What Google Wants: Just Answer the Damn Question!

Inbound 101: Answer the damn question. Inbound marketers will smile and recognize this as the most basic concept and the foundation for the services we provide. Because it’s so fundamental to our process as digital marketers, I sometimes forget to review this idea in detail when we're consulting business owners about their digital marketing strategies. I’ve had to remind myself on several occasions to begin with this premise and spend a good deal of time talking about the following notion:

Google exists to provide the best answer to a search query as quickly as possible.

That’s it. That’s their job. And they’re the best at it. Once you understand that Google doesn’t care about how hard you work, whether or not you’re a good person or how good your product or service is, you can talk about marketing. What Google cares about is providing quality answers to people asking questions. Fast.

Our job as Inbound Marketers is to find out what questions consumers are asking relative to our clients’ industries. Since the dawn of advertising, companies have had to rely on outbound messaging – radio, print, television, billboards, etc. – to create brand awareness and sell their products and services. These methods still have a place. But there has been a seismic shift in consumer behavior that has changed the game completely and put the power in the hands of the people and not the brands.

In order to regain a position of strength in the market or appeal to the consumers’ newfound power to access information, companies are increasingly turning their attention to Inbound Marketing. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in the world of advertising but it’s actually a simple and very human approach to marketing.

Here’s the big question I typically receive when speaking with prospective clients:

How do I get on page one of Google?!

As we know, Google is a search engine with highly sophisticated algorithms that combs the Internet to see what websites are all about. (I’m going to personify the process a bit, so bear with me.) Google wants to know what the purpose of your website is and whether or not you have information that people are searching for. They start by “indexing” your website, which is like taking a photograph of everything that’s on it in case someone happens to be looking for that information. If your site is properly constructed, secure and chock full of information about a certain topic, Google will make a note of it and pay you another visit down the road.  

When Google returns to your site, they see who else has visited in the meantime, whether or not anything changed and if everything still functions. Updating your site on a regular basis is important because it demonstrates to Google that you care about it and you will be actively engaged in producing content (answers) to serve public searches (questions.) They’ll inspect your site to ensure it’s secure (that is the “s” at the end of the “http”) and that you have no broken links, such as pages that go nowhere (Google hates this). Then Google determines whether or not anyone visited since the last time they checked you out. This is where it gets interesting.

Not only does Google know who came to your site, they know why they visited and whether or not they found what they were looking for. Spooky, right? Sure, but incrediblly powerful. Google begins to figure out the purpose of your site and how good (or bad) it is by how many people found it and what they looked at while they were on it. They know how far down a page someone read, how many pages they visited, and whether they gave you something in return—subscribed to your blog, downloaded an e-book, filled out a form—you get the picture.  They are indications to Google that you provided something meaningful to that person. And depending on how that person found you, Google will connect the dots and perhaps give you credit for having a good answer.

Example: Sara searches “what’s the best mattress for back pain” and finds our client PangeaBed.

If we've done our job correctly, Sara will come to our blog post about alleviating back pain with our client's copper mattress. Our blog posts tells Sara all about the extra layers of comfort, the copper-infused fabric and modern materials that are designed to provide a supportive and comfortable night’s sleep. Next to the post are links to articles that relate to back pain. We provide photos of the mattress and reviews from other customers who found relief with PangeaBed’s copper mattress.

If Sara spends time reading the post and maybe even subscribes to our blog, then Google assumes we had a good answer. Now let’s say Sara returns to our site two weeks later and purchases a mattress. Google will look at this response as a complete relationship and give us credit (boost our rankings) for answering Sara’s question.

Now for the downside.

Same Example: Sara searches “what’s the best mattress for back pain” and finds PangeaBed.

Her search sends her to a page on PangeaBed’s site with a banner at the top that reads: “The Best Mattress for Back Pain!” Below the banner Sara can see a picture of the mattress, the price and a link to the shopping cart so she can purchase it.

There’s a good chance that Sara will leave the site and never return. Why? We said the mattress helped back pain, showed her a picture of it, and made it simple and easy to buy the mattress.

Yes. All true. But we didn’t do the most important thing of all. We didn’t answer Sara’s question. Remember that Google doesn’t really care whether Sara buys our client's mattress. It’s part of the equation to be sure, but what they truly care about is whether Sara was given a good answer to her question. The worst thing that can happen is if Sara hits the dreaded “back” button almost immediately and keeps looking for the right answer somewhere else online. This reaction sends a powerful signal to the Google Gods, and we will be punished in the rankings as a result.

Google wants Sara to come back over and over again and ask as many questions as possible. The only way this happens is if Sara is able to find what she’s looking for…fast.

In the end, we’re all looking for the same thing. Sara wants to buy a mattress to help with her back pain. PangeaBed wants to sell her one. We want PangeaBed to be happy clients. As for Google…they just want you to answer the damn question.