Why SEO is no longer enough to rank within Google
It’s about 10 years ago that I started ‘working’ for Google’s algorithm for the first time, as content marketer at the Dutch E-Commerce company Bax Music. Although they had a little store, their focus was mainly on their webshop, selling music instruments, DJ-gear, light, and sound equipment online.
The team of content marketers wrote all kinds of high-quality product texts to explain more about the products to the visitors. However, we also optimized the texts for Google with the goal to be found on the world's largest search engine. We know these activities now as a part of ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (SEO).
For years, things went along peacefully for marketing managers, content marketers and website owners, although Google’s algorithm was evolving slowly. SEO was focused on keywords, website content, URLs and backlinks with the quality of content as main driver. Although Google always acknowledged the importance of user experience, it was only advisable to put it on your agenda, and certainly not something a SEO-specialist would have on top of their list. But this has changed since the release of the Core Web Vitals: a set of metrics that measures the loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability of your website. As from now your SEO strategy needs to incorporate a set of technical hygiene factors.
In this article you can read how the SEO-landscape changed from my perspective as a content writer and later marketing manager. But most important, it explains you why SEO is no longer enough to rank within Google. After reading you know what happened with Google’s Core Web Vitals Update and how this can impact your business.
How Search Engine Optimization started for me
About a decade ago, SEO consisted of several relatively simple tricks that you had to apply consistently to be found. In Bax's case, the trick was to relate popular search keywords with the product names. For instance, when you search for a product via Google, you often use the product name in combination with other keywords such as 'how does product x work' or 'what connections does product y have'. We did product research and wrote our own original texts based on various sources such as information from suppliers, importers, blogs as well as our own observations of the products (testing stuff, nice). This created unique, self-written texts that brought as many search queries as possible in relation to the product name: something that Google's algorithm appreciates by showing you higher in the search results. The more relevant and better the information, the higher you score: this is called the Google Search ranking.
A screenshot from Bax-Shop.nl in 2012 using the wayback machine.
At the time, there were not many competitors who bothered to write clear and customer-oriented texts. They copied the texts of suppliers and placed it on their website without making it their own and unique version, something that Google punishes in terms of ranking (by not letting you rank). By combining good and unique texts with some other SEO tricks, Bax-shop was able to get a lot of free search traffic to their website in a relatively short time. This while their competitors structurally underestimated the power of Google. This allowed Bax to dominate the search results quickly and if you ask me, the focus on content and SEO was one of their key success factors at the time.
Content and SEO as cornerstone in the marketing strategy
Later in my marketing career, I reused the valuable lessons from Bax in my own company but also in that of others. Writing good customer-oriented texts and using the right keywords turned out to be a success time and again. Getting organic traffic to your website is free and the visitors are often of high quality. Even better, once you rank for an article, you often retain it for years. It takes time to write a good article, but when you express this effort in hourly costs and compare that with the costs you pay per click with Google Ads, for example, it turns out that it is almost always cheaper to invest in high quality content.
“Google aims to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”
For a long time, Google’s original mission statement was the only truth, however it seems they have outgrown their statement. Since its beginning, Google’s algorithm has undergone constant change and updates. For years already it’s good enough to distinguish strong and unique content from texts that use the SEO-tricks. However, good website content alone no longer means that you will have guaranteed success… The reason is the mid ‘21 Core Web Vitals Update that potentially has a big impact on website owners and businesses. Due to Google's Core Update in recent months, user experience on websites now also counts how you rank within Google Search. Google currently uses three ‘Core Web Vital’ variables that focus on loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability of a website.
About the Google Core Web Vitals Update
For anyone where a website plays a central role in the commercial process, monitoring technical performance will not be something new. It’s advisable to measure and improve at least your Core Web Vitals. However, there are other variables that do not count towards your ranking now, but are useful to keep an eye on because they potentially influence your conversion or bounce rate, time on page or click throughs. After all, satisfied users convert faster, buy more, and return more often. Until now, this has all been non-committal. If you don't perform optimally, you take this for granted, you just throw in some extra advertising budget for more visitors or you influence the conversion rate by discounts. Companies with a slow and visually unstable site but good Search-optimized content have gotten off to a good start so far. Unfortunately, this time seems to be over now, and website performance must also be on the agenda, but who is going to help you when you score poorly?
In recent years, I often encountered the problem of slow or malfunctioning websites. Sometimes I caused it myself by placing too large videos, images, tracking pixels, a chatbot or a heatmap tool. With my limited knowledge I often managed to solve some minor issues, but I couldn't really go anywhere for the biggest performance issues. A website developer usually ensures that everything works properly but is not necessarily focused on website performance. After building a functioning site, further improvements were often shelved. A hosting party can only sell faster servers, but that often does not solve the cause of the problem. A marketer, product owner or SEO specialist is then stuck but often does not have the technical knowledge to implement optimizations. You need a specialist who knows everything about optimizing speed and user experience... This is exactly what we focus on at Iron/Out!
In recent months we worked hard behind the scenes on the launch of Iron/Out. We will focus on improving user experience, website speed and visual stability: a broad set of important performance topics which should be on your agenda to get better (business) results.
Our four main services
In the meanwhile, we launched the first version of our website. On our homepage you can test whether you pass Google's Core Web Vitals. These three metrics are just a subset of the bigger picture of performance optimizations, but necessary to keep an eye on in order to keep your current organic rankings.
Can't pass the test? Then this can have consequences for your ranking. Our first step would be to do a performance audit to unravel the specific performance issues on your website. Our performance audit gives you valuable insights on the Core Web Vitals, it benchmarks your website to your competitors, it relates your business KPIs to performance and the best one: it gives you actionable insights on technical improvements. After a first improvement iteration it’s time to install a special tool to monitor the website performance for four weeks to track real user experience. We’ll analyze the data and give you a second iteration of performance improvements. After that we can keep reporting every month and advice on monthly improvements until the desired results are achieved.
Do you pass the test? Then you are safe for now, but this does not mean that this will remain... The ranking factors and the Core Web Vitals can change, a website developer or marketer can make a mistake or maybe SEO is less important for your company. Do you use advertisements a lot? In that case, a slow website will likely cause many users to lose weight before they are converted, and you're wasting a lot of advertising budget unnecessarily. An optimization round can ensure that your bounce rate goes down, click throughs within your site and time-on-page increase and that visitors return more often. It’s advisable to install tooling and keep on measuring performance continuously.
Place web performance high on the agenda
As a start, we recommend you to monitor your Core Web Vitals via the free tools that Google offers. When you have performance problems, you can no longer ignore them because sooner or later you will see this reflected in your rankings. Often the biggest problems are relatively easy to solve. But that is just a start. Performance should be continuously on the agenda. That way you keep satisfied users, and this will undoubtedly have a positive influence on your commercial figures. However, this should not be your approach... In a normal store you also keep the floor clean and make sure the lighting works, right?