Google is everyone’s first resort. When we don’t know something, Google is the first place we look.
Google says that their mission is “to organize the world’s information,” and regardless of what you may think of some of their experiments (Google Glass, Self-driving cars, et al.), Google has done a tremendous job of organizing information.
As McKinsey’s New Customer Journey shows, Google (and their search rivals) have changed the way that people buy—today, we recognize a need, and then we search for a solution to that need.
So what does Google actually want?
Noble purposes aside, Google is a competitive, for-profit, publicly traded company. Its real goal is to make money, which it does by selling ads. As you can imagine, the more people who see ads on Google, the more successful the ads–but people only see those ads if they use Google regularly, which means that a great user experience is required.
The main thing that kills a user’s search engine experience is getting lots of irrelevant results.
If I do a search on one search engine, and it comes back with nothing but garbage, I can either go through the mental work of restating my search in a more specific way, or I can just bounce to another search engine and try the same old search. Search engines are mass-market consumer businesses, and the mass market almost always chooses the path of least resistance. That means that Google’s user experience is profoundly affected by the quality of search results that come back.
All of this leads to Google’s secondary goal: refining their search algorithm to make sure that it clears out anything that’s not relevant.
If you remember 10 years ago, using Google frequently resulted in search results that were full of spam and adult material. Google didn’t solve that all at once, but they have spent years mercilessly finding and closing any loopholes that would allow people to game the system and get undeservedly high search results.
This is more of a process than an event, but each revision of the algorithm improves the search experience. For example:
- Google Panda (February 2011): Designed to eliminate low-quality sites. Google search guru Matt Cutts says, “make sure to write high quality content, content at the level of published books or in popular magazines.”
- Google Penguin (April 2012): Designed to combat unnatural linking practices, particularly sites that rely on a web of spurious links to convey that they have authority they don’t actually have. Penguin 1.0 targeted sites that featured questionable link profiles, low quality backlinks, and anchor text that was too keyword rich or overly optimized for a single term.
- Google Hummingbird (September 2013): An overhaul of the entire algorithm (not just switching out one component) that pays “more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” In other words, it favors content that answers questions.
It’s not hard to see where Google is going—they want every search to offer results that answer the question you want answered, with no irrelevant results.
That’s why FAQ’s are gold. We recommend that all our of clients get very specific about their FAQs so we can blog effectively about them. By definition, an FAQ is a question that is asked frequently. By answering those questions better than anyone else, you not only help your readers–you also encourage Google to send more readers your way. And getting found is what it’s all about.
We can’t avoid writing for machines—writing for the web is different than other prose styles, simply because you have to make your content Google-friendly—but the content that performs the best is content written for humans.
Adrian Blake uses Google dozens of times a day, which still isn’t as often as Google would like. He is CEO of SMC—Outsource to Omaha.
Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.