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Google to struggling sites: Focus on your audience, content quality

If your website is struggling to get organic traffic from Google Search – there are three core areas you should focus on, according to Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan:

  • Continue creating high-quality content – do what you think is best for your readers.
  • Diversify your traffic sources and promote your content across multiple channels.
  • Build an engaged audience that comes to you directly or via email and social media.

None of this is new, none of this is easy and none of this advice will make people happy.

What this basically means is that you should think beyond just Google and just SEO if you want to have success on Google Search with your SEO efforts.

What it means. The days of SEO hacks and loopholes are rapidly coming to an end. The future of SEO will be won by those who focus on all the SEO elements that matter and play the long game.

Why we care. People continue to be frustrated with Google’s advice, which always tends to be some variant of “create helpful content.” However, Google can’t tell you everything you need to do to create helpful content or help you assess it. It’s your job to figure out how to grow an audience. Hoping Google Search will send you traffic or give you visibility is not a strategy.

Make great content. Creating content that resonates with your anticipated readers is crucial, according to Sullivan. But it’s also not the only factor:

  • “As I’ve said before, I think everyone should focus on doing whatever they think is best for their readers. I know it can be confusing when people get lots of advice from different places, and then they also hear about all these things Google is supposedly doing, or not doing, and really they just want to focus on content. If you’re lost, again, focus on that. That is your touchstone.”

Sullivan referenced some advice from Mike King, CEO of iPullRank:

“Make Great Content and Promote it Well – I’m joking, but I’m also serious. Google has continued to give that advice and we balk at it as not actionable. For some SEOs it’s just beyond their control. After reviewing these features that give Google its advantages, it is quite obvious that making better content and promoting it to audiences that it resonates with will yield the best impact on those measures. Measures of link and content features will certainly get you quite far, but if you really want to win in Google long term, you’re going to have to make things that continue to deserve to rank.”

Secrets from the Algorithm: Google Search’s Internal Engineering Documentation Has Leaked

Websites that were impacted by a recent Google algorithm update could see some relief from a future Google core update. But, as he has done before, Sullivan acknowledged it could be a Google issue:

  • “It might also be that, as I said here, it’s us in some of these cases, not the sites, and that part of us releasing future updates is doing a better job in some of these cases.”

Diversify traffic sources. Avoid depending on a single source of traffic – i.e., Google Search. Having multiple sources of traffic is beneficial. But again, this won’t guarantee SEO success. Here’s what Sullivan said:

  • “As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”
  • “Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.
  • “This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things). It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

Build an audience. Sullivan ran two websites before joining Google, including Search Engine Land. Both started at zero, but he successfully grew both into notable, authoritative, trustworthy and profitable entities.

How does this part work? Sullivan shared a personal example:

  • “I like to do hikes. I found a great single-person hiking site a few years ago when looking for information about a particular hike and signed up for the newsletter. Now I’m a regular and connect customer, so to speak.
  • “Search is a great introduction, in a way, to what can become a long term relationship with readers and customers.
  • “My primary goal was always to have them connect with those after arriving: email, feeds, social.

In a separate reply, he also added that “developing multiple ways to reach an audience is a good thing. It’s not difficult or expensive to have email lists or social accounts. It’s a long-standing marketing practice.”

Variety of signals. It’s the eternal chicken-and-egg problem in SEO. People can’t find your great content because Google isn’t ranking it.

In light of the Google leak and revelations about Navboost and user interactions (clicks) influencing ranking, Sullivan said that “no one would ever rank in the first place if that were supposedly all that matters”:

  • “[B]ecause how would a new site (including your site, which would have been new at one point) ever been seen? The reality is we use a variety of different ranking signals including, but not solely, ‘aggregated and anonymized interaction data’…”

Sullivan’s posts. You can see them on X – here, here, here and here.

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