Google processes trillions of searches per year, which equates to billions of searches each day. How do they decide what is the most promising result for every single one of that staggering volume of questions?
Experience shows that you don’t have to be a huge website for a major brand to rank in the top spot for a given query. Google doesn’t care which sites show up high in SERPs, as long as the page lives up to user expectations, which is something they measure on a tremendous scale. That begs the question: What is it that makes a page stand out, as far as Google is concerned? Why do pages rank in Google in the long term?
Google factors in hundred of signals when calculating a website’s ranking for queries in Google Search. These include everything from site speed to inbound links to page content. Above all, however, Google seems to favor sites that are popular with users. Google Search loves websites that users love.
How that user satisfaction is objectively measured — on a tremendous scale — is both very complex and a tightly guarded industry secret. Hence, that information alone doesn’t initially help site owners to improve their site rankings. What does help is taking a step back and asking a few highly relevant questions:
- Why should Google rank my website above other sites?
- What is it that makes the site better, more valuable to users, than other competing sites?
- What can compel users to favor my site over competing alternatives?
These are tough questions, especially if their conclusions point toward an uncomfortable reality that there’s really nothing that makes the site or online business stand out. After all, there’s little reason why users and/or Google should favor a website which doesn’t offer anything that isn’t readily available elsewhere. In that situation, lasting organic Google Search visibility can only be considered a viable goal upon revising the business model as a concept.
However, most businesses do provide a unique selling proposition, many in more than just one way. Demonstrating that unique selling proposition on every single landing page is where the crux lies.
What needs to be done
Identifying the unique selling proposition can be a challenge, but it is a less daunting task if you have intimate familiarity with the product or service. Maintaining a constant dialogue with users, aka your customers, is an additional plus.
Successful companies in Google SERPs (and beyond) typically demonstrate more than just one clear-cut unique selling proposition. Netflix combines an unbeatable price-to-value ratio paired with ease of use. Amazon wasn’t the first online warehouse, but it made a name for itself as a trustworthy place with a very large selection of products that are delivered swiftly. Booking.com provides a tremendous selection of accommodations, which can be reviewed based on user feedback, location, price range and so on.
All of these example brands have, over time, become almost synonymous with their respective niches. Because of their brand recognition factor, they do not need to rely only on users evaluating their unique selling proposition in search listings. Smaller brands, however, to need to continually highlight why they are what the user is looking for. That is why, for most online businesses, the first impression of every single landing page is decisive.
Poorly optimized titles and descriptions (snippets) are a major reason why sites fail to unleash their full potential in Google Search due to negative user signals. That is why every single landing page has to communicate a clear unique selling proposition.
The very first point of contact for the user — the moment when they are confronted with results in Google Search for whatever they are looking for — is the moment when a number of SEO-relevant things happen. First, user expectation is compared against page title and description. Both of these elements are frequently regarded as basic SEO, yet they are vitally important to attract users’ attention.
Every single indexable page must be considered a potential landing page, and that’s why it must be continuously optimized to ensure that your listing will stand out in search results. At the very least, your organic search listing should include a clear description of what the page is about, the unique selling proposition explaining to the user why this is what they’ve been looking for, and a call to action to prompt the user to visit your website!
Every single landing page (that’s every indexable page) must be optimized, including snippets that clearly communicate the specific unique selling proposition.
Optimizing your content where relevant to take advantage of rich results (formerly known as rich snippets) is a tried, tested and recommended method of claiming visible SERP real estate, demonstrating excellence and reinforcing the unique selling proposition in the process. In the screen shot above, you can see that the listing is displaying review stars, product information and event information.
Unfortunately, some webmasters and SEOs seek to cut corners here, either by attempting to manipulate structured data, a punishable Google Webmaster Guidelines violation, or by inflating the snippet visibility using special characters like 💕 ❆ ★ ❥ ✓ ➤ ✈, which is frowned upon (yet, at the time of writing, not a clear-cut violation of Google’s guidelines). Both are dangerous strategies.
Special characters may attract a user’s attention to snippets. Using them is not a Google Webmaster Guidelines violation, yet not a good idea, either.
Of course, no amount of search engine optimization and eye-catching snippets can compensate for a missing unique selling proposition across all landing pages. Having a clear-cut USP trumps SEO altogether.
However, best results are achieved when a great online service has a clearly stated unique selling proposition combined with data-driven SEO. That is how lasting Google Search visibility is achieved and brand building is greatly accelerated.
Focus on what counts
Like many other industries, the SEO business seems to frequently obsess over current trends. These trends may be important from a technological point of view, such as the introduction of AMP or even absolutely business-critical migration to HTTPS. However, there is immense value in focusing on the most foundational aspect of marketing: The customer or user comes first, always. Google has made that their mantra from the beginning.
Evidence that a site or page works well for users querying a certain topic is a very strong SEO signal. That is why superb, lean website architecture, extremely fast load times and, most importantly, a clearly outlined unique selling proposition on every single landing page is what future-oriented SEO is all about. Focus on the user and conversion!