Last Updated on May 16, 2023 by SERP Kingz
“OK, Google.” If you’re a digital marketer, you’re more than familiar with saying this phrase in your head. You likely utter it in your sleep—hell, you probably say it more frequently than your own name.
That’s because as a marketer (or a digital-savvy business owner), you and Google are practically married, for better or worse, ’til de-indexing do you part.
But, have you ever tried asking Google directly how to rank higher in its search results?
Well, I did, and the new AI on the block, Bard, didn’t disappoint. Well it did, but here’s what it said:
Hi! It's great to meet you. Here are some things that Google would most like business owners to know in order to rank higher in search results:
Create high-quality content.This is the most important factor in ranking well in search results. Your content should be well-written, informative, and relevant to the keywords that you are targeting.
Use relevant keywords throughout your website. Your keywords should be used in your title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, and throughout your content. Build backlinks to your website. Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. They are a signal to Google that your website is authoritative and trustworthy.
Optimize your website for local search. If you have a brick-and-mortar business, you want to make sure that your website is optimized for local search. This means including your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) on your website and in your Google My Business listing. You should also use local keywords in your content and on your website.
Create a blog. A blog is a great way to share fresh content with your audience and improve your website's ranking in search results. Make sure to write informative and engaging blog posts that are relevant to your business and your target audience.
Use social media. Social media is a great way to connect with your customers and promote your business. Make sure to share your blog posts, website content, and other updates on social media.
Optimize your website for mobile devices. More and more people are using mobile devices to search the web. Make sure that your website is optimized for mobile devices so that it can be easily viewed and navigated on a small screen.
Keep your website up-to-date. Google rewards websites that are regularly updated with new content. Make sure to add new content to your website on a regular basis.
Get involved in your community. Get involved in your local community by attending events, sponsoring local organizations, and donating to local charities. This will help to build awareness of your business and improve your website's ranking in local search results.
The last one was a bit unexpected for me: “Get involved in your community.” How would that help business owners rank higher in search engines?
So, I pressed the issue with Bard.
As much as I wanted it to be some accidental slip, some ultra-high-level search trade secret, a covert tactic known only to a select few within the hallowed halls of the Mountain View king, that, if revealed, would cause all of Silicon Valley to quake in their Allbirds, I don’t think that was the case.
Here’s what Bard did have to say, though:
First, it can help to build awareness of your business. When you get involved in your community, you are putting your business in front of potential customers. This can help to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. Second, getting involved in your community can help to improve your website's ranking in local search results. Google takes into account a number of factors when ranking websites in local search results, including the number and quality of backlinks to your website. When you get involved in your community, you can get backlinks from other websites, which can help to improve your ranking in local search results. Third, getting involved in your community can help to improve your online reputation. When you are active in your community, you are more likely to get positive reviews and mentions online. This can help to improve your online reputation and make you more visible to potential customers.
I have to say, at first this sounded like a lot of vague marketing fluff. However, it’s not wrong. This advice does align with the core principles of local SEO, which is an extremely important aspect of digital marketing, especially for businesses that operate on a local or regional level.
However, it’s a bit too simplified. And it does make a few assumptions that don’t always hold true. Let’s go point-by-point:
- The first point about building brand awareness is spot on. Participating in your local community can indeed increase your visibility, making more people aware of your business and potentially driving more traffic to your website. Now while that can be true, it’s not always a guarantee. The effectiveness of community involvement largely depends on the nature of the business and the community itself. For example, a tech startup might not see a huge traffic increase from sponsoring a local Little League team.
- The second point about backlinks is a little… well, I’ll put it this way. Backlinks are essentially “votes of confidence” from other websites. By engaging with your community, you’ll almost certainly come across opportunities to earn backlinks from local community websites, businesses, events, news outlets, etc. which could indeed improve your local search rankings. I guess this surprises me a bit because Google’s search engine community advocates/diplomats/whatever have been downplaying the importance of backlinks for a while now. So to see Google’s own AI advising business owners to put forth effort trying to pursue them is surprising.
- So, the third point about your company’s online reputation is an OK piece of advice. Yes, positive reviews and mentions can impact your business’s online reputation and visibility, influencing not only local SEO but also customers’ perceptions and decisions. That’s great, but being active in your community doesn’t automatically equate to positive reviews or mentions. In fact, one misstep or controversial association can lead to a PR nightmare or even a full-blown boycott. So you have to go about this strategically, while preferably engaging in initiatives that genuinely benefit the community and don’t come across as marketing ploys. I guess another piece of advice here would be to keep open lines of communication with your customers (potential as well as existing), addressing their concerns and embracing feedback, both positive and negative.
So while this ranking advice isn’t completely off the mark, it does lack nuance. But hey, what was I expecting to get by interrogating Bard, launch codes?
When I questioned it about this, it just had this to say:
"If you are a local business, then getting involved in your community is a great way to improve your local search ranking. If you are an online business, then you want to focus on creating high-quality content and building backlinks. The most important thing is to focus on creating a valuable experience for your users."
To put it another way, “if you want to bake a cake, you need ingredients.” Great, so we should all be sipping on mojitos in our residency suites at the White Lotus this time next week. Apparently, all we need to do is create “high-quality content” and “build backlinks.” Why didn’t anyone ever think of that?
When I questioned Bard repeatedly about what business owners need to do to rank higher, that most of them aren’t doing, it added:
"The biggest secret to ranking higher on Google is to create high-quality content that is relevant to your target audience. This means writing content that is informative, engaging, and helpful."
At first I was disappointed with this response. But—perhaps because I’m desperate to get some kind of value out of this, sunk cost fallacy and all—I now think it’s actually kind of true. While it’s not a true SEO secret because, for one, we are constantly repeating it in our many articles about ranking higher on Google, most businesses don’t do it.
In a way, from a certain point of view, it’s like everyone’s clamoring for the golden goose of SEO, but they’re ignoring the chicken laying platinum eggs right in front of them.
You can invest in the most sophisticated SEO strategies, but if you aren’t feeding your audience quality content that resonates with them, you might as well be looking up secrets for how to cook an omelette without breaking any eggs. (We’re not James Corden, here.)
Bard’s advice is akin to a well-worn record that’s been played so many times it’s lost its groove—or a Spotify track that’s been streamed so many millions of times, the artists made $11. But sometimes, tunes are classics for a reason. They’ve stood the test of time, because they work.
Creating high-quality content and building backlinks are the brushing and flossing of the SEO world. They’re not flashy, they’re not exciting, but they are essential.
But let’s not let Bard off the hook just yet. It’s one thing to keep regurgitating the same advice; it’s another to provide actionable tips on how to implement it. Anyone can say “create high-quality content,” but what does that mean? What makes content high-quality? And how do you build “valuable” backlinks by “being active in your community?” (It really refused to go into detail on this. It refused to even make up an answer, which does separate it from ChatGPT.)
Again, it’s like telling someone to bake a cake but not providing the recipe. Sure, you need ingredients, but which ones? In what quantities? What’s the process? But then again, maybe I’m asking too much from Bard. After all, it’s not Gordon Ramsey. It’s not even a contestant on the second season of Chopped—it’s an AI assistant. And an experimental one, at that.
While Bard’s advice dispensing may seem disappointingly simplistic—there’s truth in it.
So cheers, Bard. Keep the hits coming.