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Mastering the Algorithm by understanding how Google handles search queries

Episode Overview

Google’s rise to dominance in the global digital ad market is built on understanding what end users are trying to accomplish. Better known as user intent, Google’s ability to diagnose and parse informational, transactional and navigational queries is a key element of their search algorithms and our starting point for Algorithm Week.

Topics covered include:

  • How Google understands language in a natural way to provide the best search result
  • Google’s ability to understand user intent and how its delivered superior results
  • The difference between informational queries, transactional queries and navigational queries and how they allow Google to understand how to serve very specific results
  • How determining user intent allows Google to serve up a richer user experience

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Algorithm Month on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. And this month we’re taking a look inside the black box that is Google’s search algorithm. And this week specifically, we’re going to publish an episode every day discussing one of the key factors that Google states impacts how their algorithm interprets your content.

Ben:                 Joining us for algorithm week is Jordan Koene, who is a world-renowned SEO strategist and the CEO here at Searchmetrics Inc. And today Jordan and I are going to talk about how Google thinks about the meaning of your query. But before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions.

Ben:                 To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                 Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to the first episode of Algorithm Week in Algorithm Month on the Voices Of Search Podcast. That sounds like an awful lot of algorithms.

Jordan:             Yeah. Don’t say it five times fast. I think you might trip up.

Ben:                 Algorithm week, algorithm week, algorithm week, algorithm week, algorithm week. Is that five?

Jordan:             Wow.

Ben:                 Got it. Yeah. All right, let’s hop into it. I’ve embarrassed myself enough. We’re going to talk about how Google thinks about the meaning of your query. If I type in algorithm week five times into the Google search box, how do they know what the heck I’m talking about? And how do we figure out how to give them the intent for what I mean?

Jordan:             To simplify this concept or this theme for today, the best way to look at it is Google is trying to understand the search term. So how does Google understand search terms is really what we’re describing and answering for our listeners.

Ben:                 So, break it down for me. How does Google understand a search term? When I have a piece of content, how do they understand and connect that to a short snippet of language?

Jordan:             Yeah. So this has evolved over the years, right? And Google has become more and more sophisticated over time on this concept and in this part of their search algorithm. For our listeners who’ve been doing SEO for a decade or more, you’ll remember that there was a period of time when you could literally manipulate Google to have misspellings show up in the search results.

Jordan:             So you would misspell commonly misspelled words, and Google would render that page that had the misspelling over the correct spelling. Google has sense of all of their search algorithm to stop showing the misspelled versions of pages. And has actually, imposed policies and guidelines to prohibit people from doing that.

Jordan:             But the ultimate constant here, and where Google is trying to establish, is how they understand language and the ability to understand language in a natural way. So how is that language actually being used in the real world?

Ben:                 So when we talked about what the algorithm is in our first episode for this week, we talked about that it is not just one algorithm, right? There is not just a single large piece of code that is doing everything from interpreting your query, digesting your pages, indexing it, and figuring out how to render everything. There’s multiple pieces of code. There’s multiple systems that are working here. So Google has one part of their algorithm, one system, that’s going to understand what a misspelling is and what words you’re trying to spell.

Jordan:             Correct.

Ben:                 What are some of the other ways that they are interpreting your data? I know that they’ve talked publicly about a freshness algorithm deciding what’s relevant now. What are some of the other tools that they’re using?

Jordan:             The most important tool that Google uses is their ability to understand intent. And this is what separated Google from all of their search engines and really has made them a remarkable resource to help all of us as human beings find information. Because what Google has been able to do with intent is provide the most sophisticated results based on the reasoning.

Jordan:             The why you want that search result. And so a great example… Well, let me first start by saying intent as Searchmetrics is broken down into three categories. So we’ve got informational queries, transactional queries, and navigational queries.

Ben:                 So tell me in more detail what you mean by each one of those three things.

Jordan:             Certainly. So, informational queries are very top-level search results that allow us to become more informed. These are places where Google is showing the knowledge graph. They’re showing the answer box. Often, Wikipedia shows up in these results. These are very subjective types of queries. And Google’s intention is to inform, is to give you a variety of selection, or to give you a very specific selection to inform you.

Ben:                 So if you’re running a content business, likely this is the type of query that you’re going to show up for. I’m trying to get educated about a specific topic or a subject matter.

Jordan:             That’s correct. And these are the types of queries that you’re trying to influence the most. If you’re in news and media, it’s fast paced. It’s constantly changing. If you’re in more evergreen content, you have the ability to kind of craft your pages and content in a way that has longevity in the search results.

Ben:                 News media is a big one. Health, fitness, wellness, all of those sort of educational types of content.

Jordan:             Exactly. Education as well. Another great one that I think a lot of people forget about is medical one. The web MDs of the world and those types of resources.

Ben:                 Okay. Those are informational queries. What’s the next category? Was it transactional?

Jordan:             Transaction. Yep. Transactional is the one that we all think of the most because it’s the one that we ultimately kind of get the most feeling out of. Right? There’s an emotional connection with it because at the end of every transactional query, there’s an event, right?

Jordan:             So, there’s the purchase of a product. There is a registration form. There’s a sign up for an event. And those transactional queries are often also some of the most competitive ones in Google. And you see a lot of volatility in these search results. And are often the ones that Google scrutinizes the most in terms of their policies and regulations as well.

Ben:                 So, then you mentioned there’s your navigational pages. Talk to us about what the difference between navigational pages and transactional information are.

Jordan:             So, the difference between transactional navigational is by virtue of a navigational query, the user is trying to reach a destination. They’re not necessarily trying to complete something. But they’re trying to reach a destination in which they can access or make themselves available to some sort of resource online.

Ben:                 I struggle with this a little bit because when I think of transactional pages, I don’t actually think of pages. I think of your header, right? Your homepage navigation, which is meant to get you from point A to point B. All of the things that are fixed on the pages.

Ben:                 But the one thing that sticks out in my mind as definitely a navigational page is something like sign in, right? Not necessarily registration. Maybe there’s a little gray area there between what’s a transactional page and whether it’s navigational. Outside of hey, sign in to get to the inside of the website. What are other examples of navigational pages?

Jordan:             There’s a wide variety of navigational pages. Oftentimes, Google tries to use site links. So the links that are below your homepage or whenever you search for a brand within Google, you’re going to get multiple options. Often those are considered very navigational like queries. But the reality is that a navigational experience or what you’re trying to kind of understand here Ben, is a set of contents where the majority of the user will have interact with the website in multiple ways to reach their end destination.

Jordan:             So the most common navigational page is the home page, right? Because you start at the homepage and you often have to go through a website in a variety of different ways to end in whatever resource, or tool, or piece of content that you want to access.

Ben:                 Yeah. So your category pages. Going back to our eBay days, your browse pages, right? Where there’s a list of different category types where you’re getting from your homepage to a category and down to your product pages, which are your transactional pages.

Jordan:             Correct. There’s definitely a big gray zone in between these. And it’s often one of the greatest challenges that Google has and that’s why this topic is so important. And where we started in terms of Google trying to understand your query, or gathering the meaning of your search term, is that the ability for some of these pages and some of this content to live in both transactional, or navigational, or even informational is very high depending on the category you’re in and depending on how you structured and built your page.

Ben:                 This is all great. I understand there’s three types of pages. And Google is thinking about what the purpose of the page is based on what type of page you’re putting together. How do I optimize this? Where’s the value for SEOs understanding how Google interprets the meaning of a query?

Jordan:             Yeah. There’s three types of intent. And those three types of intent are used by Google to help surface better results. It allows Google to then understand ultimately how to serve very specific results and refine results when it comes to the rendering of the search. And it’s really important because the same word might be used, but the intention of the word could be very different and very different for that user.

Jordan:             And so meaning of the query and how Google uses it allows for Google to adapt the search results over time. Like the example of misspellings. Google has adapted to show better quality results and not show misspelling versions. But now this has become a much richer experience that includes Google’s ability to serve different elements on the page, to highlight different assets whether it be pictures or features like showing hours of operation, or star ratings, or site links like I mentioned before. And all that specific information is dependent on Google’s ability to understand the meaning of the query.

Ben:                 At the end of the day, Google is great at understanding what the end user is trying to accomplish when they type in their query. And so understanding if they’re trying to get deep into the archive of your website or whether they’re trying to understand a quick snippet about a search term, right, if they’re doing something informational.

Ben:                 Google’s great at figuring that out. Jordan, I’m going to go back to my last question, which is okay, I understand all of that, but what do I do to optimize for it? How does my understanding of how Google is building parts of their algorithm impact me as an SEO?

Jordan:             Yeah. This is a great question and this is kind of nicely helping us segue into our next theme, which is about relevance of the webpage because ultimately, the way we optimize that is by showcasing the most relevant piece of information on these pages. Earlier in this episode we talked about freshness and making content fresh. One of the tools that Google uses to understand the meaning of a query is to have a clear understanding of how fresh the content needs to be, how up to date the content needs to be in order to serve the right results or understand the meaning of the query.

Jordan:             One great example, I mean the NFL season is now upon us.

Ben:                 Dunt, dunt, dunt, dum. Dunt, dunt, dunt, dunt, dum.

Jordan:             And we might have to get the trademark rights for that. But anyway-

Ben:                 Dunt, dunt, dah, dah, dah.

Jordan:             Any case, a lot of folks, they’re going to start searching for NFL sports. And freshness really matters in the NFL scores, especially right now because you don’t want last season’s scores. You want the score of the current preseason game, or you want to know when games are going to come up. And so freshness really matters in Google’s ability to understand the meaning of the query and showcase the best results. How we optimize for that comes down to the next theme, which is relevancy of the webpage.

Ben:                 That’s true. Unless, you’re a new England Patriots fan. Do you know why?

Jordan:             Because I guess they’re always winning?

Ben:                 Because they always win. It’s ridiculous.

Jordan:             I’m sure that they need to inflate the footballs a little more during those games.

Ben:                 Said like a true Packers fan. Okay. I think at the end of the day, understanding the meaning of your query. This is really a guideline. It’s a thing that you have to do to step back when you’re evaluating your performance. You’re trying to figure out how Google’s algorithm is interpreting your content and you need to think about what pages you’re submitting, how Google’s looking at it.

Ben:                 And you can use this framework of is this an informational page? Is it a transactional page? And that should impact the prioritization of how you organize your page and what content you put on them.

Jordan:             Exactly, Ben. The ability for Google to provide the most natural and clear set of results based on interpreting the meaning of the query is the most fundamental and critical asset to search marketers. And we’re looking forward to sharing more in our next episode in terms of helping them understand the relevancy of your web page and connecting that to the query.

Ben:                 All right. So you got the basic framework of how Google is looking at your pages and figuring out relevance by looking at what the actual intent of the page is. We’re going to get onto optimizing the content on the page and talking about how algorithm interprets that in our next episode.

Ben:                 So that wraps up this episode of the Voices Of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can click on the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is jtkoene. And that’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E.

Ben:                 If you have general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk to me about being a guest on this show, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet at benjshap. It’s B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                 If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                 And if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to discuss how Google’s algorithm interprets the relevance of your web pages. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.