Google’s New Vertical-Specific Rules for Web Content
Digital marketers know that creating relevant content is one of the keys to both satisfying user intention and ranking higher in Google. Now, they also need to ensure that Web content follows new vertical-specific rules.
Google today is better able to understand what is required to deliver a good online user experience in different verticals. It knows the factors that are important when people make retail-related searches, for example, and what needs to change to suit searches about financial services, travel or other verticals.
This is partly because the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques in its RankBrain system – and its ability to understand the way people interact with search results for different verticals – give it a more granular understanding of search queries and the most relevant associated search results.
Our company has conducted a number of studies to identify how high-ranking content for different verticals tends to vary. Here’s what was observed in three key sectors:
1. Financial services
Of all the industries analyzed, results related to financial services searches like banking and insurance had the fewest interactive elements such as buttons and menus. In fact, finance search results on Google’s first page tend to have 29 percent fewer navigational elements like this than other more general search results that appear on page one.
This suggests pages ranking for finance-related topics are more geared toward helping visitors digest the content on the page than providing menus and other features that help lead them to other content. This seems sensible as understanding financial information such as mortgages, loans and investment advice requires a degree of focus and concentration.
While content relevance is important for search performance across all vertical sectors, it is even more important for financial services. When our team used big data techniques to measure the semantic relevance between the text found in search results and the words entered in queries, it found that for finance-related searches, the top 10 results have a content relevance score for the central part of the page that is 46 percent higher on average than the most relevant content found in the top ten search results generally.
Additionally, the file sizes of the top 10 results in financial services are around 30 percent smaller than the overall average. This could be because finance pages tend to make less use of multimedia such as images and/or video content (which usually produces bigger pages). This also ties in with why financial services results load a second quicker on average.
And given finance brands sometimes ask searchers to enter personal information about their financial position, it is also interesting that currently nearly half (46 percent) of financial services-related websites appearing on page one of Google use HTTPS, compared with 36 percent for retail and just 23 percent for travel. HTTPS provides a more secure, encrypted way for Web users to view and engage with online content and protects against unauthorized third parties intercepting personal information.
A stand out point about pages that rank higher for travel-related searches is their emphasis on making it easy for visitors to browse. They tend to have more internal links so searchers can easily seek out related content on the same site.
Travel pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have around 23 percent more internal links compared with general results in those positions. And on average the more internal links on the page in travel, the higher the page ranks.
This backs up the notion that travel searchers want to easily compare many similar options and collect a variety of related background. After all, when booking a vacation, there’s so much information that needs to be considered: from checking flight schedules and luggage allowance to seasonal weather, auto-hire and travel insurance.
A related point is that pages that rank in the top 10 for travel have longer bullet point lists - nearly four more bullets per list than more general results. Bullet points makes it easier to assimilate details which can be helpful given all the information related to planning a trip.
One way in which travel results are different to finance is their tendency to use more large images. Pages that rank in the top 10 Google results for travel use around 38 percent more images per page that are over 200x200 pixels. This probably also explains why travel pages in the top 10 have a 40 percent larger file size and take almost three seconds longer to load (on desktop) than for general search results. Google understands that if you are researching a vacation, you value sites with more high-quality images than those that have fast loading pages.
Within e-commerce and retail, sites improve search performance by giving shoppers a seamless, generally ad-free experience in which they can find things they want quickly and checkout fast.
So for example, of the top 20 search results for online retail queries, over half (55 percent) have an online store checkout that is visible without scrolling. This is about delivering a customer experience that is designed to make it quick and easy for visitors to make a transaction.
Another finding is that just three percent of sites that feature on the first page of Google for online retail carry Google AdSense advertising compared with nine percent of first page results for general searches. Perhaps Google considers that ads and promotions about other products are a distraction from the products the visitor is currently researching.
One slightly surprising point is that high-ranking retail sites are not big users of video on the page. In general, embedded video content is found in almost half (49 percent) of sites that appear in the top 10 Google results. Not so for e-commerce and online retail, however, where it is only present in 35 percent of pages ranking in the same positions.
While video is great for demos or providing instructions on how to set up a product, Google has seemingly realized that the most relevant retail results – rather than using video – present a catalogue style overview of many small product images and descriptions (which is particularly easy for comparing many similar products).
To enhance their search performance, webmasters and online marketers need to start paying attention to the rules that apply to high ranking content within the vertical they are targeting.
About the data
The insights above are based on a variety of studies in which our company picked a vertical sector (retail/e-commerce, finance and travel) and analyzed the top 20 Google.com search results for around 6,000 keywords and phrases that are commonly used in that industry. We compared the findings from those vertical studies with a separate, broader ranking factors study that analyzed the search results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.
About the Author
Daniel Furch joined Searchmetrics in 2010 and leads a team of content marketers and designers. He is responsible for research, data analyses, studies (many of which the above data is based on) and is concerned with both the strategic conception and the creation of content. He analyzes search, content, social and PPC data to draw conclusions on market trends for content marketing purposes.