If you’ve been using search engine optimization (SEO) at all in your Internet marketing endeavors, you’re likely aware that Google recently made some significant changes to the way it ranks websites in its search engine results.
It all started last year with Google’s “Panda” update, and only intensified a little over a month ago with their release of the “Penguin” filter.
Why is Google choosing the names of black-and-white animals that start with the letter “P” for these updates? Is it because Google sees everything as either black or white, good or bad, something to be promoted or penalized in their search results? A lot of Internet marketers feel that it’s simply Google’s way of “p-ing” them off. But, in reality, your guess is as good as mine. And, the truth is, it really doesn’t matter.
While I have my theories, this post is about helping you make sense of all the changes so you can realize the greatest benefit from your website and search engine optimization efforts, today and well into the future.
The Death of SEO?
Website owners, Internet marketers, and other professionals have been crying “the death of SEO” since the dawn of search engine optimization, and these cries have never been louder and less true than they are today.
According to MarketingCharts.com, the volume of U.S.-based search queries is up more than 10% year-over-year.
More people continue to rely on search engines to find the answers to all their questions as well as find the providers of the products and services they desire. And, while around 30% of search engine users click the paid ads on search engine results pages, more than 60% rely solely on the “organic” (i.e., natural), un-paid listings.
As long as these numbers hold true – and they will for the foreseeable future – SEO is here to stay and as important as ever!
So, What’s Changed?
First of all, it’s important to note that Google is continuously updating and making changes to the way it ranks Web pages in its search results.
My team and I track the rankings of hundreds of websites on a constant basis, and the rankings for many of these sites fluctuate constantly over a wide array of search phrases. I’m not talking about big moves up or down (although they do happen), but changes from say 2nd place to 4th or from 8th to 5th from one day to the next are commonplace.
So, some amount of fluctuation in your website’s rankings for any given search phrase should be viewed as the norm.
Secondly, every time Google rolls out a big update – such as it has with the Panda and Penguin updates that are the focus of this post – a whole slew of website and business owners and online marketers go into panic mode.
It’s probably just human nature that causes so many to react in fear to change, but, as tough as it may seem for some, it is important to remain calm when these updates occur.
It takes time to track, analyze, and evaluate major search engine updates, and the last thing you or your business need is to overreact and make a snap decision that negatively affects your marketing efforts going forward.
So, sit back and relax, and let’s take a look at what my team and I have learned by reading every blog post we could get our hands on as well as by analyzing the effects these changes have had on the 100+ websites I track for myself and my clients.
Now, in all honesty, and even after hours upon hours of analysis, the only thing I can say for certain is that there is still a lot of uncertainty about how Google has implemented these changes and what exactly their focus has been.
The broad consensus (if it can be called such) is that Google’s Panda updates were focused on devaluing and delisting from the search results Web pages Google found to be spam, while Penguin continued this trend and extended it to penalizing sites that appeared to be “over-optimized.”
What’s considered spam and what’s considered over-optimization, you may ask?
- Spammy Sites – In a nutshell, Google wants the best, most-relevant Web pages returned in the search results to its users for any given search phrase. So, for example, if you’re searching for “dog training manuals”, Google wants authoritative websites with high-quality content about dog training to appear at the top of the search results. Web pages that use the phrase “dog training” over and over again without offering any useful information or, even worse, Web pages that target the search phrase “dog training manual” but are actually about something entirely different are considered spam. Therefore whether or not a given Web page is considered spam by Google is directly determined by how RELEVANT the content of the Web page is to the search phase(es) being targeted.
- Over-Optimization – Whereas a Web page that is determined by Google to be spam is a factor of how relevant it is to the search phrase being targeted, over-optimization relates directly to how AUTHORITATIVE that page is in the eyes of Google. And authority is determined largely by the links coming to your site from other websites around the Internet. Google sees each link coming to your website from another site as a “vote” for your site. The more votes your website has, and the higher the quality of those votes, the more authority it has in the eyes of Google. This has been the basis of SEO for quite some time and Google has gotten wise to how easy it is for site owners to fake authority by building large amounts of links to their websites using the search phrases they are trying to rank for. So, Google has decided to de-emphasize and devalue links that come from spammy sites or don’t appear to it to be NATURAL.
So, more than ever before, your site’s search engine rankings are all about your site’s Relevance and Authority. But, this has always been the case…
What Do These Changes Mean for You?
First of all, if your site has been flagged by Google as spam, there is no reason to fake relevancy or have your website appear spammy.
Google knows what your site and its pages are about. As long as you’re writing great content geared towards what your visitors want, your site’s relevancy is assured.
To avoid appearing spammy to Google, DON’T:
- Use Duplicate Content – If a page of your site is more than 40% duplicative of some other page on the Web, rewrite it or remove it altogether
- Use “Thin” Content – If some pages on your website only have a couple of sentences on them (say less than 200 words), either add more content or remove them
- Make Your Web Pages Boring – Pages that are too long-winded, use only text and contain no other media (such as images and video), or pages that are off-topic and not relevant to your website visitors will cause your visitors to leave your site quickly, which can hurt your site’s rankings
- Link to Too Many Other Websites – You should try to keep any links to other website to a minimum (no more than 10 on any given Web page) and you should be vigilant about making sure those links stay up-to-date
- Hide Keywords from Site Visitors – Don’t use HTML, CSS, or other coding tactics to stuff the search phrases you’re targeting into your content in a way visitors can’t see
- Repeat Search Phrases on Your Web Pages – Google can tell when you’re stuffing keywords into your content… Read your site’s pages aloud, if it sounds repetitive to you it will appear that way to Google
Once these “on-page” SEO factors are taken care of, develop a schedule to regularly publish new content to your website. If there’s one other thing Google loves, it’s not just relevant content but FRESH, relevant content.
Next, it’s time to focus your efforts on your site’s Authority.
To reiterate, despite Google’s changes your site’s authority is still largely based on the links coming to it from other sites on the Internet. In fact, I’d say about 90% of your site’s authority is based on these “backlinks” coming to your site from other websites and about 10% based on social signals (the amount of traffic coming to your site, social media sharing, visitor usage patterns, etc.)
So, don’t stop building links to your site and, if you’re not already doing so, start!
That having been said, it’s important to make the links to your site look as “natural” as possible… And this means natural to Google.
The vast majority of websites that lost their search engine rankings during Google’s recent changes did so because they built a lot of links from spammy websites (to Google, quality matters more than quantity) or they only built links using the one or two search phrases they were targeting. For example, if they were targeting the search phrase “dog training” then all of the links they built to their site looked like this dog training.
The key to making the links in your backlinking campaigns look natural is to vary it up!
A good rule of thumb is to use the following backlink profile:
- Use the EXACT phrase you’re targeting in about 30% of your backlinks (i.e., dog training, for dog training information, videos on dog training, etc.)
- Use a PARTIAL match of the phrase you’re targeting in another 30% of your backlinks (i.e., how to train your dog, training videos, advice for dog owners, and so on)
- Use your URL for another 30% of your backlinks (i.e., mywebsite.com, www.mywebsite.com, and http://www.mywebsite.com)
- Make the remaining 10% of your backlinks generic text (i.e., click here, visit our site, etc.)
Lastly, you should also make sure that the links to your site go to the different pages of your site and not just your site’s home/root page. Think about it, if you link to an article on CNN’s website you don’t link to CNN.com, you link to the specific page of that article. Likewise, to appear natural only about 30% or so of the links you create should go to your site’s “Home” page (i.e., yourwebsite.com) with the rest going to the other (interior) pages of your website.
Above All Else, Do Your Research!
A final word of caution… Much of what you may have heard about the changes Google has been making simply doesn’t bear out when analyzing the actual search results. To make matters even more complicated, much of what people are saying about these changes are industry, niche, or keyword specific.
This means you need to do your own research and rely on real-world data surrounding the results for any keywords you want to rank for.
Research the search phrases you want to rank for, focus your energy on creating quality content, and then post the content to your site and to other quality site’s that will link back to yours using a variety of backlinks. That’s all you needed to do to successfully optimize your site before Panda and Penguin, and it’s all you need to do going forward.
Whether Google’s next update is a Killer Whale, a Skunk, or a Zebra, you can bet it won’t be their last. The world of search engine optimization and online marketing will always be changing.
However, if you focus on your site’s relevancy and authority and do so in a way that looks natural to Google, you’ll never have to worry about making sure your website can be found online. Trust me on this one, it’s precisely what I’ve been doing for the past several years and not one of the 100+ sites I manage on my clients’ and my behalf have been negatively impacted by Google’s recent changes!
If you’d like to learn more about Google’s recent updates, I’d highly recommend the following:
- Josh Bachynski of SE Nuke – http://www.senuke.com/blog/?p=276
- Jonathan Leger – http://www.jonathanleger.com/ranking-in-google-after-penguin/
- MicrositeMasters – http://www.micrositemasters.com/blog/penguin-analysis-seo-isnt-dead-but-you-need-to-act-smarter-and-5-easy-ways-to-do-so/
And, if you have questions and/or found this post helpful, don’t forget to share your comments or spread the word using the links below!