The top three results of every search might be ads, but that’s no reason to overlook your organic search performance. Visitors frequently ignore paid results, browser extensions block them, and the financial return on organic search can be higher, since every click on a paid ad is charged, but on optimized content it reduces the average cost per click.
What is organic search?
We all do it dozens of times a day when typing queries into a browser, frequently in the form of a question. This immediately achieves a high level of specificity, which plays to your advantage if you’re targeting the long tail. This is the large but often neglected audience that isn’t satisfied by the most obvious results – the ones that aren’t just looking for a curry recipe, but one that uses potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Optimizing your content to answer more precise questions, against which it’s difficult to buy keyword-based ads, will immediately help push your content higher in the results. Content intelligence tools can help, by analyzing big data to identify the kind of content your audience is already looking for. Target this and you’ll be moving in the right direction.
Precisely how a search engine decides which links to return is as closely-guarded a secret as that for McDonald’s special sauce – but, says Google, “search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query – for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”
The perfect combination, therefore, will be a mix of slowly evolving evergreen content, and more transient material reflecting industry developments, all of which must be well-linked and authoritative.
As Chris Lewis writes on Adobe’s Marketo blog, if Google believes that your content both answers a query and – crucially – it’s trustworthy, “it ranks [you] higher or lower based on the query. By putting something at the top of search rankings, Google is effectively vouching for the source, both in terms of quality (and relevance) of content and trustworthiness of the source providing it. They’re staking their own reputation and business model on it.”
Improving your organic search performance
An engaging headline and a sprinkling of keywords will therefore only get you so far. Improving your organic search performance is often more subtle than that, and it usually starts with a level-headed assessment of what you’re already doing well.
As the Content Marketing Institute notes, “the health of an article’s SEO score can indicate whether the post is worth keeping or updating” and, as a starting point, it recommends checking the number of sites already linking to a piece of content. This is important because Google, and other search engines, use incoming links as a gauge of authority: the more pages that link to your content, the more likely it is to be trustworthy. And, if those pages themselves rank highly, so much the better. Even the most basic analytics package will tell you where your incoming traffic originates and, where it indicates that a piece of content is attracting visitors from a leading site in your field, that’s a good indication that the content should be kept or updated – and certainly not retired.
Yet a content refresh alone may not be sufficient to improve your organic search performance. As screens have got smaller, search engines have become savvy to what is – and isn’t – comfortable to read or navigate. Thus, for Google and its rivals, usability is a key consideration and, if you’re using Google Analytics, you may already have received notification that on-screen elements are too small or too close together for practical navigation. Unless you fix it, and submit a request for the site to be re-checked, your ranking is likely to suffer as, says Google, “when we identify persistent user pain points, we develop algorithms to promote more usable pages over less usable ones, all other things being equal.”
Target your optimization
Here, as elsewhere, it’s important not to get caught up in counting clicks alone. Only traffic that satisfies your marketing objectives counts, so a 10% increase in visitors that delivers a 30% increase in leads is of far greater value than an exponential increase in traffic that barely affects the bottom line.
It’s vital, too, to remember that organic search performance will fluctuate over time, as search engines tweak their algorithms and rivals optimize their content. You could once have mitigated either of these through smarter use of keywords but, while keywords still have a part to play, they’re merely one consideration among many. Equal focus should be given to incoming and internal links, the quality of your content, its structure, its layout, and even the speed at which your pages load and render.
While hosting and design are personal considerations, Concured’s content intelligence tools can help satisfy the trickier half of the algorithm: identifying what your audience is searching for, and ideating engaging, authoritative content that provides the answers they need.