Inside Google Marketing: 3 ways we think about SEO

Sean O'Keefe January 2019

We as a company spend a lot of time thinking about search engine optimization, or SEO. No small wonder, given that search is at the core of our business.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to drive traffic to your website. Paid media, social posts, and display advertising are just a few. But, when done well, SEO can provide an important — and cost-effective — strategy for organic growth. In fact, the latest research from web analytics company Parse.ly shows Google Search accounted for around half of external referrals to the publishers in its network this past year.

To really get the most out of SEO, though, it’s important to stay on top of the latest Google Search updates. That’s no different for us internally. We at Google own 7,000 websites that are managed by hundreds of product and marketing teams all over the world. Over 200 changes are made to these websites every single day, all of which could potentially affect a site’s SEO. When it comes to how Google sites appear in Search, they receive the same treatment as any other site on the web, and our teams follow the same external guidelines provided to webmasters.

That’s why we’ve put in place a cohesive website SEO strategy that we can rely on no matter what fresh changes are introduced — and that anyone else with a website can learn from.

1. For big SEO results, start small

It might sound simple, but focusing on small, incremental changes to a website’s overall SEO strategy really can produce noticeable gains over time. The Google My Business marketing site, for example, saw a near 2X increase in organic traffic,1 partly because the team implemented a number of web fundamental best practices, such as showing search engines what URLs to index by implementing canonicals.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but a number of Google sites have noticed strong organic growth after making some of these simple SEO changes.

Organic traffic increases after SEO improvements to Google My Business

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If you’re struggling to identify some of the issues your site might be facing, Search Console’s new URL inspection tool is a great place to start.

2. Don’t be scared of changes — embrace them

Search features are always evolving to surface the most relevant content for users and to keep up with their changing behaviour. For example, today, over 50% of website traffic comes from mobile, and Google Search has quickly been adapting in response, with new developments such as AMP and Progressive Web Apps.  

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by these changes, but internally we’ve found that the more we embrace them and experiment with them, the better our SEO results. For example, last year we focused on fixing Google Search Console errors, implementing structured data, and adding AMP to the Think with Google site. After we fixed one common AMP error on a number of URLs, those impressions increased by 200%. We also found that improving our content overall may have led to us being selected more often for featured snippets, which led to an additional 1,000 impressions a day.

New search features appearing for Think with Google after SEO improvements

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3. Where possible, consolidate

It can be tempting to create multiple websites, each containing very similar content, to target different customer profiles or geographic regions. In fact, it’s something we’ve done at Google. A recent audit revealed that, over the years, we had developed a large number of near-duplicate sites based on different campaigns or marketing goals.

Here’s the problem with that approach: duplicate content is not only confusing for users, it’s also confusing for search engines. Creating one great site instead of multiple microsites is the best way to encourage organic growth over time.

For example, after that site audit, we decided to overhaul our marketing websites for Google Retail. Cleaning up six old websites, consolidating content, and focusing our energy on one great website doubled the site's call-to-action click-through rate and increased organic traffic by 64%.2

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The lesson here is clear: While on-page performance is important, a successful SEO strategy must take into account your entire web ecosystem.

Applying Google’s SEO strategy to your website

Just like other companies, Google doesn't always get SEO right, and we're constantly working to make improvements to our own sites. But by focusing on these three areas, we've been able to build an SEO strategy that’s flexible enough to adapt to new changes, solid enough to drive powerful results, and adaptable enough to be applicable to all websites.

Ready to put in place your own SEO strategy? Learn more with our SEO starter guide.

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