So, you have a website, and it’s either doing terribly regarding search engine rankings or doing somewhat ok, but you want to do better. You might want to improve your search engine positioning for several reasons. These include more exposure, influence and success online (and consequently offline) or just to beat that ‘God-Damn’ competition! So, you ask yourself, “How can I optimise my website for search engines?” or “How can I get to the top rankings on Google?”. And now you’re looking into SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) either yourself or perhaps you need to outsource this and engage some SEO experts. After all, understanding Google might not be your forte.
Well, let me tell you this: Hold it right there because these are the wrong questions to ask. Consequently, you will look in the wrong places for answers. I would even go as far as to say this is a somewhat twisted approach!
Understanding Google – Back to the Beginning
Let’s backtrack a little. So, when we want to understand Google and create a nurtured relationship with this tech giant, we have to ask ourselves, “What are Google’s objectives?” and “Who are Google’s stakeholders?” which we ultimately want to align with.
With the myriad of products and services that Google offers, it is easy to get lost. First, there was Google Search. But, Search was just the beginning. Now, there is Google Maps, Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google My Business, Google Assistant, and even Google’s very own operating system, Android. In addition, the list includes YouTube and Google’s physical products, such as Android and Google Smart Phones, Google TVs, Smart Speakers and Smart Home Devices.
Making Sense of the Google Empire
How can we possibly cater for all this? We don’t have a multi-million dollar budget to create something to address all these media! Well, you don’t have to. Understanding Google seems impossible. The answer to this seemingly impossible challenge becomes much more apparent when we look at Google’s core values and stakeholders.
The ability of Google to be successful, to influence and shape so many aspects of our society, from our daily routines to our language – “Google it!” can be boiled down to a few core principles. These core principles are the driving force of all their services and products.
Indeed, we are dealing with ethical, social, legal and humanistic issues. It is not coincidental that it is in these realms that we can find answers to such banal questions as ‘How should I design my website?’ and ‘How to make my website do well?’.
So Many Questions
At the core of it all, and also being the central concept of Google search, is the intention to find the best answer to a question. It is that simple (but at the same time, it is not). So, to be able to answer a question, we must, first of all – listen! Listen to the users and our audience, be they our customers, clients, investors, and other stakeholders. A good answer provides value in terms of the informational content provided. Hence, it helps if you have the appropriate knowledge or experience, are an expert or even aspire to be an authority in the field. Moreover, a good answer must consider the proper context and semantics (meaning) of the question. Plus the background of the person asking it and their ability to receive the answer in their preferred mode.
And almost effortlessly, in comes – philanthropy and inclusiveness! Though not because of political correctness but simply for practical reasons. With a worldwide audience and aspirations of the love-filled global village in mind, it is unsurprising that Google’s latest Pixel Phone can take photos with optimal lighting for people of any skin colour. In short, we are maximising audiences and reach in the name of fairness.
Understanding Google to Provide Value
Now, of course, this is all debatable. We often find that the pure intentions to provide value that leads to a company’s success and influence can be corrupted by the power gained. Naturally, with great power comes great responsibility. However, this article is not intended to discuss the economic and ethical implications by providing a political opinion.
So, let’s get back to what this all means for understanding Google and creating successful websites for our businesses, companies, and organisations. First, as managers, CEOs or business owners, we must step out of our role and company-centric views, listen to the user’s voice and create user-centric content and online services that provide value. Moreover, we must do this legally and ethically by creating, assembling or legally sourcing the information.
The technical aspects of your website and user interface design should also be user-centric and accessible on any device. We are always talking about ‘responsive design’ for desktops, laptops, tablets and, yes, most of all, mobile phones. Plus, it’s easy to forget TVs and digital-assistant-powered home devices such as smart speakers. Furthermore, should we consider what more is to come by developing other ways to interact with information technology?
Suppose you really want to adopt a big-picture perspective. Why not cater to the largest audience possible, including users with other socio-economic, cultural, or linguistically diverse backgrounds or people facing intellectual or physical disabilities? Google does it! – Remember, we are trying to understand Google and align core values to create a nurtured mutually beneficial relationship.
Form Follows Function
Once we have worked out content and technical aspects, it makes sense to look at how this online presence will look, feel and behave in terms of visual design and branding. So, in other words, we need to have something of substance and value before we can give it an appearance.
Fundamentally, this is where many business decision-makers and brand developers seem to get it wrong. They put the cart before the horse by starting with visual design and branding. “It’s going to look amazing!” they exclaim – But wait, what is it that the business actually does?
The problem with starting with a ‘me-me-me’ look-at-me-attitude is that Google could not care less. Google (or its algorithm programmers and very own machine learning capabilities) do not judge artistic expression. And why would they? It is not in the searchers’ interest to see results based on aesthetics. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; it’s too subjective.
Of course, Google is not completely blind when it comes to visuals. Accordingly, specifics like contrast, sizing, spacing, and grouping do matter as they impact usability and accessibility.
A well-developed visual brand undeniably has many advantages in terms of recognition, perception and distinction in the market and can be a great asset to an organisation. However, starting with just a look and feel is often not the best idea. Moreover, don’t become caught up with the visual identity before thoroughly establishing how a business creates value. In other words, first, answer the question, “Why are you in business in the first place, and how do you envision the evolvement into the future”?
In conclusion, one could say that as web designers, web developers and SEOs in today’s world, we are creating websites that work well (rather than in search engines) with a foundation in providing value in an ethical, legal and humanitarian way. This approach safeguards being on track with our client’s mission and vision of their businesses while remaining relevant in our changing world. Of course, doing well in search engines such as Google is a welcome side effect. But, don’t get all hung up on it.