How Google and content has changed its ranking of content over the last 10 years

Website Creation concept on chalkboard

Website content is now key to online strategy

Imagine you’re sitting at a desktop computer, searching for your website on Google. It’s 2005 – before “Googling” was a common term – and everyone with a website is trying to figure out the Internet giant’s ranking system, with very little idea of where to start.

A lot has changed since then, from the way we use the web to the value of websites and social media. But a lot of people still don’t realise just how much these changes have influenced Google’s content ranking.

Below are three of the key areas affected by Google’s search algorithm changes over the past 10 years, and how they influence and inform website content today.

1. Keywords: useful until they’re over-used

Keywords held the crown for SEO from the 90s through to the early 2000s. These words and phrases help Google and other search engines organise and rank search results, and were relied on heavily in the early days.

By 2005, search engines had realised that many webmasters were stuffing their content so full of keywords that there was no substance. They adapted, and keywords became just another tool to help with SEO, alongside qualities such as incoming and outgoing links and content quality. This also saw a trend towards guest and sponsored posts of varying quality (which Daily Posts CEO James Cummings has a lot to say about).

These days, keywords are still an important feature for content ranking, but they are valued based on how well they are included in the content. As Google’s Matt Cutts has told Daily Post, when keywords are used with consideration, search algorithms reward content with a better ranking.

2. Content length: shorter vs. longer

Up until a few years ago, many people assumed that Internet users didn’t read that much. This assumption, and Google seeming to not care about content length, led people to focus on creating short content, with “ideal” lengths often considered to be between 200-500 words. Even today, there are content creators that will aim for content around this length.

In more recent years, experts have actually realised that longer, higher quality content leads to a better Google ranking. Research has even shown that web pages ranking in the top 10 for many searches on Google have an average of 2000 words or more.

From an SEO perspective, longer content gives you an opportunity to increase search traffic, include more keywords in an organic way, encourage link-backs and increase shares. Analytics expert Neil Patel has even quantified it, reporting that his posts “receive 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than the articles with fewer than 1500 words.”

As more people have realised the benefits of increasing content length, Google has also focused on content quality. They now include tools in their search algorithms to measure the quality of content as well as its length. The key is to find a balance between length and quality or, as Patel puts it:

“Just because long content trends better doesn’t mean that yours automatically will. It helps to have an active social presence, rock-solid copy, and stuff worth talking about.”

Think about mobile when you write content

The situation is confused still more by the fact that more people than ever are reading websites on smartphones and tablets. You, therefore, have to balance your content based on purpose, user profile and a lot more. You probably don’t want people coming to your site on their mobile waiting for the train and being met by page after page of 2000 word articles. You need to cater for all the people visiting your site, which means creating a customer journey for mobile and non-mobile visitors, and leading them to the right places.

3. Search data and website content development

As people started to realise the value of search engines and SEO, they began to seek out more specific information about what they could do to optimise their content. Google found a way to provide them with this information through services such as AdWords (launched in 2000), the keyword planner (2013), Google Insights/Trends (2008) and many others.

These tools gave people a way to view the search data Google collected and use it to create content that would be more relevant for search engine results. When people saw what keywords were being searched for the most, for example, they started trying to include them in their content more often.

It became more common to see searches and keywords that were very specific and only loosely connected to the main focus of the website. For example: a florist could find “roses” is the most searched for term relating to their business.

This awareness of search themes inspired two trends: microsites that separated products to emphasis keywords, and bigger websites that grouped information in categories or themes. These days, blogs are one of the most useful features in utilising specific keywords and search phrases, as people can write posts that directly or indirectly include popular search terms.

But as the Internet continues to change and grow, so too do the factors that affect Google’s search ranking algorithms. From keywords to webpage length and style, right through to images, videos and social media engagement, there are all kinds of things to consider when it comes to getting Google’s attention. There’s one similarity for all these things though: quality always wins.

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