Creating compelling, customer-centric content isn’t enough to win rankings and shoppers. Without a strong internal linking structure, even the best content will still fail to perform in natural search.
The three strongest factors that Google uses to determine which pages will be ranked on page one are content, links, and Google’s proprietary machine-learning artificial intelligence system called RankBrain, part of its Hummingbird search algorithm.
Content for search engine optimization boils down to words that send signals of relevance to search engines. When combined with the signals of authority that internal and external links send to search engines, these two make up the first and second most important factors that Google uses to rank content for search results.
The third most important ranking factor, RankBrain, is out of our control to change. But while we can’t hope to impact the way that RankBrain functions, we can directly influence the content and internal linking structures within our own sites.
The three strongest factors that Google uses to determine which pages will be ranked on page one are content, links, and Google’s proprietary machine-learning artificial intelligence system…
Content Is King
First, you need to actually create great content. Search engine optimization professionals have been espousing the need for customer-centric content since the beginning of SEO. Some less reputable SEO professionals will settle for any mash up of words that contain keywords. Yuck.
No one wants to read what I call “SEO content” because it has no value to the consumer. And Google — as well as Bing and other modern search engines — absolutely do know the difference. Poorly written, keyword-overstuffed, duplicative, solely SEO-centric content will not improve natural search performance. Plus, it’s unpleasant for shoppers to read and does nothing to improve your brand perception.
If you’re hesitant to put it on a page that shoppers will see and buy from, or reluctant to link to it on your site, that’s a good sign that it’s the bad kind of SEO content.
“Great content” is useful and desirable to your shoppers. Depending on your industry, your specific area of product offerings, great content may describe products that need to be used together to work effectively, a list of critical products everyone should own, or a how-to piece that helps a shopper figure out what to buy or how to use a product.
Great content usually has some sort of visual component like checklists, pictures, illustrations, or video that aids in shopper digestion. But to influence SEO performance, great content needs to have some textual, descriptive explanation to go along with the visual aids to describe what the content is about, using keywords — the words that real shoppers use when they talk about the products.
Great content takes planning and effort to create. Yes, it can be hard, especially if you have a blog and are releasing great new content on a regular basis. Think of your customers’ questions, check social media, ask customer support, dig into keyword research data, or get ideas from reputable sources, such as our monthly “5 Content Marketing Ideas” list to make it easier to create useful content.
Links Are Gold
Great content is linked to, and in turn links out to the rest of the site as a valuable resource. When content lacks links, no matter how great that content is, it lacks the authority signals that Google requires to rank pages in search results.
Links from other sites — external links — are the most valuable because they send the strongest signals to search engines that your content is authoritative. However, external links take time to acquire and are harder to influence. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work with the rest of the marketing department on a strong content marketing strategy. You should. But it takes time, skill, and luck for those efforts to mature into links.
Great content is linked to, and in turn links out to the rest of the site as a valuable resource.
Internal links — the links you build on your own site to cross-link pages — are easier to achieve and manage over time. They’re also important indicators of value to search engines because the pages that are linked to most frequently from other pages are deemed most valuable to searchers.
Said another way, if you want something to rank, you need to link to it from as many pages on the site as makes sense from a shopper’s experience standpoint.
And if you want great content to rank, or pass its value to ecommerce pages so that the ecommerce pages can rank, it also needs to be linked to in ways that send authority signals and adds value for your shoppers.
Blogs are good examples. They can be excellent for ecommerce SEO if they are regularly updated with compelling content and interlinked strongly with the ecommerce site. Nearly all of the sites I’ve worked with that have blogs lament their poor performance, but nearly all of them use their blogs poorly for SEO. They only link one way.
Ecommerce instinct is to keep the ecommerce pages pure, and link to them from any resource, tips, trends, or blog pages. That’s a one-way linking arrangement that is meant to feed authoritative value from the content through the links to the ecommerce pages.
What they don’t realize is that the content pages need to have value before they can pass value.
Value — ranking signals of relevance and authority — comes from words and links. Great content has words with high relevance and value to shoppers, but it has to also have links into it to have the authority be able to rank itself. If it doesn’t have the authority, it can’t pass authority on to the ecommerce pages it’s meant to boost.