

17. Master the Basics

You could write an entire book about on-page optimization. If you’re new to SEO, one of the best ways to learn is by using SEOmoz’s On-page Report Card (free, registration required) The tool grades 36 separate on-page SEO elements, gives you a report and suggestions on how to fix each element. Working your way through these issues is an excellent way to learn (and often used by agencies and companies as a way to teach SEO principals)

On-Page Tool

Beyond the basics, let’s address a few slightly more advanced tactics to take advantage of your unique keyword themes and hub pages, in addition to areas where beginners often make mistakes.

18. Linking Internally for the Reasonable Surfer

Not all links are created equal (One of the greatest SEO blog posts ever written!) So, when you interlink your internal pages within your content hub together, keep in mind a few important points.

  1. Links from inside unique content pass more value than navigation links.
  2. Links higher up the page pass more value than links further down.
  3. Links in HTML text pass more weight than image links.

When interlinking your content, it’s best to keep links prominent and “editorial” – naturally link to your most important content pages higher up in the HTML text.

19. Diversify Your Anchor Text – Naturally

If Google’s Penguin update taught us anything, it’s that over-thinking anchor text is bound to get us in trouble.

When you link naturally and editorially to other places on the web, you naturally diversify your anchor text. The same should hold true when you link internally.

Don’t choose your anchor text to fit your keywords; choose your anchor text to fit the content around it.

Practically speaking, this means linking internally with a mix of partial match keyword and related phrases. Don’t be scared to link occasionally without good keywords in the anchor – the link can still pass relevancy signals. When it comes to linking, it’s safer to under-do it than over-do it.

Choose Descriptive Anchor Text

Souce: Google's SEO Starter Guide

20. Title Tags – Two Quick Tips

We assume you know how to write a compelling title tag. Even today, keyword usage in the title tag is one of the most highly correlated on-page ranking factors that we know.

That said, Google is getting strict about over-optimizing title tags, and appears to be further cracking down on titles “written for SEO.” Keep this in mind when crafting your title tags

I. Avoid Boilerplates

It used to be common to tack on your business phrase or main keywords to the end of every title tag, like so:

  • Plumbing Supplies – Chicago Plumbing and Fixtures
  • Pipes & Fittings – Chicago Plumbing and Fixtures
  • Toilet Seat Covers – Chicago Plumbing and Fixtures

While we don’t have much solid data, many SEOs are now asserting that “boilerplate” titles tacked on to the end of every tag are no longer a good idea. Brand names and unique descriptive information is okay, but making every title as unique as possible is the rule of the day.

II. Avoid Unnecessary Repetition

Google also appears (at least to many SEOs) on what’s considered the lower threshold of “keyword stuffing.”

In years past it was a common rule of thumb never to repeat your keyword more than twice in the title. Today, to be on the safe side, you might be best to consider not repeating your keywords more than once.

21. Over-Optimization: Titles, URLs, and Links

Writing for humans not only gets you more clicks (which can lead to higher rankings), but hardly ever gets you in trouble with search engines.

As SEOs we're often tempted to get a "perfect score" which means exactly matching our title tags, URLs, inbound anchor text, and more. unfortunately, this isn't natural in the real world, and Google recognizes this.

Diversify. Don’t over-optimize.

22. Structured Data

Short and simple: Make structured data part of every webpage. While structured data hasn’t yet proven to be a large ranking factor, it’s future-facing value can be seen today in rich snippet SERPs and social media sharing. In some verticals, it’s an absolute necessity.

rich snippets

There’s no rule of thumb about what structured data to include, but the essentials are:

  • Facebook Open Graph tags
  • Twitter Cards
  • Authorship
  • Publisher
  • Business information
  • Reviews
  • Events

To be honest, if you’re not creating pages with structured data, you’re probably behind the times.

For an excellent guide about Micro Data and Schema.org, check out this fantastic resource from SEOGadget.


Building Links

23. The 90/10 Rule of Link Building

This blueprint contains 25 steps to rank your content, but only the last three address link building. Why so few? Because 90% of your effort should go into creating great content, and 10% into link building.

If you have a hard time building links, it may be because you have these numbers reversed.

Creating great content first solves a ton of problems down the line:

  1. Good content makes link building easier
  2. Attracts higher quality links in less time
  3. Builds links on its own even when sleeping or on vacation

If you’re new to marketing or relatively unknown, you may need to spend more than 10% of your time building relationships, but don’t let that distract you from crafting the type of content that folks find so valuable they link to you without you even asking.

90-10 Rule of Link Building

24. All Link Building is Relationships – Good & Bad

This blueprint doesn't go into link building specifics, as there are 100's of ways to build quality links to every good project. That said, a few of my must link building resources:

  1. Jon Cooper's Complete List of Link Building Strategies
  2. StumbleUpon Paid Discovery
  3. Citation Labs
  4. Promoted Tweets
  5. Ontolo
  6. eReleases – Press releases not for links, but for exposer
  7. BuzzStream
  8. Paddy Moogan's excellent Link Building Book

These resources give you the basic tools and tactics for a successful link building campaign, but keep in mind that all good link building is relationship building.

Successful link builders understand this and foster each relationship and connection. Even a simple outreach letter can be elevated to an advanced form of relationship building with a little effort, as this Whiteboard Friday by Rand so graciously illustrates.
 


 

25. Tier Your Link Building… Forever

The truth is, for professionals, link building never ends. Each content and link building campaign layers on top of previous content, and the web as a whole like layers of fine Greek baklava.

For example, this post could be considered linkbait for SEOmoz, but it also links generously to several other content pieces within the Moz family, and externally as well; spreading both the link love and the relationship building as far as possible at the same time.

SEOmoz links generously to other sites: the link building experience is not just about search engines, but the people experience, as well. We link to great resources, and build links for the best user experience possible. When done right, the search engines reward exactly this type of experience with higher rankings.

For an excellent explanation as to why you should link out to external sites when warranted, read AJ Kohns excellent work, Time to Long Click.

One of my favorite posts on SEOmoz was 10 Ugly SEO Tools that Actually Rock. Not only was the first link on the page directed to our own SEO tools, but we linked and praised our competitors as well.

Linkbait at its finest.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog

Rank Modifying Spammers

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My good friend Bill at SEOByTheSea has unearthed a Google patent that will likely raise eyebrows, whilst others will have their suspicions confirmed.

The patent is called Ranking Documents. When webmasters alter a page, or links to a page, the system may not respond immediately to those changes. Rather, the system may change rankings in unexpected ways.

A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank. The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.

Further:

During the transition from the old rank to the target rank, the transition rank might cause:

  • a time-based delay response,
  • a negative response
  • a random response, and/or
  • an unexpected response

So, Google may shift the rankings of your site, in what appears to be a random manner, before Google settles on a target rank.

Let’s say that you’re building links to a site, and the site moves up in the rankings. You would assume that the link building has had a positive effect. Not so if the patent code is active, as your site may have already been flagged.

Google then toys with you for a while before sending your site plummeting to the target rank. This makes it harder to determine cause and effect.

Just because a patent exists doesn’t mean Google is using it, of course. This may be just be another weapon in the war-of-FUD, but it sounds plausible and it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’re seeing this type of movement.

The Search Engine As Black Box

In ancient times (1990s), SEO thrived because search engines were stupid black boxes. If you added some keywords here, added a few links there, the black box would respond in a somewhat predictable, prescribed, fashion. Your rankings would rise if you guessed what the black box liked to “see”, and you plummeted if you did too much of what the black box liked to see!

Ah, the good old days.

These days, the black box isn’t quite so stupid. It’s certainly a lot more cryptic. What hasn’t changed, however, is the battle line drawn between webmasters and search engines as they compete for search visitor attention.

If there are any webmasters still under the illusion that Google is the SEOs friend, that must be a very small club, indeed. Google used to maintain a – somewhat unconvincing – line that if you just followed their ambiguous guidelines (read: behaved yourself) then they would reward you. It was you and Google on the good side, and the evil spammers on the other.

Of late, Google appear to have gotten bored of maintaining any pretense, and the battle lines have been informally redrawn. If you’re a webmaster doing anything at all that might be considered an effort to improve rank, then you’re a “spammer”. Google would no doubt argue this has always been the case, even if you had to read between the lines to grasp it. And they’d be right.

Unconvinced?

Look at the language on the patent:

The systems and methods may also observe spammers’ reactions to rank changes caused by the rank transition function to identify documents that are actively being manipulated. This assists in the identification of rank-modifying spammers.

“Manipulated”? “Rank modifying spammers”? So, a spammer is someone who attempts to modify their rank?

I’ve yet to meet a webmaster who didn’t wish to modify their rank.

Google As A Competitor

Google’s business model relies on people clicking ads. In their initial IPO filing, Google identified rank manipulation as a business risk.

We are susceptible to index spammers who could harm the integrity of our web search results. There is an ongoing and increasing effort by “index spammers” to develop ways to manipulate our web search results

It’s a business risk partly because the result sets need to be relevant for people to return to Google. The largely unspoken point is Google wants webmasters to pay to run advertising, not get it for “free”, or hand their search advertising budget to an SEO shop.

Why would Google make life easy for competitors?

The counter argument has been that webmasters provide free content, which the search engines need in order to attract visitors in the first place. However, now relevant content is plentiful, that argument has been weakened. Essentially, if you don’t want to be in Google, then block Google. They won’t lose any sleep over it.

What has happened, however, is that the incentive to produce quality content, with search engines in mind, has been significantly reduced. If content can be scraped, ripped-off, demoted and merely used as a means to distract the search engine user enough to maybe click a few search engine ads, then where is the money going to come from to produce quality content? Google may be able to find relevant content, but “relevant” (on-topic) and “quality” (worth consuming) are seldom the same thing

One content model that works in such as environment is content that is cheap to produce. Cheap content can be quality content, but like all things in life, quality tends to come with a higher price tag. Another model that works is loss-leader content, but then the really good stuff is still hidden from view, and it’s still hard to do this well, unless you’ve established considerable credibility – which is still expensive to do.

This is the same argument the newspaper publishers have been making. The advertising doesn’t pay enough to cover the cost of production and make a profit – so naturally the winner in this game cuts production cost until the numbers do add up. What tends to be sacrificed in this process – is quality.

NFSW Corp, a new startup by ex-TechCrunch and Guardian columnist writer Paul Carr has taken the next step. They have put everything behind a paywall. There is no free content. No loss-leaders. All you see is a login screen.

Is this the future for web publishing? If so, the most valuable content will not be in Google. And if more and more valuable content lies beyond Google’s reach, then will fewer people bother going to Google in the first place?

The Happy Middle

Google argue that they focus on the user. They run experiments to determine search quality, quality as determined by users.

Here’s how it works. Our engineers come up with some insight or technique and implement a change to the search ranking algorithm . They hope this will improve search results, but at this point it’s just a hypothesis. So how do we know if it’s a good change? First we have a panel of real users spread around the world try out the change, comparing it side by side against our unchanged algorithm. This is a blind test — they don’t know which is which. They rate the results, and from that we get a rough sense of whether the change is better than the original. If it isn’t, we go back to the drawing board. But if it looks good, we might next take it into our usability lab — a physical room where we can invite people in to try it out in person and give us more detailed feedback. Or we might run it live for a small percentage of actual Google users, and see whether the change is improving things for them. If all those experiments have positive results, we eventually roll out the change for everyone”

Customer focus is, of course, admirable, but you’ve got to wonder about a metric that doesn’t involve the needs of publishers. If publishing on the web is not financially worthwhile, then, over time, the serps will surely degrade in terms of quality as a whole, and users will likely go elsewhere.

There is evidence this is already happening. Brett at Webmasterworld pointed out that there is a growing trend amongst consumers to skip Google altogether and just head for the Amazon, and other sites, directly. Amazon queries are up 73 percent in the last year.

There may well be a lot of very clever people at Google, but they do not appear to be clever enough to come up with a model that encourages webmasters to compete with each other in terms of information quality.

If Google doesn’t want the highest quality information increasingly locked up behind paywalls, then it needs to think of a way to nurture and incentivise the production of quality content, not just relevant content. Tell publishers exactly what content Google wants to see rank well and tell them how to achieve it. There should be enough money left on the table for publishers i.e. less competition from ads – so that everyone can win.

I’m not going to hold my breath for this publisher nirvana, however. I suspect Google’s current model just needs content to be “good enough.”

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