If Google Were A Person

I’m just back from a brilliant #truBudapest, which was put together by Balazs Paroczy and was sponsored by our friends Kelly OGC and Monster Hungary. They were fantastic hosts, and over 100 participants from 9 different countries attended.  It was a great event.

One of the tracks I took part in was SEO, hosted by Ivan Stojanonvic (@IrishRecruiter.) Ivan is a real expert in this subject who I always learn from, but last week i was on a call with Vito Lomelle who founded Jobrapido (I’m going to be posting our full conversation on Monday), and he spoke about why Jobrapido take a non SEO strategy, electing instead to acquire traffic through social and conventional web advertising. Vito sees the challenge not in getting traffic (and their Google rankings and positioning in the top 5 visited career sites in the world would suggest they are very good at it),but in making sure they stay and revisit once they arrive. Lomelle also didn’t want to build a business that was dependent on Google’s whims. Many people I know in this sector have been thinking the same thing recently, as soon as the algorithm changes through initiatives like Panda, then it’s all change with the ranking and positions, and this impacts greatly on traffic. Vito feels that it is better to have your traffic in your own hands through acquisition.

I put this view to Ivan during the track, which created plenty of discussion from the participants. Search results have become more local, geared around what is being viewed and shared by your social connections, (particularly Google+) , and your own search history. Recent changes have a greater ranking to content that answer questions, get liked and shared. Who knows what Google might think next?

During the conversation Ivan made a comment that really got me thinking, so much so that I stuck it in drafts as a reminder for this post,

“You need to think of Google as a person, not an algorithm.”

What Ivan meant by that is that behind all the technology, cogs, whistles, bells and complicated mathematical formulas is a group of people who decide what content we want to see when we ask Google a question.

Google has its own personality and is working on reading and ranking content like a person. This means that loading your content with keywords just doesn’t cut it, it’s content all the way. One of the problems Google faced is when they were trying to find the best answers to the questions people ask. The problem in the past is that questions asked have usually ended up at sites like Yahoo answers because the questions matched, and the answers were often of limited value. Google, the person, didn’t like this, so they changed things.

What Google is looking for now is answers and information that has some value, so they read posts as a person would, looking for original content that reads well and has plenty of information presented in a logical way, with  comments and shares. The way to get your posts picked up and noticed is to use the questions your post answers in the title, repeated in the text in bold. Tagging posts with questions is another key area. Think about the questions your post answers and use this.

Like a person, Google likes pictures in the logical places. Always include at least one image on every page and post, and because Google likes pictures, they love infographics and diagrams. Google also favours its family first. If you are including video, always make it YouTube first and share in Google+. Even if you don’t visit often, a big Google+ network will help boost your rankings. Google also looks for links inbound and outbound that are logical and relevant. The days of embedding links and blog rolls to get Google juice are long gone, overload the links and you will sink down the rankings. Google, like a person is on the look out for scams, and they don’t like them when they find them.

Another point Ivan made is that like a person Google flatters to deceive. When you search for a topic on your own search accounts, then your posts and pages will come up higher than they would on other people’s searches. This is because of the history and location features. When you are searching from the UK or on .co.uk then Google likes to serve up UK posts first, and based on your search history, content from authors you have searched for, opened, liked or shared before.  To find out your real ranking as other people find it, search using the incognito or similar  window.

Ivan closed the track by concluding that just like a person, Google can be temperamental, moody and unpredictable, they also change their mind often, so you are often left playing catch up. What is clear is that if you want Google to find you and recommend you, then you need to treat Google as a person and write for people rather than algorithms, and get rid of any books you might have read about SEO that are over 3 months old. Get to know Google the person.

In answer to my first question, based on Vito and Ivan’s comments, I think both strategies have merit, and clearly get results, but after conversations with two people a lot smarter than me in this area, I now feel a lot better informed to progress the conversation of acquisition v SEO. thanks guys!


Ivan Stojanovic

Vito  Lomelle

5 comments on “If Google Were A Person

  1. Thanks Bill!!!

    PS. It sounds a bit like Ivan Stojanovic vs. Vito Lomelle! 🙂

    I am just thinking… what would happen if one would combine the two strategies, and get the best of both worlds? Vito, I am sure you have considered this in the past as well? We are thinking about it for the Irish site: http://www.jobsboard.ie .

    • hey Ivan! I support your hypothesis that Google wants to rank search results by how well they provide answers to users – and that Google is evolving their algorithm to behave more like a person. To me this idea implies that fundamentally all you need to do to succeed, is to optimise user experience on your site. So rather than combining two strategies I see the strategy of User Experience prevailing over SEO. What would SEO bring in the combination? Your opinion is welcome!

  2. Nicely captured, Bill.

    My lingering question relates to: “To find out your real ranking as other people find it, search using the incognito or similar window.” Given how localised/personalised Google’s results have become, how valuable is Incognito browsing at all? It no longer represents the results anyone actually sees.

  3. A really interesting take on SEO with lots of truth attached. However, I think it’s drastically over simplified SEO and also painted Google’s evolution in a little more temperamental light than it deserves.

    But if you do think of Google as a person and write/produce content accordingly you won’t go too far wrong… I actually think that’s what Google is trying to encourage you to do and that’s the whole point of their continual updates.

    We’ve taken this approach for some time now and our inbound marketing clients have only benefitted from the recent updates and the strategy of writing for people and not algorithms.

    The bottom line is, if you strive to add real value to your target audience by producing insightful, relevant and helpful fresh content, your business will benefit as a result.

  4. @Vito The phrase “to optimise user experience on your site” is most likely understood differently by every single person. My best take on it would be that it means that the user will find what he is looking for on the site with as little clicks and browsing around. Unfortunately that (alone) will not really make your site rank in Google or any other search engine. In fact the best user (friendly) experience is always on the sites where you are logged in, and the sites shows you the content for you. In the same time such sites might never show this content to the user who is not logged in – hence Google as well might never ever see it – hence not rank your site for that content at all.

    @Todd Looking at the statistics of your web site visitors it is still a fairly small percentage of people that browse logged in into Google. All of us (on this blog) do, but we are still a really small percentage of the visitors to most of the sites. That means that the vast majority of the people actually see the non-personalised results that are shown in the Chrome Incognito and similar solutions.

    Also even to the person logged into Google while making the search – the default results are the same as in the Chrome Incognito. It is your browsing history, and your G+ activity (and whatever Google comes up with in the future to “mess” the results up!) that bring in your personalised results within the default ones that you would see in the Chrome Incognito. If you have a huge G+ and large browsing History, and Google basically knows a lot about you, your search results while logged in will get more and more personalised in time. But Google will find the balance in showing you the personalised results and the real search results. So at any stage you will get plenty (in my opinion more than 50%) results in your search that are not related to your social activity at all.

    So to come back to the question, regardless that the two logged in users of G+ see different results in Google search, Google is still a web search engine, and will show the majority of the search results that are not based on the G= activity of the users (hence A Chrome Incognito result set). It is hence crucial to get your site as well ranked in the natural search. Any bottom of the page listing is under a risk to be pushed down by a G+ result displayed to the user instead.

    Will Google ever go to the scenario where there is more G+ results in the search engine results pages than the natural ones? Unlikelly, since the experience would be more Facebook like where a user sees only what his friends are about. And that is definitely not where Google would like to be. Google is a web search engine.

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