New Google Ranking Factor

Monocle in an Old Book

Another New Google Ranking Factor? …Sigh… Ok Google, what’s different now?

Google is looking at search queries and is measuring how well a website or webpage “accomplishes a searcher’s task”. When I first learned of this I thought, “Uh yeah. We know that.” But what Google is saying is in order for a page to rank well, Google is leaning toward a deeper content-centric user experience and less to link referrals or even ‘authority’.

Let me explain.

Used to be, well actually it still is but it’s waning, we all wanted links from other websites to refer visitors to our site, and we researched (and best guessed) a keyword strategy which would target our offerings, and used good anchor text for linking, all to rank well on the search engine result pages (“SERPs”). These all played (and still play) into Google’s algorithm. But now, Google is measuring (though not yet included in their algorithms) “Searcher Task Accomplishment” as an indicator of a good user experience.

Here is what “Searcher Task Accomplishment” means:

Did the search query bring up a result that led the visitor to a page that answered their need AND provided even more, extensive content in anticipation of additional questions the searcher may have? Or, did the visitor hit the back button and select another search result or even change their query.

This sounds familiar, though, to those of us who have been in this biz for umpteen years; it’s all about providing good content, right? So is this new ‘measurement’ focus actually different?

It IS if you have a ‘thin’ website, a website that offers just the bare minimum of content about your products or services. This lack of content doesn’t always suffice if a person clicks through to your page and is left wanting. This thin content doesn’t have additional information should the user have additional questions they need answered or help with. The user’s experience is lessened; the website did not accomplish the searcher’s task or tasks.

Content is king but — and this is important — if you are not anticipating your visitors’ needs with content that ¬†accomplishes their very many tasks, your page and your site won’t rank well even if you do have links coming to it and did a great job at keyword targeting. That right there is what makes this measurement different and challenging.

So Website Owners, SEOs and CROs and Marketers, listen up.

Here’s what we know:
When someone does a search, they’re looking for something, they need something. They look at the search results they get and select which result they think will help them out.

Here’s where we need to pay attention:
The searcher may have additional needs or goals, or discover there are more questions they need answered as they do their search. Did the result they selected lead them to a website that provided a full and thorough experience, anticipating their questions and needs?

If the site does accomplish their needs, Google sees this. If the page did not help them and they return to select another result or change their query, Google sees this series of steps, too. Consequently, this page’s rank will fall.

What to do, what to do

If you’re at a loss as to what to write about or what content to add to your site, try these:

  1. Ask your customers what they expect to see on the site. You can do surveys, interviews, or polls to get the information they’d like to see.
  2. Pretend you’re a potential customer doing a search. Be careful here; as effective as this is, you must step away from your in-house perspective and knowledge and approach it with the mind of a visitor.
  3. Another way to anticipate what people are searching for is looking at the ‘Related Searches’ at the bottom of the SERPs. Or, paying attention to the Auto-Suggest when you’re first typing in your search query. The Knowledge Box on the search page is also useful. It shows other ways people ask the same and similar questions and will populate itself with even more questions.
  4. Use your Internal Search on your website. If the visitor is searching while in your site, you’ll be able to see what it is you’re missing.

Do fill out your website with deeper, relative content that answers your visitors needs, goals, and questions. It is those sites that rise on the search engine result pages and even beat out pages with external links, good anchor text, keyword targeting, or have more authority than yours. It’s about answering and anticipating the searcher’s query by completing whatever task they have.

Thanks to Rand Fishkin at Moz for laying this out.