Some SEO practitioners look on search engine updates like Google Panda and Google Penguin introduced in 2011 and 2012 respectively, as nuclear option penalty devices. An SEO guy is just doing his job, after all, trying to get his clients noticed in a competitive field. A nip here, a tuck there, ignore some rules over here, wink at a search engine tut-tut back there, and who gets hurt? Search engines don’t see it that way: All the nips and tucks break their rules.
Search Engines are hardly proactive, at least until recently. All their algorithm changes have been reactionary – reacting to SEO practitioners bending the rules or ignoring them altogether to rank ahead of the field in searches. Google Panda (meant to fight thin or low-quality content) and Google Penguin (meant to fight spam) were major adjustments to rein in SEO game playing. And it seems to have worked, because Google has made few other major changes in 2013. Here is a list of Google’s other reactions to-date in 2013.
Google’s 2013 Effort to Tame SEO
#1. Continued minor updates of Google Penguin (to reduce spam) and Google Panda (to reduce thin content).
Panda most recently was a much milder update than in the past and some sites have reported recovering ranking recently.
#2.Loss of relevance of keyword links (anchor text).
The practice once was to make sure you used keywords in anchor text, but Google says that’s no longer as important. They are attaching more relevance to more natural language – write the content naturally and add then add the links. It’s OK to use referral language or even as simple as “click here.” Google is also connecting sites through brand names that aren’t even linked, so keyword linking between brands isn’t always necessary.
#3. Fewer SERPS results per domain name per keyword phrase.
Fewer SERPS per domain name means a business that was used to their website ranking multiple times under the same keyword or keyword phrase will now only rank up to four times. For example, let’s say your domain name is pencils.com and your keyword phrase is 2 lead (as in #2 lead pencil) and before the change, you had SERPS six times for different colored lead or different pack sizes. Now you will only get SERPS for four times for those same colors or packs. Thus, the domain name remains just as relevant, but the number of rankings is lower. Google is trying to reduce the dominance of some players in rankings while making room for others who because of those dominant players were crowding the field.
Thinning out some of the same-domain-name results may help bring up some of the deeper rankings. It’s both a benefit and a bane, depending on how your website ranks.
#4.Refined Google authority algorithm to boost site authority on topics.
Topic or industry authority figures high in ranking and refining this algorithm should aid those with higher quality content and further penalize those with lower quality content. Again, the goal is to benefit the reader, and it also benefits the higher quality content producers.
#5.Less rhetoric on link building, but continued emphasis on link quality.
To reduce the effect of specious or unnatural links, Google is downplaying the number of links in favor of ensuring the links you do include have meaning. Links are still important, but you are rewarded for high quality links and not rewarded simply for having links.
Google 2013 Proactive Steps to Help Webmasters Maintain Links
Surprising SEO practitioners, Google did take two proactive steps that help webmasters manage optimization. They can help you maintain quality content, too.
#1. New “Disavow Links” feature to disavow inbound links.
Acknowledging that competitors and spammers may create links to your site that detract from your ranking, Google now allows you to “disavow” links. Make use of this feature among others in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
#2. New “Link Alerts” feature to help for maintenance of bad links.
Another new feature Google has added to work with websites is “Link Alerts.” When Google discovers problem links, they now alert you through Webmaster Tools and provide example URLs. Another feature on Webmaster Tools is the ability to track all the links to and on your site, which makes following up on Link Alerts easier.
Pleasing the Reader Pleases the Search Engines – Still in 2013
What I have found is that it’s best to ignore all the hype surrounding SEO (Search Engine Optimization, or, optimizing for search engines) and personally work on Website Optimization (optimizing a website for search, or, removing roadblocks and optimizing reader opportunities within my pages). I try to write quality content that – from the beginning – makes the content clear to the reader. When it’s clear to the reader, it will also be clear to the search engines In that respect, nothing much has really changed in 2013.
Mike Brooks says
I think you’ve got great points and this is really good info. However, I think businesses need “real” SEO help more than ever. And by real, I mean a company that does not game the system.
There is so much to watch for. Companies who seem to be doing everything write are getting hurt by all the Google changes of 2013 simply because they don’t have a pro in their corner.
Good SEO companies are needed now more than ever.
Gazalla Gaya says
I totally agree with you, Mike. If you don’t have a good SEO consultant you could end up hurting yourself. Companies today need conscientious SEO consultants who are not trying to game the system, since those tactics don’t work in this current climate. They need consultants who stay on top of this constantly evolving field and above all they need consultants who optimize sites for content and social.
Alan Eggleston says
Hi Mike. Good SEO companies DO exist. And make no mistake, search engine guidelines aren’t always especially clear, so even experienced SEO companies sometimes don’t even understand everything. It’s understandable that inexperienced businesses and organizations might become frustrated on their own. I’d look for a company willing to educate you on SEO and won’t make unrealistic claims or promises. Remember: No one can guarantee page rankings, especially one that will last. There are just too many variables. I’d also look for one with reasonable costs. Good SEO doesn’t have to be expensive. You should be able to find one that fits your budget.
Don’t get too down on the search engines for making changes. Their interest is in their audience, which is the person doing the searches. When SEOs cheat the rules to improve client rankings, they’re subverting the quality search results readers expect. And if a content provider is cheating the rules or providing poor quality content, they aren’t helping the searcher, either.
If Google made changes, it was for a goal of improving search results for users. I always ask myself, what are they reacting to and how can I improve what I publish to fit their mindset? If Panda is to eliminate thin or low-quality content, how can I improve content? If Penguin is to eliminate spam, how can I reduce spam-like content? That’s how you react to Google changes in a positive, productive way.
Adi Gaskell says
Is SEO such a big thing now as it used to be? I remember back in the day that the web world would be abuzz whenever Google rejigged their algorithm, but nowadays it seems much purer in the sense that you produce great content and encourage natural linking (and sharing).
That has always been what Google implored people to focus on. Are black hats still able to game the system?
Gazalla Gaya says
No black-hats are no longer able to get away when they try to game the system. However, SEO as an industry is still alive and kicking. You are right, that producing great content is of paramount importance. In addition, making sure that Google can index your content, proper title and meta tags, optimizing your site so that local customers can find you are still important SEO considerations, all of which are white-hat and very legitimate. In fact, now more than ever, a good SEO consultant is needed to guide you because what you do is as important as what you don’t do. The last thing you want is for your content to be banished from the online world!
Alan Eggleston says
I echo what Gazalla has said. Black Hats still TRY to game the system. They always will. But Penguin as a method to reduce spam has made Black Hats’ work much harder. Gaming the system and making big, unsustainable promises is how they rationalize your doing business with them. Really, we shouldn’t be thinking about SEO (search engine optimization) – but about WSO (Web Site Optimization). Stop optimizing for search engines and start optimizing for websites. Then the costs can go down and the results can be more consistent. But make no mistake, you still need to optimize your website to maximize it for searches and remove roadblocks. Someone who understands the basics of “SEO” or “WSO” can do that without gaming the system.
Frederic Gonzalo says
Very interesting post. I think your conclusion says it best: it’s really mostly about quality content, churned with a steady frequency, that will attract a loyal audience and link juice. Sure, a thorough SEO approach is required and brands need to ensure their sites are optimized, but without a content strategy, links will remain just that: links.
Brands that tell a compelling story, that are pertinent to their fans and potential customers through useful tips and best practices, are those who will push ahead of competition, if all SEO efforts made are equal…
Alan Eggleston says
Hi Frederic. Your strategy wins the day, every day.