SEO is rapidly changing from one year to the next, with new algorithms constantly emerging and Google frequently editing their webmaster guidelines. Business owners and marketers have to adapt quickly, but it’s still possible to give your business website the edge on your competition.
Back in the “Wild West” of the internet age – the mid 1990s – websites started popping up faster than people could keep up with them. Search engines were invented to help web users find what they wanted quickly and efficiently.
Back then, all a webmaster had to do to get his or her site indexed was to submit their URL to a search engine. A spider would be sent out to crawl the website, searching for any and all outgoing links as well as relevant keywords to report back to the search engine for indexing. Eventually, people started to see the value in getting higher up in search results, and the term “search engine optimization” was coined.
Since search engine algorithms relied so heavily on backlinks and keyword density, people began to come up with all sorts of ways to trick the system. One notably underhanded technique was the use of link farms. Link farms were networks of websites created with the sole purpose of hosting backlinks. Webmasters and internet marketers would commonly buy and trade backlink space. Search engines responded to such tactics by developing more complex algorithms to determine the relevance of a website. Google PageRank is one such example.
While employing PageRank brought some much needed order to things, Google’s subsequent algorithm updates were what made the biggest difference. In 2011, Google released the Panda algorithm update, which lowered the ranking of low-quality websites. In 2012, Google unleashed the Penguin update to penalize websites that violated Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Recently, changes made to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines provides even more insight into how Google is continuing to work on creating an environment in which natural backlinking is rewarded and unnatural backlinking is penalized. Specifically, the changes addressed concerns about guest posting, article directory marketing, advertorials and more.
What are Google Algorithms?
Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).
In its early years, Google only made a handful of updates to its algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year.
Site content is something that gets increasingly more important with every new Google’s update rolled out. The name of the game is relevance and your content needs to be deep and rich, rather than just fluff stuffed with keywords.
To get a better idea of how to adapt your content marketing strategy to the changes, you need to understand which mechanisms Google uses to determine relevance and quality and how each of them affects your site.
- Adapting to Panda
- Avoiding low-quality and duplicate content
- Content duplicates
- Very short content pieces
This means there are 2 main things to focus on to make sure your content stays Panda-friendly.
1. Avoid duplicate content within your site and stay away from low-quality scraped content:
- Focus on producing your own, high-quality unique and fresh content
- Make sure all of your pages have unique titles and meta descriptions (rewrite any duplicates you find), and use robots.txt file to hide from Google’s eyes any types of duplicate pages (such as your www and non-www page variants, paginated pages and so on)
2. Make sure your website includes enough textual content
- Keep the articles you create long and detailed, intended to be valuable for the readers.
- Make sure even the interaction-aimed pages are not left content-less.
- Create rich media content (like videos, images, etc.), and make sure your non-textual content is formatted in a way search engines can see it.
Adapting to Penguin
- Avoiding keyword-stuffing
3. Avoid keyword stuffing issues and stick to reasonable keyword density
- Avoid putting a mere list of keywords in the page title (instead of making it descriptive or using your brand name.)
- Avoid jamming keywords into the Meta Description instead of making it a call-to-action.
- Avoid over optimizing H1. Fit keywords into these tags if it makes sense, but don’t waste time trying to get them into every single page or especially every single subtitle.
- Avoid alone-standing keywords in the alt tags of images. Use a descriptive alt tag or none at all.
Adapting to Hummingbird
Adjusting to conversational search + striving for theme relevancy
The first challenge Google’s Hummingbird update deals with is interpreting conversational phrases people use to search the Web today. Interpreting these longer phrases, Google can no longer rely on keywords only and provide different results for each of them. But rather bring numerous conversational requests to a shorter “general term”, based on the type of searchers’ intent:
- Informational (user wants general information)
- Navigational (user wants to find a certain site on the Web)
- Transactional (user intends to run a certain transaction)
And the key option for you here is to:
4. Make sure your content covers each of the 3 types (informational, navigational and transactional)
- Create different types of content for different query types
- Try determining all conversational phrases people are likely to use when searching for your services and try using them when possible.
- For all the rest of conversational terms, use their shorter equivalents.
Another step towards relevant search results is determining what a page is about using not only individual keywords, but their synonyms and co-occurring terms.
Practically this means that Google shows search results not only for the exact phrase the user typed in, but for other theme-related terms.
To make your content look really theme-relevant, the best idea for your site is:
5. Expand your keyword research, focusing on synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your content.
- To see which search terms Google considers synonymous, pay attention to related keywords, acronyms or spelling variants of your keywords highlighted in search results.
- Expand your synonyms list with the keywords that already bring traffic to your website (check your site’s Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics).
- Tap into Google Suggest for relevant keywords ideas
Focusing on quality
In its strive for highest-quality Web content, Panda, in some way, effects your link building too. And, not surprisingly, it shifts your link building focus to quality — the quality of sites that you get backlinks from and the quality of your own content:
1. Make sure your link-building efforts are focused on high quality link sources (because building links from Content Farms already de-ranked by Panda is at least useless).
- Forget article spinning and comments and guest posting on low quality blogs. These techniques will no longer bring you any good.
2. Produce highest quality content, that will by itself attract natural links and social signals
- Create useful pieces of content and other authors are likely to mention them, giving you a natural way to build relevant and quality links.
- Keeping backlink profile natural and double-checking for negative SEO
Penguin update, in its turn, combats spammy backlinks and unnatural link building techniques, meaning 2 main aspects for you:
3. Make your backlink-profile look natural and high-quality
- Analyze your site’s backlinks, identifying any potentially spammy links and getting rid of them without regret. The basic rule here is to avoid backlinks that:
– Come from sites built exclusively for the purpose of SEO.
– Use overly-optimized anchor text.
– Come from adult or other “bad neighborhood” websites.
– Come from sites that are irrelevant to your own.
- Make sure your future link building is in line — build links from high-quality, theme-relevant sources and keep your anchor-texts diverse and natural.
4. Beware of competitors’ negative SEO
It’s no secret that Penguin update gave rise to a wave of negative SEO (black-hats point spammy links to their competitor sites to push them down the SERPs).
If previously a spammy link pointing to your site could be silently discounted by Google, today it’s more likely to incur a manual or an algorithmic penalty, so you have to keep a close eye on all new backlinks your website gets to be able to react immediately, if any negative SEO efforts are aimed at your site.
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