A Front-Row Seat to Google’s Ranking Algorithm
The impact that worldwide adoption of internet usage has had on the modern business world is difficult to overstate, and no other aspect of internet usage has been more extraordinary than the adoption of search engines.
In addition to being helpful tools for research, search engines brought about the ability for any website on the planet to be found by any person. Throughout the long history of media and mass communication, the ability to connect with a specific audience as they researched a specific product has always come at a massive, often prohibitive, cost to the product manufacturer. This expense either inflates the final cost of the product to the consumer or limits the seller’s ability to stay in business.
The importance of SEO to business strategy
The introduction of organic search, and the optimization strategies that go along with it, enabled an entirely new type of business model. It did this by shrinking customer acquisition costs almost to zero and thereby reducing the required profits to keep a seller’s business afloat.
This shift brought about lower prices to consumers, allowed better-guided buying experiences from third parties (G2, TripAdvisor, Yelp), and enabled a new generation of entrepreneurs to bootstrap their way to financial freedom via e-commerce websites.
Today, the world’s largest companies rely on SEO to reach their customers. Could Amazon have grown to be the world’s largest retailer if it had to pay exorbitant media fees to grow their customer base? Would their prices be so low today?
As more companies look to follow suit, SEO skills and experience are now in higher demand than ever before, and as organic competition to reach the top of Google’s page one has grown, the requirements for a fully integrated SEO discipline across engineering, data, UX, and content, is now required to remain relevant in search results.
As the leader of G2’s SEO team, one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is conducting brainstorms and collaborative analysis across different teams as we attempt to reverse-engineer new ranking factors released by the world’s largest search engines. This can be challenging at times, but it’s also important work because (like many businesses today) organic search rankings are the number one way G2 reaches software buyers around the globe.
G2’s approach to SEO strategy
As major ranking shifts occur on Google and other search engines (usually a few times each year), our analysis process is generally split into two parts.
1. Research and analyze new ranking factors
Google, Bing, and Yahoo guard these secrets closely, so rather than referencing a technical document to see what changes to make, we observe ranking trends across our pages and pages from outside sites.
We examine these pages manually, along with data-gathering tools, to understand potential correlations between certain page attributes and ranking positions. We form hypotheses based on these observations, then test, and re-test the hypotheses until we are confident we’ve found a true signal amongst the noise.
2. Determine a logistical approach to replicate the factors we’ve identified on-site
Depending on what we found, this might involve updating our web infrastructure to improve load time, surfacing or creating additional data points on each page, building a publishing process to allow authors to populate content, or creating completely new landing pages.
As we work through this process, we take a problem-first approach, and bring those challenges to subject matter experts at G2 to solve collaboratively. We lean on the experience and strategic approach of engineering, design, data science, market research, product management, and others to address each challenge in the smartest way possible.
Case (study) in point: G2’s category redesign
A recent example of this process is the category page updates that G2 made this year. These pages were heavily impacted by Google’s Product Reviews Update, resulting in lower traffic to our site, and thereby a lesser value proposition to the vendors we work with.
FYI: Vendors can pay G2 to upgrade their profile pages with custom CTAs, product screenshots, downloadable whitepapers, etc. Lower rankings means less traffic, which means those profile upgrades have less impact, so this was a challenge we wanted to solve for our business and clients, but the SEO team knew we couldn’t do it alone.
After careful review, our SEO analysis determined that Google was prioritizing narrative-based review articles for keywords like “best webinar software”. Our findings showed that these were overwhelmingly written by a single author who tried many products and recommended one they thought was best.
On the other hand, G2’s content was UGC-sourced from thousands of individual users who all have slightly different perspectives on a piece of software. We determined that our pages lacked a succinct summary of the products listed on each page, which was out of line with Google’s new criteria.
Our analysis process told us what Google was rewarding, but making the change would not be straightforward. First, we didn’t want to change our business model and stop showing user reviews. We knew that those reviews were extremely valuable to buyers looking for different perspectives from people in different roles and industries, and we wanted to show Google the value of our review format rather than change our approach. Second, our findings were anecdotal based on observations of other sites. We knew what we needed to do, but we weren’t sure how to get there.
As always, we looked to the experts at G2.
- We worked with Data Science to surface common data points about the users for each software product, including popular industries they represented, the size of the company they worked for, and their job titles.
- We worked with UX to determine a way to add this information to our pages in a way that would be digestible and user-friendly. We landed on a multi-tabbed product card design.
- We worked with Engineering to figure out how to bring the results of the whole thing to life and design a publishing workflow to add summaries of user reviews on each product card.
The final result looks like this:
The product card above contains detailed information from their user base on G2, and each tab is coded in a way that allows search engines to index the content collectively. We worked closely with engineers to test and refine the approach throughout the process so we could gain the traffic impact we needed.
The results of this work have been phenomenal. Below is a sample of category pages where the entire publishing workflow has been completed.
Source: Google Analytics
These pages saw over 100 percent traffic growth in the six weeks following launch, with a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. We helped twice as many buyers make a great decision and doubled G2’s value to software sellers during this time.
You can make an impact
The category updates we made this year had an almost unbelievable impact. Not every project we release sees such immediate success, but we continue brainstorming and collaborating around solutions until we do see the expected growth. Oftentimes, that extended troubleshooting process can be the most fun and produce the best ideas and innovations.
I love having this front-row seat to see how Google responds to our changes, and the ebbs and flows that go along with each algorithm update.
If this type of problem-solving sounds fun to you, G2 has several positions open that would have regular opportunities to brainstorm, collaborate, and celebrate victories together. Check out G2’s open positions and apply today.