Last year, Google’s Panda update created a storm of hurricane-like proportions in the world of search engine optimisation.
After the cataclysm many websites were left sailing low in the water while others were catapulted to the warm tropical waters of page 1.
Then all was quiet… for a while.
We had a year of relative calm waters while SEO-ers who’d been hit hard patched up their sites and waited for successive re-runs of the Panda filter – each time hoping to catch a gust of wind that would get them back to the kind of traffic levels they were experiencing before. Those who’d benefitted from Panda just kept on doing what they were doing.
Then came March 2012 and another significant update – ‘Venice’. All of a sudden locality is a huge factor in search engine results on certain terms with a local weighting like ‘plumber’ or ‘taxi’. This proved a huge boost to many local businesses while hurting larger, nationwide brands or directories which previously monopolised those terms.
And then before the sky could even clear we had a triple-whammy. The 19th April brought Panda 3.5, the 24th ‘Penguin’ and the 27th Panda 3.6. Never before had we seen such a deluge of updates from Google – at least not when it concerned such major changes to its algorithm.
Penguin was all about devaluing links – especially those with over optimised anchor text and from spammy domains and link-networks. In other words, all those links that look like they’ve been paid for or were the result of manipulative linkbuilding campaigns. Many more websites ended up wrecked and ruined having run aground on the jagged rocks of their link profiles.
It’s clear that these algorithm changes aren’t going to cease any time soon. In fact, as Google repositions its search offering to incorporate social media and fend off competition from the social sphere, these changes, like extreme weather events, are only likely to get more and more frequent and more and more intense.
So how does a site owner guard against them? How do you implement a risk-free SEO strategy that will keep providing returns no matter how much weather Google throws at you?
Stop doing what we’ve all been doing
Your old, tried and trusted SEO tactics just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Here’s a selection of old-school methods and why they aren’t going to make it into the second half of this decade:
• Link directories: Google doesn’t need these dusty old relics from the early days of the internet anymore. Nobody actually uses link directories to find things they want – they use search engines. Google will cut them loose soon so don’t waste hours of your time trying to find them and submit your site. Put your energies into more holistic link building efforts (see later).
• Different pages for every keyword: Tons of pages, each of them targeted at a slight keyword variation aren’t going to have the same effect once Google unleashes its much talked about ‘over optimisation’ algorithm update. Besides which, the increasing prevalence of semantic features in Google’s algorithm means that all these pages will be competing against each other. Instead make sure that what pages you have cover all the bases and of high quality.
• Exact match anchor text: Stop doing it. It’s already started to be penalised by Google and this trend will continue. If all your links have anchor text which contains valuable commercial terms you need to work on rebalancing.
• Internal linking: Keep it natural. Pointing loads of links at internal pages isn’t going to help you rank better. As long as each page is easy to crawl and your site architecture is good, that’s enough.
• Paid links: While you’ll probably still get away with the odd one-off paid link (after all, who’s to know?) you won’t get away with using offshore link building services for much longer. Why? Because they don’t take enough precautions to ensure your links don’t look like they were paid for. Grouping loads of the same clients’ links together on different sites, not paying attention to context – all signs that Google will soon pick up easily.
• Reciprocal links: It just looks manipulative – especially in large numbers. When you have a genuine reason to exchange links then go for it but if you’re just doing it to get links, then don’t.
• Article/content spinning: It’s hard to stop others scraping your content and publishing it elsewhere (though adding rel=author markup is pretty effective) but if you’re doing it to yourself you only have yourself to blame when Google spots it. Tools like copyscape show how easy this technology is to implement and why enhanced versions will soon be making it into an algorithm update near you. Soon. The same goes for publishing chunks of keyword spattered gibberish – it’s not hard to spot.
But surely, you must be thinking, there are still some SEO-specific tactics that I can employ to make my website rank higher? Actually, I’d argue that while some techniques are still working, all the ones that are definitely the domain of an SEO are on the demise and all the rest are just plain old marketing…
In fact, forget SEO and build your brand on the internet
There are two reasons I think SEO is becoming increasingly irrelevant:
On the one hand, Google has never really trusted SEO – whether ‘White Hat’ or ‘Black Hat’. Google has only ever trusted itself and its ability to create a search engine which doesn’t need to rely on the ‘help’ of self-appointed experts. And as you’d expect from a company with in excess of $72 billion of assets, Google is catching up to SEOs.
On the other hand, Google is losing control of the internet. It’s fighting hard, hence all the updates, but where before there were just loads of websites and two or three search engines through which to find them, now there’s a whole complicated landscape of social media platforms, apps and widgets as well. Much of what happens on the internet no longer happens on the web and can’t be accessed by Google – so why devote all your time trying to trick/help Google? After all, your web developer should make your site easy for search engines to crawl – after that, why focus so much effort on plain old search?
Now that the internet contains as many complicated and diverse ways of interacting as the real world, we’re back to the same old marketing techniques that we’ve had since commerce began – paying for advertising and generating free publicity. SEO used to be one of the tactics for the latter. It’s not going to be for much longer – hence the growing trend of SEO consultants rebranding themselves as inbound marketing consultants.
If you want to seriously future-proof your digital marketing efforts then you need fall back on these time tested methods, using your website and social media profiles as a cohesive platform through which to execute them. Be the best brand in your field, give the best customer service, produce the most helpful content, run the best competitions, have the best website, be the most engaged.
That way, if Google is still doing what it does in ten years, you’ll still be picking up all the most valuable links. If it isn’t; if social media has taken over search, then you’ll already be in the best position to make the most of it.
In other words, if you want to future-proof your SEO strategy, build a strategy that makes itself redundant.