Organic search refers to the ‘natural’ listings on a search engine. Natural listings are the unpaid search result listings that are returned by a search engine in response to a keyword search.
This is a very important free traffic channel.
Because it is free, companies seek to maximise the opportunity provided by this valuable, targeted traffic.
The way to get more free traffic — and therefore sales — is to appear as high as possible in the search results for search terms that are valuable to your market.
Ideally, companies want to appear number one in the list for as many relevant terms as possible. The perceived mechanism to achieve this is to use search engine optimisation (SEO). However people sometimes greatly misunderstand this channel.
Google is one of the main western protagonists in this market and so this article focuses on Google. However the principles that apply to Google apply also to other participants in the search market, such as Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu, and so forth.
The Context of SEO — Why Google Displays Organic Search Results
To understand organic search traffic better, and how this channel works, you need to go back to understanding Google and their commercial revenue model.
As Google provides free search listings, companies in the SME marketplace often seem to think that they have some kind of strategic alliance with Google. They think that Google seeks to help them and to send them free search traffic. These perceptions are difficult to shift.
Google is a corporation with one of the largest revenues per employee in economic history. The vast majority of Google’s earnings come from ‘paid search marketing’ — paying per click on keywords.
Google has essentially monetised their free organic results by surrounding them with paid keyword advertising.
Key to Google’s astonishing commercial success is that they keep their customers happy by doing two things:
- They return extremely accurate results for a search in their organic listings.
- They monetise the results of this search with paid adverting.
It is also very important to view all of Google’s search innovations and algorithm updates (Penguin, Panda, etc.) in this context: Google seek to return increasingly accurate results for a search in organic listings so that they can be monetised.
Why SEO is Often Misunderstood
SEO can be poorly understood because people have not understood Google’s commercial model. When this model is clearly understood, the rest begins to make sense.
It is the critical importance and free nature of the channel that makes it so central to people’s thinking.
Google organic results are constantly working towards the right answer for search terms, with the imperfect but increasing amount of information that they have.
As organic search is such a useful traffic channel, obviously you, and your competitors, want to come number one in the rankings.
Logically, as there is only one ‘number one’ slot, you cannot all be number one.
You must also remember that Google does not have a strategic alliance with your company and is not your business’ personal friend — Google just wants to provide the right answer to ‘their’ customer.
Google publishes the factors that count in returning its organic search. However it is the complex and hidden nature of the algorithm that makes it a subject of conjecture.
You need to understand why you will not be number one in Google search: the reason is that Google wants to return the right answer. In that context, if you are the right answer for a term, you will end up number one for that term.
In ecommerce, if you and all of your competitors are selling similar items, Google has no good reason at all to prefer your site over another … unless the algorithm decides that you are the right answer for the term.
How does Google know what is the right answer? It has many sources of information: testing links, examining the links that users select, analytics, the content and structure of the HTML on a website. It is ever more accurate in selecting the right answer.
Where did the SEO Myths Begin and Why do they Continue?
It is the sheer business-critical, decisive importance and free nature of the Google organic traffic channel that leads to such an interest in the topic.
When the workings of something are opaque and complex, and theories cannot be disproved , irrational thinking can remain pervasive.
In the earlier years of search engines, the listings were inaccurate and subject to rapid changes in the listings as Google refined its algorithm to produce ever more accurate results.
This unpredictability meant that there were opportunities to exploit the lack of information that Google had to determine its results and to have a quick impact on the listings.
This led to an industry specialising in SEO. But it is an industry that, while it will play a central role in ensuring that the text and HTML of sites is ‘search engine friendly’, over time it may be replaced by content marketing as Google’s ability to ‘return the right result’ — based on more perfect information — increases.
How Google Reads your Website
Google and other search engines operate by ‘crawling’ your website. Essentially this means that they automate browsing your website and downloading its contents.
Google then analyses the contents of these pages and, over time, they will appear in their search index and be listed. Google will revisit the site periodically and “re-index” these pages for your site and billions of others.
Optimising your Website Using Search Engine Optimisation
You can influence the natural listings traffic channel. This is where planning and SEO comes in. It is something that all website owners need to be aware of.
While Google’s job is to provide the right answer to search terms, there are many things that you must do to help Google’s crawlers recognise and read the content of your web pages.
It is critically important that the content and structure of the HTML on your pages, and certain other elements, are in a readily-consumable format for Google. You also need to submit your sitemaps and information correctly to Google. Both of these require a consistent and rigorous approach.
Google has published its recommendations widely and the following things are key:
- Create unique, accurate page titles
- Make use of the ‘description’ meta tag
- Improve site structure
- Improve the structure of your URLs
- Make your site easier to navigate
- Optimise your content
- Offer quality content and services
- Write better anchor text
- Optimise your use of images
- Use heading tags appropriately
- Deal with crawlers correctly
- Make effective use of
- Be aware of
rel="nofollow" for links
- Ensure SEO for mobile phones is carried out accurately
- Notify Google about mobile sites
- Guide mobile users accurately
- Promote your website in the right ways
- Make use of free webmaster tools
Follow the guidelines that Google themselves publish about what is important for a website and what makes information easy for the Google crawler to consume.
- From the outset, understand the search terms that are key to your market. Ensure that the most valuable terms are the ones that you incorporate into your SEO thinking.
- Your website navigation is primarily for your users, but make sure that your navigation is also Google-friendly and follows their basic guidelines.
- You need to cover these technical aspects of your website. But it is important to understand that Google loves content. Google picks up deep, useful content for people. Your content should be ‘Google friendly’.
- Links to your site are like a vote for the content that is on the site. Link exchange, and articles linking back to your content, will be factored in by Google.
Keep all of these facts in mind. Remember Google’s commercial model. SEO is not magic — it’s a combination of art and science.
- Organic search traffic is a key free digital channel. The disadvantage of this channel is that you cannot rely on it as a consistent source of sales.
- You can influence the channel, but it is at the discretion of the search engine. Of all digital marketing channels it is the one that is least under your control.
- It is critically important to ensure that you cover all of the basics that Google recommends for SEO.
- You need to see organic search traffic for what it is — it is not a strategic alliance between your company and Google. It is not a panacea.
- You must do what is necessary in this channel. But adopt a fully multichannel approach to digital marketing.