Is Google moving towards more search justice?
30 second summary:
- Search Equity enables your average business owner to compete on the SERP without being hampered by lack of SEO knowledge
- A fairer SERP is a necessity for Google from a business and broader web health perspective
- Google is pushing for fairness in the SERP to a far greater extent
- The democratization of the SERP represents an enormous paradigm shift that puts certain SEO skills in the foreground
What would happen if instead of having to jump through the hoops to rate your new website, you were immediately given a spot on the SERP? Presumably this would wreak havoc on SEO professionals. What if I told you that Google is under a lot of pressure to do just that? I call it "Search Equity". Google is trying to remove barriers to optimization so that website owners (aka business owners) can focus on creating and getting the most out of great content.
I think Google is pushing for this move and has already taken steps in that direction.
What is search capital?
Search equity is the ability of a site to compete on the SERP with a certain importance without being hindered by technical structures. It is a website's ability to rate its content only because that content is worth consuming by the searcher.
Search justice would therefore mean that websites with limited resources can compete on the SERP. This means they don't need an overly complex understanding of SEO on a technical level and from a content structure perspective (think things like page structure and other technical SEO aspects).
Search Equity gives a business owner the opportunity to be visible on the SERP and in many ways helps maintain the overall health of the web.
It's a spectrum. It is not even possible to have full search capital. At any point in time, there can be more or less of them in the Google ecosystem. It's not an all-or-nothing equation. It is not even possible to have full search capital. What matters is that Google tries to generate as much search capital as possible.
Why is search capital necessary?
The idea that search fairness is extremely desirable for an average website is obvious, but it also makes a lot of sense. What do I mean by that?
Entrepreneurs are content experts. They are experts in the field related to their business. they are the ones who should create content on the topics related to their business. No SEOs, no content marketers, and no content agency.
However, there is a problem with this. This problem is the incentive. Content creation is difficult and time consuming, so there needs to be a reward for the effort. There must also be a way to address the various technical aspects of search engine optimization, but that is for later. This is where the current model gets into trouble.
What happens when a company decides to spend time and resources creating content? What if she's now on your SEO boat with things like optimizing her page structure, internal links, external links, title tags, canonical tags, cannibalizing keywords, or whatever?
Do you see the problem?
SEO, as is often thought, stops the very people you are trying to create content for from creating content. Business owners don't know about tags, links, and structure. They know how to run their business and create content around that expertise.
This is a real problem for Google. This means that there is a lot of potential content that is not considered in the current incentive structure.
If you think the content creation void is fantastic, it is not. To start with, Google often gave one There is a gap in non-English speaking markets. In addition, Google has a whole "Question hubProvide answers when the content just isn't there.
What I think makes this term a contradiction in terms and a pill that is difficult to swallow, as there is an overabundance of content and a lack of it at the same time. This is because a large amount of the content produced is simply lacking in substance. I'm not even referring to spam and that Over 25 billion pages Google finds it every day. The content bloat is due to the overabundance of low to medium quality content. When was the last time you felt like there was so much really high quality content on the web? I agree.
There is no gap in the quantitative amount of content on the web, but there is a gap in quality. If Google's top SEO talking point is an indicator, the quality content gap can be significant. That is not to say that such content is absent, but it may not be in healthy amounts.
To fully utilize the content creation resources necessary to maintain a healthy web, Google needs and has focused on search equity.
But not all of Google's efforts towards search justice are purely altruistic – there is also a business interest. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, it's actually pretty healthy. Either way, understanding how search fairness aligns with Google's business interests is an important part of understanding the urgent need for a fairer SERP to come.
Why Google My Business requires search capital
The awareness of Google My Business and the local SERP in general has increased in recent years. Local SEO is no longer relegated to the loser's table at SEO conferences. Rather, local search engine optimization has played a central role in many ways.
Part of this is due to the growing importance of a GMB profile. Local search engine optimization is not getting more attention due to an internal shift in search engine optimization, but because it is becoming more and more important for companies to set up a GMB list.
With the plethora of options and capabilities GMB offers (think Reserve on Google or Product Carousels), listing has become a way for a business to showcase itself.
Look no further than GMB itself advocates setting up a profile to stand out.
Again, Google runs into the same problem I mentioned earlier: incentives. If Google My Business is not just about managing your listing, but also about differentiating and marketing yourself, the environment on the SERP has to be fair.
In other words, what would happen to GMB adoption if entrepreneurs felt that in order to compete on all fronts they would have to jump through all sorts of frameworks and / or spend a ton of money to continuously hire SEO?
Obviously, Google is trying to increase the relevance of GMB not only in terms of the number of companies that take it over, but also in terms of how much the platform is involved in the day-to-day running of the company. This is an incentive for the company to post, add pictures, and google posts. What is missing, however, is the content.
When it comes to the content that local websites create, they have to follow the rules of every other website. There is no brand query taking users to their product carousel, Google Posts, or online menu. If Google wants companies to feel that they are successful with GMB, success has to be all along the line. This means that websites must succeed within traditional organic results for a range of keywords (not just local brand searches).
You can't really successfully adopt GMB if the company's website isn't integrated. If a company feels that Google is making it overly difficult to perform in one area, it will not completely take over the other area. That said, if Google makes it difficult for a company to rate content, that company is unwilling to fully commit to GMB in the way Google wants. Businesses need to feel that Google has their backs and that Google is not an obstacle before considering GMB as a place to showcase themselves. It's just common sense.
If GMB is to continue to thrive and grow in unprecedented ways, Google needs to make sure businesses feel that the entire Google ecosystem is a place to thrive.
Search justice is the only way this can happen.
How Google has already moved towards search equity
To be honest, Google has been on its way to more search justice for some time. I would argue that this movement started back in 2015 when RankBrain hit the scene. Over time, and with the introduction of other machine learning features and natural language processing by Google, the move toward greater search justice has followed exponentially.
To put it simply, since Google can understand content better per se, it no longer has to rely on secondary signals to the same extent as it used to. Because of this, the debate about the importance of links and specific ranking factors has grown like wildfire in a dry forest.
Take headers or title tags. While at one point you may have had to worry about the specific keyword you put in your titles and headings, it is not exactly the case today. Aligning your title tags with user intent and updating is more important than a specific keyword per se (you could even argue that the overall ranking of the title tag, while still important, has diminished when Google takes a closer look on it throws content of a page).
This is really the idea of taking a "more current" approach than a keyword-specific approach to the content of a page (an idea that has come to the fore in search engine optimization in recent years). That is right there search justice. What if you don't have to rummage through a tool to find the exact keyword you need? What if you don't have to put that exact keyword here, there, and everywhere for Google to understand your page?
Businesses can write naturally and, by default (provided the content is good), create something that Google can more or less handle.
In other words, the downside of Google's widely discussed "breakthroughs" in understanding content is "search fairness". If Google can better understand the main content of a page without relying on peripheral elements, it inherently leads to a fairer environment on the SERP.
You don't have to look any further than the Google mantra "Write for users naturally" to see what I'm referring to. Google's improved ability to understand content through elements like BERT and the like allows website / business owners to write naturally for users by partially removing previous "barriers" that required a specific understanding of SEO.
An even stronger push towards more search capital
The advocacy of Google moving towards greater search fairness by referring to an almost ethereal element, i.e. the search engine's ability to understand content more naturally, is somewhat abstract. There are clearer and more specific cases where Google is pushing more and more for search justice.
Passage ranking and the clear step towards a fairer SERP
The Passage Ranking is the perfect example of Google's desire for a fairer search environment. Indeed, when discussing passage ranking, Google's John Muller had this to say::
"In general, with a lot of these changes, I would caution against trying to hop on the train to try and optimize for these things, since a lot of the changes we make like this are essentially changes we make, because we note that websites are a bit chaotic and unstructured.
And it's not so much that those messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages.
It's more, well … we can understand these messy pages more or less the same way we can understand clean pages. "
Doesn't that sound exactly like the concept of search equity as I have presented it here? The passage ranking further balances the playing field. It enables Google to understand content where the page structure is not well optimized. In reality, it provides an opportunity for content creators who don't understand the value of having a strong structure from an SEO perspective; H. A business owner.
Passage Ranking is simply a clear and direct step towards creating a fairer SERP.
Discover feeds could lead to more equity
This is a tough question. On the one hand, there is an enormous risk to the average website with automatically generated feeds like Google Discover. It's easy to imagine a person's feed being dominated by major news publishers, YouTube, and other high authority websites. That would leave little room for the average business owner and their content.
However, let's take a step back and focus on the nature of the animal rather than the specific content that may be shown. What you have with Google Discover (and personally, this type of custom feed is what it takes) is delivering content without the ability to affect placement through direct SEO. In other words, unlike the SERP, there is far less direct influence on what you can do to optimize a particular page for Discover. There is no keyword that a user implements in Discover. Hence, SEOs can do far fewer things to tilt a page in a certain and very specific direction.
Rather, Google Discover relies on the general relevance of the page to the interests of a user, as well as the general authority of the website on the topic at hand. It is far more of a content strategy endeavor that relies on the production of highly relevant and authoritative content in the context of the overall identity of a website than traditional SEO.
As such, Discover is inherently a far more equitable construct than the SERP itself. Does that mean that it's really a fairer environment? It all depends on how Google weighs the various considerations for displaying content in Discover. Nonetheless, the food as a frame is fairer in nature.
CMS and its role in the search for justice
There has been an interesting development in the role of CMS for SEO, for which I have a front-row seat (since I work for Wix as an SEO liaison). CMS, such as Wix and Shopify in particular, have placed great emphasis on the further development of their SEO offerings.
As a result, and I can tell you this firsthand because I often participate directly in these conversations, Google seems to be more open to the Closed CMS. The reason for this is that the CMS that have evolved for SEO provide the opportunity to create an equitable experience on the SERP.
Take a look at what John Mueller had to say about business with Wix:
The more small business websites I see, the less I see technical SEO issues and the more the issues are with content (out of date, duplicated on multiple sites, incorrect, low quality, etc.). CMS these days tend to get most technical things right (or "right enough").
– 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) February 15, 2021
Developing some closed-loop CMS is in many ways the missing piece of the Google search justice puzzle. When a platform like Wix or Shopify provides the default and out-of-the-box solutions that remove the barriers associated with the more technical side of search engine optimization, the SERP is way closer to finding equity than ever before.
This is reflected in John's statement in the next tweet from the thread I presented above:
What I recommend to small businesses is: never host yourself, avoid plugins, buy your domain name, use a simple and reliable platform, use 2-factor authentication, have more than 2 people in-house who can update the content of your website, local SEO -Get help.
– 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) February 15, 2021
With platforms that take care of the user from a technical point of view, companies are able to rate content. This is Search for justice.
When you combine what is happening to the CMS with advances made by Google on passages and the like, you have taken a huge step forward in finding justice.
This creates an environment where the average person can use a platform that handles many of the SEO issues and then rely on Google's ability to analyze unstructured content. That's an enormous amount of equity hitting the SERP at the same time.
What does more search justice mean for SEO?
If you look back and what we've covered here so far, search equity is a far-reaching construct. It touches everything from the algorithm to the CMS that support the web. In addition, this is a huge paradigm shift in Google search. In a way, it's revolutionary and has the potential to fundamentally change the search engine marketing landscape. I don't mean that in a hyperbolic way, and I'm not generally an alarmist.
No, I'm not saying SEO is dead. No, I'm not saying technical SEO is dead (nowhere near). What I'm saying is a more even playing field for those who can't invest heavily in traditional SEO. This is a major change to the SERP and possibly for our industry.
Focus on SEO strategy
The development of search fairness could mean that it is (and will be) easier for business owners to create content that ranks. This does not mean that these companies have an idea of what to target and how to come up with the most beneficial SEO content strategy.
In fact, I speculate that most companies will end up trying to target extremely competitive areas. They will try to find top-level keywords without focusing on the elements that are different from others and without creating an "organic niche" for themselves.
The point is, Search Equity makes understanding SEO strategically more important than ever. Understanding the algorithm and the general direction and sluggishness that Google is trending will be an extremely valuable asset.
The business owners who benefit from Search Equity need our help to guide their content efforts.
(This does not mean, by the way, that following these SEO best practices should or will fall by the wayside for these websites. However, I think that this will widen the gap in what SEO means for different types of websites.)
Emphasis on the entire website (not the page)
As mentioned earlier, Search Equity takes the focus off the "side" and its explicit optimization and places it on the content itself. The limelight that is on content per se creates a new operational framework. The importance of the website from a holistic perspective versus the importance of a per-page outlook on SEO.
The various content pages of a website do not exist in isolation from one another. They are all closely related. Imagine a website that had pages about buying car insurance and other pages about making chicken soup with no clear link between the two subjects. From a per page perspective, any page could offer wonderful content and be extensively tweaked, and therefore a rank should be expected. However, if you take a step back, the lack of current focus creates a number of problems.
Search equity is synonymous with an explicit focus on the content of the content of a page. You can't have search fairness without Google being able to better understand the content of a page and then rate it. Search justice is synonymous with an increased evaluation of the page content as page content (in contrast to the page structure, for example).
An increased focus on the content itself, with secondary factors sometimes playing a lesser role. This means that the site itself gets more focus. Once that happens the general purpose, identity, focus, and health of that site also become more important.
Great content that is unrelated to other content on the site is less relevant. Just think of a user accessing the page from the SERP. They finish reading a blog post to see a carousel of related articles that are completely irrelevant to them. Who is this good for? Or imagine the internal links in such content, how relevant would they be? How strong is the content if it cannot by itself contain internal links, as internal links can often help aid in the user's content capture?
The effectiveness of the content of a website does not exist in a vacuum. The pages that support it gain strength and relevance. When Google looks at the content more directly, the pages that support a certain content also need to come into focus.
The advances towards fairer search require a more holistic view of a website. With the search for fairness and direct focus on content that Google chose, the relevance of the entire website is brought to the fore.
This means that we may need to turn our attention away from the role of individual pages to consider the overall effectiveness of the website. This could mean a revision of our SEO strategies and priorities, and speaks directly to the importance of a well-designed SEO outlook (as I mentioned earlier).
It is a good thing
Ultimately, a web is a good thing that removes barriers to creating strong content. Could it change the SEO landscape over time? Certainly. A fairer SERP will most likely have a huge impact on search engine optimization over time. Does that mean we shouldn't take it? Does that mean SEO is dead? Of course not. Does this mean we shouldn't be equally concerned with best SEO practices? Of course, that would be a terrible idea.
This means we may need to change our perspective on SEO a bit and understand where we have real value for certain types of websites.
Search equity is a good thing.
Mordy Oberstein is the SEO community liaison at Wix. Mordy can be found on Twitter @MordyOberstein.