When Sergey Brin and Larry Page first sat down to develop Backrub, the precursor search engine to Google, they had no idea that one day in the future their project would become so successful that individuals would create Google ‘bombs’ to get listed on first page search results or that ‘content farms’ (a controversial term) like Demand Media would develop sophisticated strategies to ‘game’ their ‘paid’ articles to the top of search engine rankings through sites like ehow.com.
A whole new industry called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sprang up in the wake of Google’s runaway success, which has now indexed close to 200 million sites (probably way more). The two techniques referenced in the opening paragraph were arguably common tactics used to achieve higher rankings in the name of sport or profit or both.
Today millions of small businesses rely on good search results to generate traffic and leads. Their efforts for years were centred around attaining a high Page Rank (PR), the original Google magic sauce that slipstreamed the idea of ‘precedents’ in the legal industry to reward sites that had high numbers of quality backlinks pointing to their home page. The presence and composition of anchor text contributed to the final ranking, although everyone is aware that there are literally hundreds of other signals that Google’s algorithm considers before issuing a high search engine ranking.
Over time, as spammers or lazy website owners attempted to inflate backlinks to their home page from fake sites or low-quality directories, Google revised its algorithm to deal with this practice. It simultaneously had to rethink its position on Google Bombs, a situation in which many people link to an article using a particular phrase, such as ‘using Google effectively’, thus fooling Google into believing that this phrase is related to the content of the page, even if that particular phrase isn’t used within the page itself.
This ‘game’ has now been going on since 1997 and reached boiling point in 2012 with the latest iteration of algorithm updates known as Google Panda. This amounts to a tacit concession by Google that ‘content’, not ‘reciprocal linking’ is the key to achieving a future high position on Google.
While over the last few years companies like Demand Media and Associated Content have developed canned templates for producing articles that appear high in search results, the latest round of Panda updates have arguably pushed them lower down the ranking totem pole while at the same time rewarding website owners that publish deep, worthwhile content that often falls under the umbrella term ‘inbound marketing’. In fact, as much as 12% of websites may have negatively been affected by Google Panda updates that have been systematically released each month by Google.
In many ways, we have a reached a high watermark where quality writers and content publishers are in a pole position to gain higher ranking for their articles or websites (or the clients they produce work for.)
“Of course, we aren’t disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don’t want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google’s mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we’ve been looking at the issue,” said Google.
Here are just five guiding questions that Google suggests you ask yourself before you publish new content:
• Would you trust the information presented in this article?
• Did an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well write this article, or is it shallower in nature?
• Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
• Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
• Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
Over the remainder of 2012, Google will be rolling out the last of the 500 changes under Panda to strengthen and improve its algorithm. In 2013, a new iteration of changes will begin.
There is a lesson to be learned here: Google is seeking out independent sites that don’t publish content to get a higher ranking but instead publish material designed to be useful to their readership or customers. By focusing on content, not Google, you should over time see your rankings rise magically upwards.
Of course, both technical onsite and offsite SEO will continue to be important, but over-attention to keyword density, backlinks and other SERP data may indicate you are trying to please Google, not your customers. And, this is something Google is desperately trying to stop because its future status as the world’s number 1 search engine will depend on it.
Author Bio: Jason Stevens from jason-stevens.com / Freelance web developer, tech writer and follower of cloud computing trends. Follow him on Twitter: @_jason_stevens_.
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