In this article, we look at the concept of relevance in SEO. We consider how the driving force of the concept takes its learnings from the influences of wider society and yet to the detriment of the real world, disappointingly that relationship lacks reciprocity.
How Successful SEO is Driven by Relevance?
The organic section of a search results page was never supposed to be a marketplace, it was (allegedly) simply a fortunate turn of events for Google that it worked out that way. Achieving success organically through search engine optimization strategies may be highly lucrative but it’s not easy. It takes time, patience and a methodology implemented into your content narrative that promotes support over sales. Your first priority should be shaped by being perceived as an expert in what you do and one who offers advice to your audience. Essentially success requires you to provide helpful information that is of the highest quality, that is relevant to its audience and that is displayed in a manner that offers a best in class user experience.
If you want to simply sell products or services and that’s all you want to focus on then SEO is not for you. There are paid solutions like Google Ads for that kind of thing. The earned visibility section of a results page serves the purpose of being a repository of information, like a library, where the most relevant books gets the best spots on the shelf.
There is no more desirable a place for brand visibility than ranking position 1 organically on Google’s search results page for your most important keywords. When a potential customer is actively searching for information relevant to your service offering, they are demonstrating a need, a degree of purchase intent and ignorance as to who can satisfy them. By asking Google for a list of likely websites related to that need, Google’s job is to oblige their users by delivering a list of potential suitors. That list starts with who Google has determined to be the most relevant result based on the nuance of the searcher criteria.
How Do We Define Relevance in SEO?
The dictionary definition of relevance is; “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate”. As individuals, our determination of relevance is driven by our beliefs which in turn are a result of our experiences in life.
If I were to ask any random person on the street, “what is the best brand in the world?” The list of potential answers I could receive technically includes every company in the world. It is an entirely personal concept yet it’s the job of search engines like Google to examine objective data and to make subjective assumptions from it.
The exact same hypothesis can be extended to the other two metrics that search engines are seeking to determine; “information quality” and “user experience”. All of the criteria that Google et al are seeking to stack rank websites on stems from subjective opinions that can vary wildly from person to person.
Relevance in SEO is a Social Construct
Not only are the factors of value determination a personal concept, but they are (or should be) shaped by so many external narratives or influences than just a websites digital strength. The environment, the political landscape, the trends or fashions of the time, even the weather should shape the concept of relevance.
At the time of writing this article most of the Northern, Eastern and Mid-Western states in America are currently experiencing some of the coldest February weather on record thanks to a polar vortex that has struck the continental USA.
Let’s say a mother was to search in Google for “ideas to entertain the kids this weekend”. If Google was to purely rank “relevance” on the strength of web presence efforts it would overlook the reality that the answers that a Mother will want to see look very different in February than they would in August. So even if a local bicycle tour business that had unbelievable web presence strength via sound SEO techniques they really shouldn’t outrank a comparatively weaker business that provided entertainment indoors and in the warm, if that search took place when it was snowing outside!
Relevance may be subjective but it is also influenced by the external environment and experience should dictate that bicycle tours should be irrelevant to all in those circumstances!
It is experienced led subjectivity that drives relevance and it is those same past experiences that shape future outcome expectations. These expectations are then reintroduced into the feedback loop that is the search algorithm and transferred into the intent signals that are implicitly demonstrated through search queries. From there the algorithm uses more recycled data to align that intent to the most relevant websites based on that kicker of presumed relevance.
So does that mean that SEO is a mirror of society? That the same codes of conduct that governs reality are represented in an equal measure only in digital form?
How SEO Success and Societal Success Differs?
The capitalist system offers wonderful opportunities for those who can take advantage of its potential. It drives competition, it is responsible for advancements in technology, global knowledge growth and an improvement in life expectancy for many people in the developed world. That said, there are countless people who would argue that capitalism is responsible for unnecessary hardship, global poverty, and something that negatively impacts far more people globally than it benefits.
This is because the economics of capitalism often operates as a zero-sum game. Essentially, the underlying belief is that in any business relationship, for one side to win the other must lose. That partnerships are “good whilst they last” but inevitably corruption or greed will dictate the outcome that doesn’t end well for either party.
Take your pick of the worlds largest and most successful companies and you’ll be hard pressed to find one that does not have a string of criticism aimed at it by certain circles for its conduct. They face consistent accusations of how they take advantage of the global environment and its unnatural inequality to maximize the success probability of its own agenda.
Whether its energy companies destroying the environment, manufacturing companies accused of slave labor-esque employment activities or big tech companies treating our privacy like its a commodity, hawking our personal data to the highest bidder, “success” in the real world is perceived to require the same zero-sum approach to activities everywhere you look.
Given so much of SEO is influenced by society you would be forgiven for assuming SEO works by that same methodology. But it doesn’t!
If ranking first organically for your key terms is the goal and achieveing this feat establishes you as the presumed “King of your Hill”, then getting there requires a different mindset.
One that encourages collaboration, supporting your audience and understanding your customer needs and meeting them without a sales first mindset. Some of the most successful tactics to the top even represent assisting your competition to be better at what they do which indirectly makes you appear to be better at what you do.
Don’t believe me? An SEO Agency is in the most competitive and therefore most difficult industry to win at organically. The competition is global, there are no barriers to entry and because every single competitor is supposed to be, by definition an expert at the very thing that is required to rank – SEO!
SEO's Are Educated By Their Competition
Six years ago I had never heard of the term SEO. Since that time it has become the driver of my career and my personal passion. Before SearchButlers, I worked as Head of SEO Sales for Google’s largest global strategic partner and taught the value of it to hundreds of people around the world. I would hope my ex-colleagues would speak well of my knowledge yet there is no qualification that I have that authenticates my understanding of SEO.
Good feedback from happy clients and successful campaigns was validation enough but without an SEO Association or official courses that I could take and pass, I was left to educate myself on the topic. Thankfully, there was, and is, an abundance of access to the material that I needed online but it came from the very people that I may have found myself competing with for business from clients.
If you Google any topic at all related to SEO you will see endless amounts of educational “Guides” and “How To” content that is created by other SEO experts for the benefit of everyone – including their direct competition. The best and most helpful content gets to the top of the page and those authors are happy to oblige because it’s incredibly valuable to their brand and yields all sorts of business opportunities. They themselves didn’t take a course either though, they learned from each other, from trial and error and sharing the results with the world.
That’s why I love SEO as a concept and an industry. It’s a community of people that work out what success looks like and share it with the community and the most valuable content that helps their competition the most is rewarded with higher visibility and subsequent opportunities that come from it.
Businesses from other industries should recognize that is what it takes for success organically in the most competitive organic industry. By replicating the same ideology in their own space, they can certainly propel their own visibility in lesser competitive organic markets.
By giving your audiences tips and tricks or processes in a task that may result in the visitor actually solving their problem, then, of course, the consequences may result where the visitor no longer needs the services of the business that taught them the solution. But not always. Here are a couple of strategies to consider.
Educate Your Customers So That They Don't Need You
Imagine a household has a leaky faucet or toilet. Most members of any typical family wouldn’t know how to resolve the issue. Many traditionalist male figures (forgive the patriarchal example) would have an ego challenge as the “man of the house” if they do not at least try to fix it themselves. So they get their laptop and seek out the path to fix the problem from the bathroom and will immediately find a “Step by Step Guide” or “How To” Video that is created by an innovative plumbing brand.
The plumber is betting on the fact that the viewer will mess around for 10 minutes and then give up as it’s not as easy as it looks and making a mistake has consequences. Their next move is to call the company that is the most immediately available which just might be that very savvy plumbing brand who saw the societal influence and how it can impact a smartly constructed marketing campaign. How? By having an interactivity button on the video that says “Still need a hand? Call us Now”.
The plumber get the business and the man of the house gets to solve the issue whilst protecting his ego, comfortable in the fact that he “tried his best but its just not his area of expertise”.
Educate Your Competition So They Can Challenge You
How does a dentist differentiate enough for Google to deem them more relevant than the practice across the street? Nearly all dentists provide the same services, they have the same training, their costs are relatively similar and some even wear the same white coat!
Some say a strong reputation is a path to differentiation for homogenized businesses but as you can see by reading our guide to online reputation management there are increasing challenges to that thesis. Either way, reputation traditionally has been more of a local SEO search influencer and whilst proximity is extremely important for dentists, you cant rank position 1 very easily if you only focus on map visibility shaped local SEO.
One path to differentiation is via content marketing strategies with outreach to try to gain high authority backlinks that are of strong relevance to a dentist website. The trouble is, that no blog with value to offer a dentist website is going to publish an article that is aimed at a dentists audience such as “how to spot signs of gingivitis?”.
Why? A few reasons. Firstly, every typical B2C dentist blog you can think of has been written and rewritten thousands of times over. There is no value left to squeeze in the topic.
Secondly, because no one who goes to a dentists site is there to read a blog anyway.
Thirdly and in my opinion, most importantly is because a blog who offers value to a dentist does not share the same audience as a dentist. The audience that is relevant to a site with outreach potential is actual dentists!
Therefore the type of content that they would find valuable is the content that you as a dentist would find valuable. Something like “A Guide to Navigating The First 2 Years After Dental School”. The content could be of a mentoring narrative discussing things like whether to buy new or pre-owned equipment or perhaps to rent it? Or how to manage the stressful combination of student debt and startup loan financing and maybe local awareness tips like whether mailbox marketing with coupons is effective longterm on an ROI for these newbies to the game.
If that “Guide” was written well it would be a perfect fit for the target blog and have a great chance of earning backlinks with high authority that would yield a ranking boost for the dentist.
Of course, it comes with a cost. A stronger more knowledgable future competitive environment that maybe is a new guy across the street trying to eat your lunch but more likely hundreds of dentists nowhere near your area of business and therefore no threat to you.
It is those kinds of strategies that can differentiate you from the competition, be appreciated by Google crawlers for offering high quality and well-consumed content that comes with a great UX and in turn be rewarded with the real value that SEO can bring which is only felt when you hit those first 4 spots on Google’s results page.
It takes a mindset where you view your competition as your key to success not your gateway to failure. By helping those around you-you will help yourself; both directly and indirectly.
Can Society Behave Like Relevance in SEO?
Wouldnt it be great if society took the same approach to its business endeavors and general code of conduct towards the idea of “success” as that which is required to be classed as the King of the Hill digitally?
I’m not advocating for a socialist society or a communist approach where everyone is equal and the rewards for hard work or innovation are absent but surely society can see each other not as a threat that stops you from getting your share of the pie but as an asset that you give the recipe to so they can bake their own and you can have a larger slice of yours.
Food for thought.