Google’s Updated Guidelines: The Growing Focus on Bettering Usability and Building Quality Sites

June 27, 2013

Until recently, Google’s Webmaster Help section advised webmasters that if they were looking to improve the rank of their sites, they should focus on “increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

Now, as Search Engine Land points out, Google’s advice has been rephrased. Since the end of May, the same passage has been changed to say that, “in general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.

What Do Google’s Updated Guidelines Mean for SEO?

Many in the SEO community are struggling to understand exactly what implications this has on today’s Internet marketing landscape.

By taking away the focus from links, and placing it on quality as a whole, Google has caused a slurry of questions. What does Google’s amended advice mean for linking? Are links no longer as essential an element of effective SEO as they have been so far?

The answer? Absolutely not.

Links inherently imply value, which means that links have been, and will continue to be, essential to the way that search engines like Google see–and rank–sites.

How do you reference something of import on the Internet? How do you share something of value? You do all of that and more with links. Links show Google’s algorithm what searchers see as quality, and what they don’t. Links indicate which sites have authority, which are poplar, are relevant, are reputable, are worth sharing.

The Big Picture: Focus on Quality All the Way Around

Links are just as important as ever. The difference now, is that Google is better able to decipher who’s overoptimizing, who’s working to get links purely for the sake of links, regardless of quality or relevance. Google’s algorithms are incredibly sophisticated, and they’re improving every day. One tactic alone is not enough to get you to the top of the rankings. Successful SEO today takes quality, and not just quality in individual instances–a powerful link or engaging content or dynamic site design–but quality all the way around.

By changing their guidelines, Google’s emphasis is less on individual SEO tactics, and more on sites that provide a wonderful user-experience as a whole. Instead of relying only on links to tell them the quality of a site, they want sites that show that quality in a number of ways–with phenomenal on-site content, social media shares, and of course, with natural, high-quality links.

Both social media activity and organic link building are two of the best ways to grow your online presence and boost your rankings. But while both are undoubtedly essential ranking factors, what Google’s latest advice on building quality sites indicates, is that SEO tactics like these are so essential because they’re a reflection of what matters most to search engines like Google: providing a great total user-experience to searchers.

SEO Takeaways: How to Build a Quality Site that Offers a Stellar User-Experience

So if keeping your users happy is the key to keeping Google happy, how exactly should you go about improving that all-around user-experience?

Focus on quality. Focus on usability. Focus on giving searchers, visitors, leads, customers, whoever lands on your site something that’s worth their time. More importantly, if Google understands how searchers value your site through links, social shares, and more–give users an experience worth sharing.

Focus on providing the best experience possible.That means: producing great content, having a user-friendly design and navigation, providing relevant information, removing any technical errors (broken links, 404 errors, and more).

It also means going beyond the basics to make a site enjoyable, effortless, and exciting to interact with. Give customers a great experience on your site by providing them with what things they’ll appreciate, like an active blog full of fresh, engaging content and easy access to socially share anything that your users find fascinating.

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