Regardless of what you do with your days and nights, you’d be hard-pressed to never have used Google at some point in your life.
Chances are, as we’re off and running in the year 2020, you’re using the “free” internet database and information machine on a weekly basis – most likely daily – and for good reason.
Google is an information powerhouse, serving up billions of searches a day and many-thousands of searched per second. It is second to none.
Its “hundreds of billions of webpages” that have been crawled and make up its always-expanding Search index are proof of that.
But for all its good, Google still gets plenty wrong every day.
Some problems are worse than others, depending on how often you use Google, how familiar you are with the search engines, and, basically, who you are.
A digital marketer is going to (typically) have a much more extensive understanding of how Google works than a middle-aged security guard, a stay-at-home mom, or even a police officer or a firefighter.
When considering the eight call-outs below, it is mostly considered from an everyday, average Google Search user.
That said, there will certainly be deeper explanations for seemingly basic concepts to show just how wrong Google has gotten it on several critical occasions.
1. Always Testing/Changing
Whether you’re an everyday user, sometimes user, or in-the-trenches search marketer, you most likely know Google doesn’t sit still.
The world-leading search engine makes hundreds of changes per year to its platform through thousands of updates that included more than 3,200 updates in 2018, a number that has increased each year for decades.
It has confused users, angered SEO professionals, and ultimately transformed the way nearly every human on Earth interacts with the World Wide Web.
Thus, there is likely never just one reason for any – or all – of the changes Google makes a year.
But, while many average users can easily illustrate examples of why they were ever displeased with a change Google made, there are plenty of times when those changes worked in favor of the user in terms of a better experience on the search engine.
As a search marketer, we not only appreciate many of the changes Google makes due to their impact on the overall search experience; we also appreciate these thousands of changes per year because it keeps us in demand and employs us – directly and indirectly – every day.
2. Glitchy, Like All Computer Programs
Like any technological entity, Google, too, endures glitches, bugs, broken parts, and pint-sized disasters.
In early April 2019, Google had to fix a technical issue that caused pages to be deindexed.
Later that same month, a Google issue caused the search engine to select unrelated canonical URLs that were sometimes reflected in the breadcrumb trails on mobile. In rare cases, this may have prevented proper indexing of content by Google.
The following month, Google announced it was experiencing indexing issues that lasted through much of a day.
While temporary, it was still a major issue that prevented new content from being indexed in search results and make those results far less useful than they typically are.
Search Engine Journal staff writer Roger Montti pointed out how even though “Google has suffered outages in the past, Google has not experienced so many outages in such a short period of time,” as it did in the first half of 2019, suggesting the series of problems could be tied to a larger issue like an infrastructure update.
In July, Google had to fix a bug that caused search results to not fully render for some people over a span of several days.
Then, in the following month, it fixed another a bug that prevented newly-published content from being indexed again (same issue as May).
And, just as recent as February 2020, Google experienced glitches with Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager that caused some sites to become unverified in Search Console.
Clearly, this isn’t a problem most Google users would even recognize, but it was another issue that had some sort of impact on search, its users, and Google.
3. Never 100% Accurate
No search engine is perfect.
But they have all been impressive at one point or another with the results they serve up, and Google is certainly no exception to that.
While it doesn’t need a specific name or entity title to get the answer you’re looking for, Google is able to connect the dots for people more often than not when delivering an answer with a limited amount of information for many informational-type searches.
Other, more-granular searches that are guided with specific details – like a person’s name – can result in a short, simple answer that usually becomes a featured snippet.
These answers are a work in progress – that is, building out the database tied to the entities referenced in those answers.
More often than not, featured snippet answers are correct, or at least mostly correct.
There are certainly times when the answers, or at least parts of the answers, are incorrect, though.
Like the example below (which is now fixed), Google referenced Ice Cube’s net worth, but then suggested some other similar searches, which include a photo of rapper Vanilla Ice as the representation for (a different) rapper, Ice-T.
Another example involves actor James Earl Jones and an honorary Oscar he received.
A simple search mentioning the two main entities in the query (Earl Jones and the Oscars) brings back plenty of quality results.
But it also says James Earl Jones is dead after a one-year battle with ovarian cancer (an excerpt from his Wikipedia page that is actually citing the death of Jones’ wife, Cecilia Hart).
This is clearly another mistake tied to the criteria used by Google for choosing the extracted data as answers, or part of the answers, to certain questions.
It can and will be fixed eventually, and even though it’s a small piece of misinformation related to the entity in question, the inaccuracy highlights another flaw of Google.
4. Google Does What It Wants (& It’s Not Always Ideal or Accurate)
We know Google loves to test new features and ideas – and they don’t always (or rarely) stick.
This can be both confusing and frustrating.
Changing a brand’s marketing approach and general strategy because of a change Google claims is here to stay is dangerous and irresponsible. (See: Google+ and Authorship Markup.)
Google has a plan and few, if any, outside of the company have any input into the decisions made or directions certain projects, apps, and ideas go — no matter how big or small.
There’s a long list of failures – or at least defunct – products and services Google once offered and no longer does.
This is a testament to Google’s behavior of changing the tide, sometimes drastically, only to revert back or go in a different direction entirely.
It is not necessarily bad to test new ideas in attempt to improve your product. But when you allow, or even recommend, millions of brands to shape their strategies (and dollars) around these changes, only to backpedal, there are victims and there are losers.
Google is never either of those two things.
It may have been a bit of a secret 10 years ago, but it’s not anymore.
Google acquires and uses the personal data of its users regularly, and even leverages that data for its own profitable gain.
It sounds so dirty when we say it like that. And it pretty much is.
Google tracks us and every search we make.
Search history has gotten murderers convicted and it’s also generated hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising profits ($135 billion in 2019, to be exact).
That’s a lot of power for one entity to have. It’s easily the most controversial aspect to the business model of the fourth-richest company in the world (Google’s parent company Alphabet).
And with the growth of in-home Google Assistant products like Google Home and Nest, the “invasion of privacy” is only increasing.
And Google uses that data to sell advertising.
6. You’ve Got to Pay to Play
So, Google sells the data it takes from its users to make its profits via advertising.
And it used to offer some of that data to marketers for organic marketing purposes, too. But those days are long gone.
Now, to access proprietary search data compiled and owned by Google in Keyword Planner, marketers have to spend over a certain dollar threshold in advertising per month (although Google never announced what that threshold is).
Not only is the fourth-richest company in the world invading privacy and compiling data to leverage its business, but it’s also withholding that data unless business partners spend a large amount of money regularly each month.
To make matters worse, Google keeps creeping closer and closer to having paid search engine results resemble organic search engine results, further clouding the ethical space between ads and organic content and how each appears to users.
This is creating a better advertising product for Google (because paid results that look more like organic results will typically perform well) but allowing brands to pay to “rank” well while appearing to be a non-paid result is misleading.
Paid search ads are designed to convert and, while Google does offer a quality score for those ads, they are not organically awarded for the usual reasons (i.e., favorable user experience, quality content offering that is valuable and educational, a user’s best interest in mind, etc.).
7. Google Can’t Do It All
Google knows it’s not perfect.
Indexing all of the content on the web regularly is more than just a daunting task; it’s impossible.
Google has indexed trillions of webpages – but it has not and likely will not index every single piece of content on the web.
That’s a result of the robustness of the web’s content offering, and Google also admits that it cannot crawl all elements of websites effectively.
Written text is easy to crawl and index – images, videos, and certain HTML elements are not so easily crawl and indexed.
This could make it tougher for websites that operate without that knowledge in mind to communicate effectively, eliminating potentially critical content from the eyes of Google, and thus the web’s audience.
8. It’s Just Not What It Once Was
Truth be told, this is the most important reason why Google continues to succeed.
While the search engine operates differently than ever before, it’s also more advanced and knowledgeable than ever before. It’s able to accomplish feats we didn’t expect, delivering answers quickly and easily for users, and only getting better as time progresses.
With its thousands of updates per year and its goal of getting information to people easier and faster than ever before, Google is sending a message that it is not going to stop and sit on its product, probably ever. It will keep adapting it to change and perform at its best always.
Changing to cater to the behavior of humans (i.e., favoring mobile, adapting to new technology, etc.) has allowed Google to continue its impressive growth, and will continue to do so as long as it keeps at it.
Implementing game-changing technology that continues to take its search engine to new heights (i.e., machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.) allows Google to stay useful, relevant, and always just a pocket-reach away.
Don’t expect any of these Google discrepancies to change anytime soon, either.
You can expect Google to continue its global domination, as well as domination of the search engine market, regardless of it continuing much of what we talked about above.
It’s still the best search engine in the world, and it’s still (mostly*) free.
*signifies the compensation for this free service is personal data that the company uses
Screenshots taken by author, February 2020
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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