“In this corner! Weighing in at 20 Billion dollars yearly! The master of organizing the worlds information
And in this corner, Trying to make an easy buck! The sultan of shortcuts! The spammer! The jammer! THE WEBMASTER!!!
If you keep up with search engine marketing news at all, you might have noticed a lot of talk about big changes in the Google algorithm lately. This latest round of changes is part of a series of well-known algorithm updates called “Panda” in which Google is attempting to reward the “good stuff” with higher rankings and remove the “bad stuff”.
Google’s latest series of updates have been blatantly more aggressive than ever before, penalizing webmasters for the “over optimization” tactics that they have been doling out on Google for years. Your own site might have actually been affected by some of these recent changes in a negative way (even if your site isn’t spammy). Not since Google’s “Florida” update back int 2003 when a lot of webmasters learned not to mess with Google, has there been such a shift in the search engines algorithm.
Here’s a rundown of the latest deathmatch action:
January – February
The first sign that some changes were coming, a reported 700,000 webmasters received “over optimization” warnings in their webmaster tools accounts.
At the SXSW conference Google head engineer Matt Cutts announced that Google will be targeting overly SEO’d sites in the coming weeks.
Whoa! Didn’t see that coming!
End of March
Blog networks get torched – this update targeted private blog networks such as Build My Rank and Authority Link Network that allowed webmaster to post their content (with links embedded) to their network. These private blog networks didn’t add any value to the internet as a whole because all of the content that was added to them was very low quality and no one in their right mind would ever actually read it. The only reason this content existed was so that webmasters could add their backlinks to it.
More Webmaster tools warnings sent to webmasters explaining that unnatural and/or artificial links have been found pointing to their sites. This penalty explains to webmasters that they will be given a chance to remove the links before any penalties will be applied.
OK, this is starting to hurt!
End of April
Another update targeting “Webspam”. Google says this one targeted 3% of search queries and it seemed to be targeting on-site issues that “the good guys” have been complaining about for quite some time, such as keyword stuffed pages and hidden text. As of yesterday, this update has been dubbed “Penguin” which is interesting because it means that Google has separated it (at least by name) from the Panda updates which have been going on for a year. Not sure yet if there is any significance to this.
And he’s down for the count!
Why is Rocky…err Google doing this?
They want to target “Blackhat Webspam” as Matt Cutts calls it. Blackhat Webspam is “any shortcut or loophole that make pages rank higher then they deserved to be ranked”.
Google says they want to give “the good guys” a fighting chance and reward their higher quality sites. The “good guys” are essentially, the people that have been following Google’s quality guidelines for years but have been constantly outranked by “the bad guys” who resort to spammy shortcuts and tactics.
It’s important to note that Google mentioned on their own blog that they are targeting webspam, not SEO.
Here’s a quote from their post:
“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media.
However, many webmaster are complaining that they were wrongfully affected by this latest update and their rankings have disappeared.
Google has even setup a separate form to fill out for webmasters if they feel that they have done no wrong and have been hit by the latest Penguin update.
What Google is doing?
Here is a list of some of the naughty stuff that Google is cracking down on:
- Keyword stuffing – This tactic involves simply adding dozens or even hundreds of keywords to a page with the intent of capturing as much traffic as possible. Nobody would ever want to read a page filled with nothing but keywords so this is considered spammy.
- Link schemes – Tactics like reciprocal linking, paid links and any other linking tricks intended to manipulate rankings.
- Cloaking, “sneaky” redirects or “doorway” pages – Cloaking is when you show a visitor one version of your page (the good version) and show search engines another version (the spammy version). This is done in order to trick the search engines that something is on the page that really isn’t. Doorway pages are pages created with very thin content in order to try and capture as much organic search engine traffic as possible. For example, a directory of all the states/cities/counties in the USA that has a page for each but very little unique content on any of the pages.
- Purposeful duplicate content – Duplicating content from other sites or from within your own site. Even worse, duplicating the content and just switching out a few words to make it seem different.
- Backlink anchor text over optimization – getting links with the same anchor text too many times.
- Hidden text and links – Using a variety of tricks to make the text on a page invisible to humans but visible to search engines. e.g. Using the same color text font and site background to make the text blend into the background and not visible to the eye.
- If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.
The important point to mention here is that many sites had previously been penalized for doing the items listed above but many others were still getting away with it. The difference now is that Google has considerably turned up the heat when it comes to actually penalizing for using these tactics.
What you can do to adjust?
There are two major areas where you can adjust your strategy to do better in this new ranking environment and they both surround one tactic…CONTENT.
- The first is adding relevant and unique content to your site. This can be in the form of a blog, beefing up your product descriptions, articles, whitepapers or anything else that makes your site more of a resource. Google also recommends making sure your pages load quickly (although this is not a major factor) and that your site is built with users in mind (instead of search engines).
- The second is adding quality unique content to the rest of the web aka content marketing. Content marketing is a great way to position yourself as an authority on your topic area and also happens to be a great way to get links back to your site. Guest blog posting is the process of writing content specifically for other websites in exchange for a link back to your website, and it can be a great strategy for adding some authoritative links to your backlink profile.
The bottom line here is that Google is finally stepping into the ring when it comes to identifying and targeting SEO tricks and loopholes. Google’s Matt Cutts has been talking about this stuff for years and it looks like they are actually following through this time.
George Zlatin is the Director of Operations at Digital Third Coast, a Search Engine Marketing company based in Chicago. George has an amazing capacity to digest information about SEO and fried chicken. You can find George on Twitter and Google+. Connect with Digital Third Coast on Google+.