How to Think Like Google

think like google

With billions of searches happening every day on its platform and with over 65% share of the search market, Google requires you to pay attention to it. How the search engine works, what it looks for, and how it plans to evolve are all important factors in your understanding of the product, which will help you stay ahead of your competition.

By thinking like Google, you will not only learn what makes the world’s largest search engine tick, but you will also learn how to improve your site for higher rankings.

Before we get into that, you need to understand first how the search engine works:

How searches work

When you do a search, you may not realize that in the background, thousands of channels, programs and scripts are working to get you the answer within milliseconds.

Google has prepared a great interactive infographic that simplifies and explains how search works. Of course, many changes have been made to this formula over the years, especially because some sites try to game the system and artificially inflate key factors that Google looks at such as back links, domain age, and social marketing efforts.

Although no one but Google knows exactly what’s in each algorithm or even how many there are that make a site rank where it does, you can find some good information by looking at what Google has done previously.

It’s important to remember that Google is only as good as the service it provides. If people make billions of searches, but don’t find what they’re looking for, they’re far less likely to trust them or, even worse, use them again. So it’s in Google’s best interest to give people what they want.

Clues from the past

One way to tell where Google’s going is to look at where it has been. SEOmoz has a list of Google’s algorithm changes since 2000, in which they note all minor and major changes in the search engine’s indexing and ranking strategies. There are a few common threads that you’ll notice:

  • Google is always trying to think one step ahead of spammers and scammers by identifying sites known to harbor malware and devaluing sites that use outdated techniques such as keyword stuffing, doorway pages and invisible text. This shows that you should avoid not just these tactics, but also other spammy tactics as they won’t last long. Any quick solution that you use to boost your rankings probably isn’t wise because Google’s history has shown that it won’t work forever.
  • Google has always felt that content is king, but over the years people have tried to game the system by producing mediocre content. From fighting duplicate content to useless content, Google continues to promote content-rich sites that provide value to their readers. They eventually push down sites that don’t have great content. Your goal shouldn’t be to write tons of content, but instead your goal should be to focus on higher quality content as those pieces tend to gain more backlinks and rank higher throughout Google’s algorithm updates.
  • Links have always been a huge part of rankings, and it seems that it will continue to be that way. Over time, webmasters have figured out how to build links, but the ones that are still hard to game are links from relevant authority sites. If you are planning on building links, go for quality and not quantity. As long as your links are relevant and are not keyword rich, you should do well in the long run. The concept of links is also changing… links from social media sites such as tweets can help. Co-citations may also help your rankings in the long run.
  • When you’re serving billions of pages a day, there’s a clear focus on speed. Not only has Google’s index updated quicker with the introduction of updates such as Suggest and Caffeine, but site speed is a major factor that affects the relevancy and conversion rate of your site. Site speed is just one of 200+ known algorithmic factors that Google takes into account when ranking your site. If you want to boost your rankings, consider optimizing your load time. Just look at how I doubled my traffic by improving my load time.

Another way to keep your finger on the pulse of the search giant is to take a closer look at what it’s currently involved in. SEO by the Sea highlights interesting features and information from Google’s patent filings. From Google glasses to rich snippets, you can learn a lot about the future of Google from these posts.

Likes and Dislikes

I’ve already shared a few notable things that Google dislikes: spam (comment and otherwise), malware, duplicate content, low quality inbound links, a high number of outbound links and so forth. But what about what Google likes?

  • Authoritative content – not just good content, but content with backlinks from relevant authority sites and reviews from peers. An easy way to build links to your content is to follow the steps in this blog post. Also, content that contains at least 2,000 words tends to rank higher than shorter content.
  • Cornerstone content – this is information that serves as an often-linked-to resource from other sites. It’s content that doesn’t need to change often because it’s so complete and so relevant that it only needs minimal maintenance to stay that way. The Advanced Guide to SEO is a good example of this, and it will continually get more and more traffic each day as it is the most thorough guide to SEO online.
  • Social signalsGoogle measures social networks differently and pays attention to diverse signals. Votes (likes), shares, posts and bookmarks are just a few of the criteria Google looks for. The more social shares your content gets, the higher you will rank. This is especially going to be more important as Google spends more time and money on Google Plus.
  • Personalized experiences – a big trend Google is going after is personalizing their search and product experience to each user. From mobile devices, in which their investing billions of dollars, to personalized search, Google wants users to receive experiences tailored to their needs. If you can adapt your website to the needs of users, you are likely to rank higher in the long run. From using responsive design, to tailoring the experience based on history, like Yelp does, it’s all about offering a unique experience to each user.

If Google is so smart, why does _______ still work?

Your search engine ranking may be below the site’s that you know uses black hat and other underhanded techniques to rank where it does. This begs the question, if Google is so smart and advanced, why do some of these techniques still work?

The answer is because Google’s index is delicate. They don’t want to sandbox quality sites mistakenly or generate false-positives as they did when they declared the whole internet to be full of malware in 2009.

Google’s engineers are hard at work trying to figure out how to maintain a balance of quality results without the changes adversely affecting sites that have done nothing wrong. So, instead of stooping to your competitions’ level, use ethical white hat tactics and you will likely rank higher in the long run.

From what I’ve seen over the years, sites using unethical tactics may rank high for a few months, or even a year or two, but eventually they get caught. If you focus on producing high quality content and building legitimate links, you’ll eventually rank higher than the people who are taking the quick and easy route. I myself used to take the quick and easy route and ranked for terms like “web hosting” or even “online poker” really high, but eventually Google caught up to me and others and penalized us over time.

Slow and steady really does win the race in the game of “Google”.

Tools of the trade

Another way to get more insights about Google is to use the tools they provide. One of the most important ones to check out is Webmaster Tools. Here are some of the things Webmaster Tools can tell you, which should give you insights on how Google thinks:

  • Page speed – Google used to have page speed data in Webmaster Tools. They now send you to their PageSpeed program, which shows you that they feel load time is important. The reason Google feels page speed being important is because they noticed a correlation between the speed with which a site loads and the frequency of Google use. When they rank sites that load slowly, people use Google less frequently.
  • Errors – no search engine likes sending people to a site with errors. Google lists all the errors they find on your site that you should fix in Webmaster Tools.
  • Search queries – if you are trying to figure out whether your traffic is going to go up or down, just look at how many search query impressions you receive. The more you get, the more traffic you should receive. So, if you make changes to your marketing strategy, and the number of impressions goes up, you should do more of it. If the number of impressions goes down, you should do less of it.
  • Valuable content – through the use of sitemaps, Google will tell you how many pages they are indexing on your site. This should show you what the search giant thinks of your content. If they are indexing a lot of your content, they probably feel it is more valuable as opposed to having only very few pages indexed.
  • Messages – my favorite feature in Webmaster Tools is the messages area. Google will tell you what they see wrong with your website, and this is where they will be sending you warnings as well.

If you want to get an understanding of where Google is going and how to adapt to their changes, it is essential that you use Webmaster Tools.

What’s next for the search giant?

Using the programs and services above as well as other features like Google+, you can get a good understanding of the direction in which Google is moving. Facebook has been slowly trying to take a bite out of Google’s market share by going after search and rolling out their own ad network, but Google continues to adapt and fight back.

You may look at Google Plus and consider it a nice, but failed, try on their part. But that’s only because you may be comparing it to Facebook in terms of popularity. Google Plus is becoming more and more integrated with the things we use every day, similar to Facebook’s universal login. Recently, they started promoting brands’ Plus pages and showcasing their +1 buttons as a way to encourage more companies to embrace Google Plus.

Beyond Google+, there’s also the Knowledge Graph, Google’s answer to Facebook’s long reach in the social sphere. The Knowledge Graph collects and connects the who, what, where, when and how of social search.

Combine this information with the social community and Google Maps and you get Google Now, a personal assistant for Android smart phones that hopes to “make you a local, anywhere” by giving you the right information at the right time. This includes sports scores from your favorite teams as they’re playing, the latest train schedule while you’re standing on the platform, and flight details from the moment you reach the gate. The more Google Now knows about you, the better its recommendations are.

The biggest take away from all of these changes is that Google is getting more personalized and not just from a localization standpoint. They are trying to show you different results from those that they would to your next-door neighbor. With all the information they are collecting about you, your friends, your likes, your location… they are trying to make your search experience more customized to you.

This means you need to adjust your strategy as a business. You can’t just go after head terms anymore. You need to start going after local search results and ideally adjust your content to be more relevant for each type of search a person may make.

Conclusion

The good news is that to think like Google, you don’t have to be an algorithm hawk, watching out for every little change. Instead, concentrate on giving your customers what they want: great, relevant content, shared through various social networks. Ask them to spread the word via their own friends and colleagues and make that information available through more than just a blog post. Obviously, it’s worth paying attention to algorithm updates as they may affect your site on some small level, but as long as you keep giving people what they want, you’ll inadvertently also be giving Google what it wants.

What are your thoughts on optimizing for Google? Have your site rankings been helped or hurt by recent updates?

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Comments

  1. I think it’s best not to always find the latest trick to game Google, but just accept Google should only be part of your marketing strategy. Recently, I’ve been getting more benefits and dealing with less stress to do “branding” via blog comments, guest posts, and social media.

    I try to focus on quality marketing and that usually helps with anything that I would want from Google.

    -Amir

  2. I am fully agree with you, that Google just can’t be cheated.

    If you focus on producing high quality content, and building legitimate links, you’ll eventually rank higher than the people who are taking the quick and easy route.

    I know a few wordpress plugins like SEO localizer which help people doing wrong things. But they are evil and Google will ban them shortly.

    It takes 5 years to build an audience like quicksprout has right now. It takes 2 hours to write a LINKWORTHY blog post like this one, and It takes 80+ hours per week to build two internet companies and still running a wonderful blog as quicksprout.

    Hats off, Neil!

    Another lesson I learnt from you..

    You need a network.

    Enough said.

  3. I’ve been saying for a while to all my clients that there is no way around Google, just do what they say. Just like in life, if you have a gut feeling that you’re doing something wrong, its probably wrong. Just create quality content and a quality website like you’re supposed to, and you’ll be fine… as well as social media.

  4. I discovered your blog last week, it is so much to learn. I read 9 chapters of “The Advanced Guide to SEO” everyday. In my country, links spam is till the number one SEO’s rule. Content is king, but without links king will die. Many websites has low quality content but still on top. I hate this and still write good content everyday.

  5. I learned a lot of things here. Thank you Neil.
    I need to add more quality backlinks now than a quick bunch low-quality backlinks that may hurt my site.

  6. I always tell my students who worry about getting sucked into black hat tactics unknowingly, “If it feels like a gimmick, don’t do it. Be real. Be transparent.”

  7. Neil,

    I think there is a tremendous value in this post and enjoyed reading it. Your title is very catch, but I know what you meant. Thinking like Google means thinking about your target market, thinking of what they need and serving them with your content (high quality one).
    A great idea. Thank you for sharing.

    Regards,
    Kumar

  8. This is great advice. Understanding them and what they are aiming to do takes away some of the big bad wolf feeling, and makes what you try to do potentially more applicable for your business and customers.

    I always like to understand how they are working and give my people good content, while not relying completely on google…

    Thanks!

  9. Hi Neil,

    I think we should spend less time dodging google algorithm, it’s better to write epic content and build readership around the blog. The focus should be to market your blog with QUALITY CONTENT via social media and other possible mediums.

    Thanks for this great share.

    Sapna

  10. Its a really imporatant post that helps us in understanding that :”Google is motivated and determined to do only one thing i.e. Make good and unique contents rank higher”….

    So we can forget about getting all the links and concentrate more on creating better contents

    I think : “Every blogger spends around 4-6 hours in getting links to their mediocre posts”

    While they can spend that same time on creating better that people will link to…

    For example I will link to this post and thats one free link earned for a great post…

    Thanks Neil Good Post!

  11. great read neil, thus at the end of the article it is clear to me that google try to dominate internet and in this process, he wants clean internet and compitition free internet, at least against the facebook.

  12. You totally beat me to the punch, Neil; I was working on a post on the same subject…. :)

    Early bird gets the worm!

  13. One of the Best Article on SEO strategy w.r.t Google. Great tips Neil. Thanks for Sharing :)

  14. Thank you Neil for this post. It’s good point out that there are no short cuts with Google and outstanding content like quick sprout will carry the day.

    I have also skimmed the advanced guide to seo and can’t wait to read the whole guide.

  15. Again an awesome post Neil! Sometimes I wonder how do you get such great blogging ideas? Maybe you should write a post on that.

    In recent times to rock the SERPs I am trying to follow simply the SCS rule i.e. Search+Content+Social

    1. Creating high-value content
    2. Using the power of social media to gain exposure for that content
    3. Concentrating on enhancing the natural authority of websites, pages
    4. Doing smart on-page optimization using the language the audience uses

    As you mentioned in this post Google is going through a massive change tricks that worked earlier doesn’t work anymore. Search is getting more personalized focusing on the users first would be the best policy to survive.

    No wait! I think it always was from the start.

  16. Hi Neil

    Thank you for the great posts you make and while most of them are very helpful (for your followers / all those people who frequently visit your blog, including me). But I tend to find some of you posts and your blog as a whole intriguing enough to generate curiosity to the effect, why would Neil never label his post – is it something that’s against SEO rules he follows or anything else that he might or might not want to share with us? Neither does he wants to generate CPC or CPM as there are no ads displayed on this blog and he’s well known enough to generate huge amount of revenues through referrals or through other mediums (which am not interested in).

    So help me figure this out as to why Neil never labels his post as I asked the same question in one of my comments earlier and it somehow got moderated may be because it contained a link? I would want to have easy access to his posts in my case.

    In the beginning or first sentence of this post Neil says – “With billions of searches happening every day, and over 65% of the search market, it’s a obvious that you should be paying attention to Google.”! Am not quite sure, but he meant to say 65% of worldwide internet users use Google to search for things on the internet, and if that’s what he meant, I would want to request him to give us some insights on the remaining 35% searches made through other search engine as we would not want to miss out these along with Google. I along with almost everyone understands Google is our number 1 priority followed by others and we would like to know about them as well since they might constitute of a certain percentage of the remaining 35%.

    Thank you Neil and hope you answer it this time.

    • Hey Chandrakshi,

      By saying “over 65% of the search market” I guess Neil meant, Google accounted for 65.26% of all US searches conducted in the four weeks ending September 2012 (I often mess around with dates) according to Experian Hitwise.

      The combined Bing-powered search comprised 26.58% of searches for the month, with Yahoo! Search and Microsoft’s Bing.com receiving 13.77% and 12.81%, respectively.

      Hope that helps :)

    • Chandrakshi, You bring up a great point. Maybe I will make a post about the other 35% next time :)

  17. This blog kicks so much ass, If I knew one of the Laker girls…Neil I swear I would hook you up.

    Cheers, my beer loving friend!

  18. Insightful content as usual Neil!

  19. Thanks on the useful info. It is really good to know these things.

  20. I love that every link in your post goes to more valuable information. I recently watched a video by a niche affiliate marketer that uses simple wordpress sites. He also emphasized site load time. His recommendation was to check your load speed at tools.kingdom.com/fpt and apply plugin WP Super Cache for max speed. For people using the WP platform this seems like a good solution, but I’d like to hear any thoughts on this. Is anyone using this plugin for load time speed?

  21. Hello Neil,
    thanks for sharing all this good stuff with us.
    About Google – you know, what people say: If you can’t beat you enemy, enjoy him! :-)
    OK, Google is not enemy, but it could be. ;-)
    That’s why the best thing is to use every rule as an advantage!

  22. Neil,

    I’m surprised you have not added a Pinterest social button at the side.

    If you had, I bet the graphic at the top of the page would have been pinned many times …

    Thanks for the great article.

    Somesh

  23. As I am a beginner, I read tons of articles, among which yours, and indeed I have learnt that the quality of content and backlinks is vital. Following these instructions, I managed to get on the top of the first page of Google for several keywords, beating sites having ten of thousands of backlinks (I checked some of them and I must say that the quality was bad) with less that 300 backlinks. So, I can only agree that if we play by the rules, we can achieve our goals. Nice article!

  24. Excellent post Neil,

    I have always said that we can all learn from Google on how they monetize their primary product.

    The #1 most relevant links are always their advertisements but if you notice they don’t swarm you with ads.

    Adsense site builders take note.

    Also there is a lot to be learned from YouTube.

    How are they going to get people to watch those commercials?
    If anyone can do it I would think they can but I could be wrong.

  25. Neil, I am going through my emails unsubscribing to lots of sites. The inbox is just too full. But I am not unsubscribing from your site. You have clear, precise, and easy to read posts that tell me all I want to hear. This one is great too. Thank you – you are terrific.

  26. Perhaps I’m a little jaded, but I think the days of Google caring about serving up the most relevant and high quality content are long gone. It’s all about the money and I can make my case in a single word- eHow.

    Content is not king, monetizing other’s content is. If you’re a brand, times are good. If you’re not, your content can be scraped and ranked above you by the scraper.

    I think this article is dated and a tad naive. Serving up your best content for free to Google is a terrible strategy. Better to monetize it yourself.

  27. Some good info there, Neil, but when you say google likes longer content rather than short content, that isn’t always true.

    There are plenty of sites appearing on the first page of google, that are nothing more than click-through farms. They have zero unique content of their own, and they show only a headline and a single paragraph, followed by a link to another site where you can read the complete item. These sites usually are covered with google ads, and google rewards them because they have just enough text to be relevant for the search, and they have unrelated pictures and videos on the page. I know this because they are by far outranking me for my own content, yet google rewards them consistently, over the past 12 months.

  28. Thanks Neil for great article ,we were running our website past 8 months but it got good ranking and traffic until we started giving long lengthy content rich articles.

  29. Google is an Indian version of this admired search engine. Search the complete web or only web pages from India. amazing post Nail.

  30. There should be an article about How to Think Like Neil Patel. :)

    This is a great article but in my opinion we should always keep in mind that Google is just another Internet marketing tool. There are so many services, free or otherwise, that we can utilize. But of course, it’s important to put Google on top of our list because it’s the most influential search company.

    And trends are always changing. What’s important is keeping ourselves updated about the latest big thing that can bring success.

  31. Neil, awesome post. I enjoyed watching the white board Friday video on citations. I did not know how they worked but wondered how some ranked without using the keywords :) The knowledge graph video is very helpful too.
    How does one apply this to a retail site? When you mention the 2000 words – that is hard to do on product landing pages, what would you recommend for those?

  32. Hey neil,

    Thank you for replying my mail, actually i would like to know more about some small scale business that i can do online,i’m not running any firm at moment,is there something that i can do online like writing blogs or something,i’m sure you can suggest me on that.

    waiting for your response…

    Your well wisher

    Deep.

  33. Hey Neil,
    Before a few days i observed a massive loss in Traffic due to spam comments.Now I have removed that all. Is it the best way to recover or else. please reply.

  34. Too much to absorb. A brilliant post as usual. Will have to read it once more and then make the points required. Thanks Neil what I do without your posts and guidance.

  35. At my time of commenting, I am the 63rd. In such a short time, you must be doing it right, Keep it up.

  36. I think that Google is looking at the quality of the content on sites now. Google does not want to see a site that is filled with a bunch of 500 word articles. They like quality content that is long enough to get all points across. Don’t cut the article short if it needs to be longer. I say a minimum of 900 words for most of my articles.
    Another note, is that I see them looking at the time spent on a site, and the bounce rate. They seem to be favoring sites that have people spending a good amount of time on them. Adding videos to your site is a good thing to do for this.
    Get quality backlinks, and not a $5 package on fiver.

    Great post! I just wanted to add my two cents.

    Thanks,
    Joshua

  37. Really great stuff, Neil. And the advice about becoming “local” is the biggest takeaway. Thanks!

  38. Neil! Another awesome post out of your corner of the net. Thanks! I will share that I’ve been writing short posts around 200 words on a daily bases (two or three times a day) that share a tip or a point conveyed using long tail keywords in my post titles. Between that and registering my sites with Google and Bing so I can use their tools I’m making headway. A lot of folks don’t want to read long posts and the short ones seem to do the job for them. Out of 167 pages currently Google has indexed 153 thus far and will probably have done more by the end of the weekend. Yes! I still do long posts between 500 and 2500 words a few times a week roughly but for what I have in mind it seems to be working for me so I’m continuing to run with it. Between my own server logs and the tools Google and Bing Offer I’m feeling like I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s happening. Facebook is handy for driving traffic too. Blog comments are picking up, as well. Cheers!

  39. Excellent post Neil. I like the way you are focusing on long term and permanent results by looking at the big picture.

    I think in the near future we will have to forget about Search Engines and purely focus on readers when writing and building web pages. Google will soon find methods to separate pages that are specifically written for onsite SEO. My guess is the value of Title and other tags will disappear soon.

  40. Samuel Darwin :

    Neil, may I know what’s the Social Media sharing pluggin you are using for your site? I mean the Twitter, Facebook and G+ icons that keeps running along the side of the page.

    It is simply awesome. I don’t intend to copy it, but would be glad to know if there is a readymade pluggin.

  41. Google keeps changing their way of search results. Its best to do your best by offering quality and unique content, along with good interaction from users.

  42. It is really hard to think like Google. They are simply unpredictable that even experts are sometimes shocked with their latest updates and modifications.

  43. Hi Niel, Thanks for sharing this information . And yes its true that its not a good idea to game the google system but it is the proper whitehat SEO which takes little more time but that will certainly work to keep your business up in the search engine rankings.

  44. Thanks for this excellent informative post. Always interesting to read another perspective on the Google giant.

  45. Another great article Neil. Everything always come back to having great content that people want to share and read. As soon as clients learn that, we’ll be flying! :)

  46. Great post as always, one important thing that I learn from this post is that don’t wait for updates to happen & fix your site later, but prepare your site for future updates, by considering factors that Google will take into account will rolling out their next update.

    Thanks Neil

  47. Completely agree with “Slow and steady really does win in the Google game”. I think all the SEO gurus have been and done that in the past, where they’ve explored through many SEO options, only to find that long-terms results only come when you’ve put in the hard yards at really producing valuable content. This and the fact that you must also work hard in the content marketing and social leverage factors.

    Cheers for the article Neil.

  48. This was very informative. I am a newbie to the SEO game and how Google measures website content. You answered alot of questions that I had. Thank you.

  49. Thanks for posting such a helpful information related to Google..how google searches work?i have learn some intersting things related to google through your post. As i am also seo expert it will definetly help me for my future seo task.

  50. Search enginge “Google” has changed the way of our life.It changedthe way we work and study.I really adore Google.It facilitates my life and my study , now it helps me in my work.And Knowing how the search engine works, what it looks for, and how it plans to evolve are all important to understand if you want to stay ahead of your competition is an amazing task.

  51. How to think like Google. The article is gripping right from the title. You can learn to think like Google, as their principles are easy and sound. They focus on quality and that’s what every marketer should do too. Great guideline Neil.

    Melinda
    ondemandvirtualservices.com

  52. Neil Sir, I am very very grateful to you. It is your master peace. I like your expertise. No doubt. No more questions. Thank You.

  53. Wow! you really have a point that Google will devalue all websites that you can easily build links like WordPress, Blogger and all other social media sites because all of those social media sites can easily build you a link like Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+!!

  54. Really good read. I am sure to benefit from some of these simple yet creative ideas for custom buttons.

  55. Great Article. As Google keep updating their algorithm, one thing is clear, we need to focus, just like Google and provide high quality content to our users

  56. Wow excellent post Neil,

    Everyone says that content is king and use fresh and informative content, I have always one concern that currently some sites are coming on top positions and they have no content why?
    Well, google give us webmaster tools that intimate us that what should you do.

    Yeah page speed, errors, content and social signals are most important things to get a good ranking.

    I’m totally agreed with you that “You may look at Google Plus and consider it a nice try, but a failure on their part. But that’s only because you maybe comparing it to Facebook in terms of popularity”.

  57. Hi Neil,
    Its a Nice Valuable Post.. this Post taught Me More, and we have to be More flexible to Google to achieve our Targeted keywords to reach at the top pages…:) thanks again

  58. nice article in our SEO carrier we should think like google if and its very important in our business thanks neil for this nice post.keep writing.

  59. I like your website very much I am new blogger and trying to apply what I learn from your blog thank you are giving guidance.

  60. thanks for this SEO tips neil very interesting post i bookmark it.

  61. Thanks Neil. Great information – :)

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