The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 16: Finding Your Search Purpose

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

I launched my first blog from this tiny room in Gdansk, a small port city on the Baltic coast of Poland, on June 12, 2015.

After flying to Warsaw and then taking a train for another 3-4 hours, I was told that my hotel was overbooked. So I spent the next three days in this tiny apartment. 

During the day, I had meetings with potential investors for my business intelligence startup, but I was mostly free in the afternoons and evenings. And I wanted to start a blog for some time.

That evening I bought a domain on Namecheap, a cheap hosting plan, and launched the website. My first post was about that business trip and my time in Gdansk.

After six months, I was living in Ireland at the time, and the site hadn’t picked up any traffic. I had no idea why.

Luckily for me, I lived 33 minutes from Google’s EMEA HQ, just a quick walk through the docks. And there were many events for entrepreneurs, developers, webmasters, etc., that were free and open to attend.

Through these interactions, I learned that there are two kinds of websites:

Diary sites and sites that help people find solutions to their problems.

How Google Changed Websites Forever

Canadian communication thinker Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “The medium is the message” in 1964. He proposed that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. In the context of website marketing, in my opinion, his theory has found a perfect example.

The message (content, websites) has been forever altered to assimilate with the medium that carries it (Google, search engines).

In the early days of the internet, you could search around, and personal blogs would come up in Google search. I remember reading some random person’s blog about moving from the US to Hong Kong some 10 years ago. Such websites were people’s diaries, overflowing with life impressions and experiences. When you search for blogs on Google today, you find things like ‘Top 100 Blogs.’ ‘How to Make a Successful Blog.’ ‘Most Powerful 50 Blogs.’

There’s a reason for that.

Websites Are in the Business of Providing Answers

After 20 years of Googling, we learned to optimize our websites and content for web search, similar to how we optimize our social media content for amplification. Google loves content that solves people’s problems for a few different reasons:

Crawling the web is very expensive (to the point that Google builds its own dams to power its data centers). Content that solves problems is highly sought after and thus monetizable. Many businesses use Google’s AdWords products for higher visibility, and bidding for these high-volume keywords makes Google a sustainable business.

Moreover, content that solves people’s problems brings them back to Google for more. Personal blogs are not designed around giving people solutions. Their purpose is to talk about the author’s own experiences.

Finding Your Search Purpose

For those reasons, the competitive first page of Google is reserved for sites with the explicit purpose of providing high-quality information and addressing specific wants and needs. This is what I call their search purpose. Every page of a website should have its own, and deciding how to address a specific problem or need is always a conscious decision.

Here is the framework I’ve followed over the years to endow websites with purpose:

Step 1: For every page of your website, you need to be intentional about the search query you want it to be found for.

Once you have assigned a purpose to a page, you set out to create the best resource possible that serves that need. To make sure that you have the best page available, you will need to compare it to what is currently on the first page of Google. You gain a competitive advantage by providing at least 2X the value of those pages.

Each page must have its own unique purpose. Pages that pursue the same goals lead to keyword cannibalization, a situation where Google (and people) can’t discern which page is more relevant for a given search query.

My favorite framework to organize this process is called a content -> keyword map. Moz has an excellent video tutorial on creating one, and it will provide a birdseye view of your web pages and their assigned goals.

Step 2: Use Google to understand the searcher’s intent.

I think the easiest way to explain this step is with an example. A carmaker like Mercedes Benz might want to be found for “Best car to buy in 2021”. It gets many searches per month and certainly makes business sense.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Google ran their tests and concluded that review sites are better suited to serve the intent behind this search query – not car manufacturers. It doesn’t matter which consultant you hire or what keywords you add to your page. And this is precisely what most people get wrong about SEO.

When you decide to assign a page with a search purpose, you should confirm that Google considers similar pages a good option for the first page of the search results.

Final Thoughts

There is a joke about how Googling your symptoms only tells you which disease has the best SEO. But the truth is that no one looks for solutions in encyclopedias anymore. Search engines are the primary medium for finding solutions to our problems.

Creating a website that helps people can be immensely gratifying. Such websites don’t happen by accident, though. They are created purposefully and intentionally.

Stay inspired,