Google’s “Ten things" Philosophy and the Connection with SEO

Matt Polsky

I can't even remember how it came up, but I recently found myself running through Google's "ten things we know to be true" and immediately started thinking of comparisons between the company philosophy and the future of search.

Some of the comparisons aren't much of a stretch, but it all reinforces that if you want to know where search is going, look at how Google judges their work.

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Google’s first rule in their “Ten Things” philosophy is to focus on the user before anything else. They state they want to serve the user's interest before that of the company or their bottom line and provided additional points that include:

  • A clear and simple homepage interface
  • Pages load instantly
  • Organic search results are not sold
  • Advertising is clearly marked 
  • Content is relevant and not distracting
  • Tools and applications work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently

What really stuck out to me was the page layout algorithm. Thinking about how ads affect user experience, speed and ability to consume information. I also see parallels with basic algorithms such as Panda, Penguin, Caffeine and Hilltop.

My takeaway is that if you're wanting to build a lasting presence, focus on the user and do not prevent them from consuming information. What prevents people from consuming information are popups, interstitials, auto-playing videos, sticky ads, full-screen ads, more ads than content on a page and slow loading pages due to ad scripts.

2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

Google outright says “We do search.” This isn’t we do social media, we do video, we do email or we do cell phones.

Expect any product rolling off the line to have some association with bettering the user-experience behind their search algorithm. No matter if that's building stronger ties through information gathered through app permissions, phone usage or even emails you send; it all  is likely being used to create a better graph connecting searchers to the results that matter most to them.

If that’s not enough, consider that the remainder of this point, which is to offer users access to more information in their lives. Google wants to be able to answer any question you have at the point you have it - autonomously. 

3. Fast is better than slow.

This is a completely self-explanatory, but if Google focuses on speed then you should too. Google has outright said site speed is part of the algorithm and studies continually confirm that faster sites lead to better conversions – even if it is shaving off only fractions of a second.

Back when Marissa Mayer was Google’s VP, a study was ran that served 30 results instead of the usual ten. Concluding the test, traffic dropped 20% for the terms. But how much longer did it take to load? Try .5 seconds.

Other than site speed, what else needs to be fast? Think about the number of knowledge graph or knowledge boxes accompanied with just about every "what is" query. Speed is important. And is important for not just websites, but a user getting to a query.

4. Democracy on the web works.

Possibly one of the most interesting sections in Google’s philosophy is “Democracy on the web works.” Google relies on external factors and signals – over 200 of them – to determine what result gets precedence over another. Specifically mentioned here is the PageRank algorithm, which is a voting process, giving sites with more link signals, or votes, priority.

And, as the web and Google's algorithm increases in size and complexity, PageRank as well as link signals, continue to decrease with the addition of other signals. Link signals aren't going to disappear anytime soon; however, think about the other external signals that can be gathered by users to enact a democratic web: social signals, time on site, bounce rates, click through's on links and so on.

5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

Mobile optimized websites are extremely important to Google. And as mobile and tablet usage continues to increase at massive levels, in conjunction with developing tools like Google Glass, marketers must adapt to the changing consumer trends and how people like to receive information.

6. You can make money without doing evil.

This is one of the larger sections in the 10 Things Philosophy and is aimed at advertising. This paragraph covers the following:

  • Google generates revenue from ads
  • Ads should be relevant to the site's content
  • Advertising should be simple, and Google does not accept pop-up advertisements
  • Ads should not distract the user
  • All ads should be clearly identified as an advertisement

Thousands upon thousands of websites operate with advertising as the sole business model; however, tricking users into clicking ads or plaguing your site's pages with ads - especially above the fold - can negatively affect your user's experience, and lead to an algorithmic action.

7. There’s always more information out there.

Discoveries, research and innovations are happening on a daily basis with photos, videos and sound clips being taken every second – meaning there is always more information available.

And as Google continually searches for better ways to crawl information and display results to the user, marketers need to think of how they can help them find and index the information needing to be displayed. This involves every element on your site, including navigation, alt text, XML sitemaps, RSS/Atom feeds, video transcriptions, video sitemaps, creating social profiles and more.

8. The need for information crosses all borders.

Not everyone’s web presence is meant to extend overseas; however, this shouldn’t stop you from finding a takeaway from this point. Google continually strives to provide results that are easily accessible and provide quality information related to the query – no matter where the person searching is located.

However, if you're selling a product that can be bought in any country, then consider the opportunity to build a new customer base by writing content in that language and using rel alternate.

For example, if I had a business based in the United States and sold products to people in France, then I'd hire a French copywriter and build a French speaking portion of the site and add rel alternate link.

<link rel="alternate" href="example.com/fr/" hreflang="fr-fr" />

9. You can be serious without a suit.

This speaks directly to SEO managers. Your employees should have work that is challenging – and the challenge should be the fun part.

It’s amazing when you empower your employees to handle accounts or projects by themselves and see the creative ideas that spur from it. Foster a culture of pride in team accomplishments as well as individual accomplishments, showing that even the smallest tasks have a positive impact on your overall goals.

10. Great just isn’t good enough.

This reminds me of a post by Richard Baxter on how to be a better SEO. In the post, he gives roughly 30 attributes of a great SEOs and what anyone in search can do to develop their skills. The one that stuck out to me the most was:

“Don’t be happy with just ‘ok’ – if you don’t love it, it isn’t ready”

This directly translates back to user experience. If you put out a flawed product or cut corners to finish a project, how is that going to affect the user or your client? Will it provide value? – Probably not.

Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re searching for right away, always strive to produce the best results for your client, user or company and the search results will follow.