In my current vein of thinking, if you were to ask me to explain what SEO is, in as simple form as possible, I would give an answer like the following:
“SEO is about making every page on your site as contextual as it could possibly be.”
I feel that the word contextual is being used more often when I am speaking to clients or prospects. I think this is because as Google’s algorithms improve, they are understanding elements, pages, and whole sites so much better than they ever have. And this will continue to be of greater importance as Google implements evermore AI learning into how they travel through, read, and understand the web.
Don’t get me wrong, being contextual in your web pages has been a thing since search engines first came about. It’s just that algorithms and ‘rules’ have been much easier to break in the past, meaning that SEOs could be a little more lazy by not bothering so much with contextuality, and spend more time getting (largely irrelevant) links to prop up the lack on on-page savvy.
What I am saying is not new – but it is more important now, and will continue to be so.
What do I mean by ‘contextuality’?
Obviously, the content written on a page must contain words that relate to the topic that a page is about. If you are selling sprockets, then sprocket-related content is a must. And plenty of it. But NOT just more words! Far too many SEO-types misconstrue Google’s love of long form content as ‘more words’. Don’t just add more words about the same thing over and over and over…add contextuality. Write about how a sprocket can be used, which type of people it would benefit, how it works with other products (that are not part of your own site).
Ontology helps to add context!
Adding content in such a way will go a long way to helping Google to understand exactly what the page is about, ‘with no mistake’.
And it is that phrase – ‘with no mistake‘ – that is such an important thing to ensure happens. How many times have you looked at a page when browsing for information that wasn’t exactly 100% what you looking for. The answer is almost ALL the time. Otherwise you wouldn’t have to make several Google searches around one subject, finding out bits of information from a list of fractured sites and pages.
I see it with websites every day. They want to rank for a particular keyword, yet the (one) page that they have built for it is either really lacking in content, or is not 100% something that Google could put a stamp on, and say “YEP, THIS PAGE IS 100% ABOUT SUBJECT X”. If a robot that visits your site could possibly misunderstand just a few pages of your site, then think about how this cascades throughout the rest of the site. Every page that is misunderstood adds less and less confidence about the site that you have built. If a Google bot has little confidence about what you have presented to it, then it will absolutely not be sending it to its own users with gusto.
Contextuality is not just words. It’s FAR from it.
And this is why I think it’s the most exciting time to be an SEO. Text manipulation is less and less of a tool to win various SEO wars online. Links will always be a factor because, well, ‘network science‘, but by Google’s own admission, links are still easy to manipulate, so they are putting more emphasis on to other things (i.e. contextuality).
A simple example – and one that has been around forever – is breadcrumbs. Go and find a site at the top of competitive rankings that DOESN’T have breadcrumbs, and I’ll eat my (white) hat.
As soon as a robot lands on a web page, it wants to know what the page is about, and whereabouts it sits within the site (see, contextuality). Breadcrumbs are something that help it to do this in ways that other elements of a page cannot do. Not a mega menu (I hate them as people who know me will attest to), as this does the opposite of a breadcrumb. In fact, see my quote about mega menus below!
“If a Google bot were a human, then it would get extremely anxious at seeing a mega menu!”
And now to some more ‘modern’ contextuality examples.
If you were Google, would you give higher rankings to a company that has worked with some of the leading brands in the world, over a small business that hasn’t? Over thousands of industries, this would be a much more safer option to do so, as the larger companies are likely to be able to offer a better service (across these thousands of industries). And that’s how Google thinks (and works). Ever since it was able to render web pages and ‘see’ what the pages looked like (not just the text content), Google’s AI bots have been on overtime, defining what gives a good experience, and what gives a bad experience.
Now, Google cannot ‘see’ a testimonial, or the logo of a company like you or I can. But it does know that when it sees a ‘blob’ that looks like one, this is a good thing. It knows this because thousands of site reviewers (and web users via Google Analytics) have told it so over a number of years. And from that human information, Google has then let its AI run amok, using it to define millions upon millions of websites by these ‘blobs’.
What ‘blobs’ have you got on your own site that a Google bot would consider to be an important part of knowing exactly what the page is about, and who it is for – ‘with no mistake’?
What is the answer to ensuring maximum contextuality? Is it just testimonials? Is it logos of companies that you have worked with? Is it icons of industry associations? Is it breadcrumbs? Is it testimonials? Is it many things, and probably contextual to sub networks within the general web network? I am pretty sure that we will never know completely, but we can have fun trying!
One way to not miss out on as many ‘blobs’ as you can, is to take the 10-20 leading sites of any industry, put them in a table, and list every factor that they have on a page. From breadcrumbs, to heading tags, to client logos, to the colour of links, addresses, phone number locations and so on. Perhaps the number of columns in your table should be 30-100 wide. A pattern will start to emerge for sure. And then it is time to compare with similar industries. If you are a manufacturer, don’t just compare to leading sprocket manufacturers, but to manufacturing of several types. Doing this exercise over 3-5 related industries will make you a better SEO than 80% that currently work in the industry, especially in your sector.
You may be some time in doing this, but you are more likely to stumble upon what Google understands to be important, than by designing your website around a boardroom table, where the boss will probably get his/her own way…again.
Contextuality is everything. Now get working on improving it in every aspect of your website.