We all use Google pretty much every day and, despite being vaguely aware that it’s continually improving, sometimes even massive under-the-bonnet changes aren’t always immediately evident.

The move towards more topical search results

One extremely important ongoing change has been the drive to deliver search results that are more topical. The rationale is a sound one: a large proportion of website searches are related to things which are happening now. Therefore, for some searches, the newest items are more likely to be of relevance than those which have been gathering virtual dust for several years.

Behind the scenes, this is likely to be a jaw-droppingly complex algorithm, balancing out the news and social media chatter of the day, week and month with established and authoritative website pages.

What topical results mean for your website

So what’s the impact and value for businesses? The biggest impact is that, for normal websites, the days of launching a static website and hoping you’ll reach the top of Google and stay there are pretty much gone. Google reckons that around 35% of searches are affected by its ‘freshness algorithms’ – and the results of these are typically given a higher (though, by definition, temporary) visibility in search results.

The algorithms may be new, but the thinking behind it isn’t – it’s Google’s core values from day one: relevance and popularity. Relevance is (simplistically) how close the text on a website page matches what the user searches for. Since there are likely to be millions of results for any given search, Google also tries to work out the relative importance of each website page it has stored and present those most likely to be of value. It does this by presenting the most popular website pages – those which have the most links to them from other websites.

What’s more recent is that newer, topical items are given a higher priority.

A social media strategy is no longer optional

In the real world, this means that organisations without a publicity and social media footprint will become increasingly marginalised by those which do. This is because Google is looking to present ‘the now’ around as many topics as possible in its search results. Media such as news stories, blogs and tweets can potentially deliver this time-relevant content.

This also creates a shift, though not a massive one, in the way a company should publicise itself. If there’s an industry event which generates a lot of buzz, it pays to be a part of it, and to be seen on the Internet as a part of it. The rising wave of search relevance is one which even a small company can successfully ride.

Making the most of now

Organisations will still need to have the usual near-static positioning pages, product pages and services pages on their websites – but adding in topical content or enhancing these pages with topical content becomes far more important.

Here are just a couple of ideas:

  • News, updates, blogs, tutorials, comment – all of this type of ‘relevant now’ content grows ever more important; it’s also important to try to key the topics of these into what’s happening in the wider world.
  • Static content can be enhanced with topical/now content: an example would be that your customers can rate/review your services or products on your website; that you bring in reviews from third-party websites to your website; that you post updates which show the changing relevance of your product/services, or new ways in which they can be used.

Magnifying the ‘news now’ effect

Topical content isn’t magic though. You still have to compete with millions of other companies, many of whom are savvy at producing topical content and creating a now-buzz. But there are effective ways to magnify the effects of what you do, without a lot of effort.

One such way is to use distribution mechanisms to get your message out quickly to a wider audience than your website alone can reach. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, these are all valid distribution mechanisms. What they provide that your website doesn’t is access to massive communities of people, communicating on their own turf.

Distributing news instantly and globally

Another way is to use a news distribution service, which can propel your message into a different league. This activity and effort, though it appears short term, can contribute to the long-term, established search resultsas well – because such items (in the right places)mature on the Web. They may not maintain their time-relevance, but they continue to attract visitors, links and consequently become part of the long-standing ‘relevance and popularity’ algorithms.

We’ve seen this complex relationship between content and Google first hand, with one of our clients, Training Press Releases. This is a news distribution service 100% focused on the learning industry.

Press releases posted to Training Press Releases (and other news wires) are syndicated to many other sites, blogs and news aggregators – and crawled by Google News. So, it’s often the case that a good news story can appear, within the hour, on dozens or hundreds of websites – and be right at the top of Google News.

Even ‘news now’ content matures

That’s great, but as that content matures, the value increases. It may drop out of the ‘now’ searches and (quite rightly) lose its ‘now value’ but it continues to attract traffic and drive visitorsto customers’ websites for years.

It’s not unusual for a third of an organisation’s website traffic, or more, to come directly from a news wire – often it’s the biggest single source of direct traffic apart from Google itself. What’s interesting is that it’s often one of the largest sources of indirecttraffic – via links from websites which have taken the syndicated content. Better still, all of these combine to make it the biggest source of ‘Google love’ – all of those inbound links around the Web creating traffic and popularity.

Unlike many news wires, Training Press Releases is a niche site, so it’s also delivering traffic which is much, much more relevant to a training company – a larger news wire might deliver more traffic, but it’s likely to be of poorer quality, people who aren’t that interested in training. This is shown in the bounce rates of visitors to the customer’s website: usually far lower than the average for that site. (However, there’s a trade-off here, you may prefer or need to reach a wider audience, or work in an industry where a niche news wire doesn’t exist.)

A good news wire can help organisations exploit the natural way in which Google works, and shows the value of publicity to an organisation’s online marketing and search engine optimisation efforts.

Using a news wire isn’t the only way to benefit from Google’s freshness algorithms, but it’s a simple way to significantly magnify your results. It’s worth noting that not all news wires are equal – they don’t all carry the same authority, they don’t all have the same syndication benefits and many of the free ones carry a large amount of advertising, so your message can be displayed with a competitor’s ad! It’s worth doing some research before adopting this approach, then tracking the results carefully.

There isn’t one universal formula for success – but it’s vital that organisations include ‘Google freshness’ in their online publicity activities if they want to dominate the search results.