Google Insists Panda, Penguin Not Designed To Increase Its Revenue

05 Jun 2013 – Chris Crum – Featured –

PoD_Google_Penguin_Money_Bank (SM)

Google put out a new Webmaster Help video, featuring Matt Cutts once again talking about “misconceptions” in the SEO industry. You may recall a while back when he tackled the “misconception” that Google is doing everything you read about in its patents.

There are two main takeaways from the new video. The first is that Google does not make changes to its algorithm (like Panda and Penguin) in order to generate more revenue for itself. The second is that you should focus more on design and user experience than link building and trying to please search engines.

First, Cutts points out that a lot of people don’t get the difference between an algorithm update and a data refresh, both of which are common terms associated with Panda and Penguin. He’s talked about this before, but here’s his latest refresher.

“The difference between an algorithm update versus just a data refresh – when you’re changing your algorithm, the signals that you’re using and how you weight those signals are fundamentally changing,” he says. “When you’re doing just a data refresh, then the way that you run your computer program stays the same, but you might have different incoming data. You might refresh the data that the algorithm is using. That’s something that a lot of people just don’t seem to necessarily get.”

Cutts put out a blog post back in 2006 on the difference between algorithm updates and data refreshes. He then gave these straight-forward definitions before pointing to a video in which he compares an algorithm update to changing a car part, and a data refresh to filling up the gas tank:

Algorithm update: Typically yields changes in the search results on the larger end of the spectrum. Algorithms can change at any time, but noticeable changes tend to be less frequent.

Data refresh: When data is refreshed within an existing algorithm. Changes are typically toward the less-impactful end of the spectrum, and are often so small that people don’t even notice.

So that’s the first misconception Cutts aims to clear up (again) in this new video. Then he moves on to “a bigger one they don’t seem to get”.

“I’ve seen a lot of accusations after Panda and Penguin that Google is just trying to increase its revenue, and let me just confront that head on,” says Cutts. “Panda, if you go back and look at Google’s quarterly statements, they actually mention that Panda decreased our revenue. So a lot of people have this conspiracy theory that Google is making these changes to make more money. And not only do we not think that way in the search quality team, we’re more than happy to make changes which are better for the long term loyalty of our users, the user experience, and all that sort of stuff, and if that’s a short-term revenue hit, then that might be okay, right? Because people are going to be coming back to Google long term. So a lot of people…it’s a regular conspiracy theory: ‘Google did this ranking change because they want people to buy more ads,’ and that’s certainly not the case with Panda. It’s certainly not the case with Penguin. It’s kind of funny to see that as a meme within the industry, and it’s just something that I wanted to debunk that misconception.”

“Panda and Penguin,” he continues. “We just want ahead and made those changes, and we’re not going to worry about whether we lose money, we make money, whatever. We just want to return the best users’ results we can. And the mental model you should have is, we want to have the long-term loyalty of our users. We don’t want to lock users in, so we have Data Liberation. People can always get their own data back out of Google, and if we just choose short-term revenue, that might make some money in the short term, but historically we’ve had the long-term view. If you make users happy, they’ll come back. They’ll do more searches. They’ll like Google. They’ll trust Google more. That, in our opinion, is worth more than just some short-term sort of revenue.”

“If you look at the history of the decisions that Google has made, I think you see that over and over again, he adds. “And Panda and Penguin are no exception to that.”

We did look back at some of Google’s earnings reports. The Panda update was first launched in February, 2011. Google’s revenue grew 27% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2011.

“We had a great quarter with 27% year-over-year revenue growth,” said Google CFO Patrick Pichette. “These results demonstrate the value of search and search ads to our users and customers, as well as the extraordinary potential of areas like display and mobile. It’s clear that our past investments have been crucial to our success today—which is why we continue to invest for the long term.”

Some other snippets from that report:

Google Sites Revenues – Google-owned sites generated revenues of $5.88 billion, or 69% of total revenues, in the first quarter of 2011. This represents a 32% increase over first quarter 2010 revenues of $4.44 billion.

Google Network Revenues – Google’s partner sites generated revenues, through AdSense programs, of $2.43 billion, or 28% of total revenues, in the first quarter of 2011. This represents a 19% increase from first quarter 2010 network revenues of $2.04 billion.

Paid Clicks – Aggregate paid clicks, which include clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of our AdSense partners, increased approximately 18% over the first quarter of 2010 and increased approximately 4% over the fourth quarter of 2010.

Looking ahead to the next quarter’s report, the first full quarter of post-Panda results, Google’s revenue was up 32% year-over-year. Here’s CEO Larry Page’s statement from that one:

“We had a great quarter, with revenue up 32% year on year for a record breaking over $9 billion of revenue,” said Larry Page, CEO of Google. “I’m super excited about the amazing response to Google+ which lets you share just like in real life.”

A few more snippets from that report:

Google Sites Revenues – Google-owned sites generated revenues of $6.23 billion, or 69% of total revenues, in the second quarter of 2011. This represents a 39% increase over second quarter 2010 revenues of $4.50 billion.

Google Network Revenues – Google’s partner sites generated revenues, through AdSense programs, of $2.48 billion, or 28% of total revenues, in the second quarter of 2011. This represents a 20% increase from second quarter 2010 network revenues of $2.06 billion.

Paid Clicks – Aggregate paid clicks, which include clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of our AdSense partners, increased approximately 18% over the second quarter of 2010 and decreased approximately 2% over the first quarter of 2011.

The word “panda” is not mentioned in either report as far I as can tell, but there you do have a slight decrease in paid clicks from quarter to quarter, which given that this takes AdSense into account, and many sites affected by Panda were AdSense sites, could be representative of a direct blow from Panda itself.

The next quarter, however, saw paid clicks increase 13% quarter-over-quarter. In Q4 of that year, they increased 17% quarter-over-quarter.

Interestingly, back in July of 2011, analyst Tom Foremski suggested that Google wasn’t being clear about Panda having an impact on ad revenues, pointing out a “huge disparity between the growth rates of Google sites and partner sites,” which he said was “without precedent for most of its history.”

Cutts actually took issue with some words from Foremski, and reacted in a comment on a Hacker News thread, where he points to transcripts from actual earnings calls, highlighting relevant sentences. Here’s Cutts’ full comment from the thread:

DanielBMarkham, let me try again using quotes from Google’s last two earning transcripts from the last two quarters and see whether that helps to clarify.
I’m loath to go anywhere near a subject like corporate earnings for various reasons, but Foremski says “There is no explanation from Google or Wall Street analysts that I could find,” but anyone can go read Google’s Q2 2011 earnings call transcript, which you can find at… . The relevant sentence is “Network revenue was again negatively impacted by the Search quality improvements made during the latter part of Q1, as you will remember, and know that Q2 reflects a full quarter of this impact.”

Now go read Google’s Q1 earning’s transcript at… . The relevant section is “The Google Network revenue was up 19% year-over-year to $2.4 billion. That Network revenue was negatively impacted by two things, the loss of a Search distribution partnership deal and also, what has been broadly communicated, by Search quality improvement made during the quarter. Regarding the Search quality improvement, remember that we regularly make such trade-offs. We really believe that the quality improvements that benefit the user always serves us well both in the short term and in the mid term in terms of revenue.”

So Foremski claims that “For some strange reason no one has picked up on this or noticed this huge change in its business model. There is no explanation from Google or Wall Street analysts that I could find.” I would contend that Google has actually been quite clear about the reasons for the change in network revenue in its earnings calls.

In particular, Google has been clear in that it’s willing to accept an impact in our revenue in order to improve the quality of our search results.

In Q1 2012, paid clicks were up 7% quarter-over-quarter. In Q2 2012, they were up 1%. In Q3 2012, they were up 6%. In Q4, they were up 9%. In Q1 2013, they were up 3%. So, while there was a short term hit, the long term does seem to see increase after increase in this area.

Now, back to the video. Finally he gets to the topic of what he thinks SEOs are spending too much time doing.

“I think a good proxy for that is link building,” Cutts says. “A lot of people think about, ‘How do I build more links?’ and they dont’ think about the grander, global picture of, ‘How do I make something compelling, and then how do I make sure that I market it well?’ You know, you get too focused on search engines, and then you, for example, would entirely miss social media and social media marketing. And that’s a great way to get out in front of people. So, specifically, I would think, just like Google does, about the user experience of your site. What makes it compelling? What makes it interesting? What makes it fun? Because if you look at the history of sites that have done relatively well or businesses that are doing well now…you can take anywhere from Instagram to Path – even Twitter…there’s a cool app called YardSale, and what those guys try to do is they make design a fundamental piece of why their site is advantageous to go to. It’s a great experience. People enjoy that.”

I think we’ve all pretty much heard this before.

Merry-Go-Round Sites: When Websites Don’t Provide What They Say They Will

15 Feb 2013 – Jill Whalen – Featured


With the introduction of the Panda filter by Google (originally dubbed “Farmer”) in February 2011, one commonality of sites that were hit was what I called merry-go-round sites.

Here’s how I described it at the time:

You get to a page that uses the keywords you typed into Google, only to find that you need to click a link on that page to really get the information. But when you click that page, you either end up at another site or on another page on the same site — and you still don’t quite have the info you wanted. It seems that you could keep clicking that way forever and never find what you were looking for.

In 2011, the merry-go-round sites that I saw getting Pandalized were also showing lots of ads and/or were mainly aggregating other websites’ content. Since that time I’ve seen other types of sites that I would also classify as merry-go-rounds.

Directory Sites Are Often the Biggest Offenders

For instance, one site claimed to be a directory of providers of a certain type of medical service. They had previously been ranking very highly and received lots of Google traffic for keyword phrases such as “[medical service] in [city, state].”That’s a straightforward search query where, if you were typing it into Google, you would almost always be looking for specific doctors or medical establishments that offered the service within your city.

However, instead of being a directory of medical providers, the site had lots of keyword-rich content that droned on about the type of medical service. In some cases there were all sorts of ridiculous drivel about the city itself, such as where its name originated. Now why in the world would someone looking for a specific type of medical service care about any of that? They wouldn’t. It was only put there as an excuse to use the medical service keywords and the city keywords on the page. And it was a very poor user experience. Most of those top-level pages didn’t even list any providers. Just the drivel and a number to call if you wanted help finding a provider.

A Case of Poor Usability

This site did in fact have a directory of providers. However, it was buried deeply in the site and wasn’t created in a search engine-friendly manner so it wasn’t being given much credence by Google. Plus, the site owner made more money when people called their toll-free number to get a recommendation rather than clicking over to the providers’ websites in their directory. In other words, they delivered just enough information to make you think you were going to get what you were looking for, but then made it difficult to find.


And So They Got Pandalized

Another site I reviewed that had lost a lot of Google traffic was supposed to be a directory of surgeons, but in reality it was just 4 surgeons from one practice. If a person looking for a directory of surgeons ended up on that site, at first they may have thought that was what they were getting. It claimed at the top of every page to be “your best source for finding the world’s leading surgeons who offer xxx, yyy, zzz, etc.” But it was literally a bold-faced lie. Google eventually figured that out and stopped showing the site for related phrases.


Don’t Make Me Keep Clicking

Then there was the site that was a guide to hotels. While they had lots of great information on the showcased hotels, it took way too many clicks to find it all. For instance, if you clicked the “Bed and Breakfast” link on a top-level page, rather than taking you to a list of the B&Bs it took you to a page describing what bed and breakfasts were all about. And even when you clicked a particular city link within the B&B section, you still were not taken to a page that provided the lists of B&Bs in that city. Instead, you got a whole lot of information on how the site reviewed and rated the B&Bs that they were eventually going to show you.

If you didn’t leave in frustration at that point, you could then click through and find the listings and the reviews, which were great. But many users probably didn’t make it that far and Google eventually stopped ranking the site as highly for important keywords such as “[bed and breakfast] in [city, state]“.

Another variation on the merry-go-round site was one sponsored by a huge tech company, but on a separate domain. It had a forum, articles, videos and other interesting things on the surface. But upon closer inspection, much of the content already existed on the sponsor’s main website. And when you really started clicking around the site you found lots of links that never quite took you to the topic you thought it would. Instead, you were led to a page with one sentence of information and a link to the sponsor’s site for the rest.

In this case, it was difficult for the company to create great content for the site because there wasn’t really any reason for the site to exist (other than to try to gain more results in the search engines). The main company already dominated the first page of Google for the targeted keyword phrases, but I guess they wanted even more.


The Takeaway

What I learned from my reviews of merry-go-round sites is that the most important thing is to provide exactly what you say you will on every page of your site — that is, the information the searchers at Google were originally looking for. Sometimes this means turning your site inside out and featuring the “meat” more prominently.

Don’t assume that you need pages full of hundreds of words of text content in order for Google to rank them highly. If you have a directory site, the meat is the actual listings. While it may be helpful to provide additional information about the geographical area or about how you have chosen what to put in your directory, it isn’t what the typical Google searcher wants to see first. Understand that it was a mistake for Google to ever have ranked those types of pages highly pre-Panda. If your site was hit, don’t think of Google as having penalized your site so much as them having fixed their relevancy algorithm to better understand the intent of the searcher. Once you do the same, you’ll know exactly what you need on your site and where to feature it.

The Year of the Panda (and Penguin)

13 Feb 2013 – Lauren Hobson – Featured –


In 2012, Google made some very big algorithm updates – namely, Panda and Penguin, that introduced a way for Google “bots” (or spiders) to better understand a website’s content and meaning. It also changed some fundamental ranking signals to penalize low-quality websites and give more weight to quality signals like fresh content and social media engagement. So after several iterations of Panda and Penguin updates all year long, do you know which changes can actually help or hurt your rankings in the coming year? Here’s a recap of some of the biggest changes from Panda and Penguin in 2012:


Low Quality Content

Google bots are now smart enough to tell if the content on a website is poorly written, is keyword stuffed, has spelling or punctuation errors, is riddled with ads or third-party links, or a myriad of other ranking signals that indicate a site’s quality (or lack thereof). This particular change knocked out many formerly high-profile “content-farm” sites and low-quality article sites from the top search positions, allowing higher-quality, more relevant sites to rise to the top of the results – giving users links to better content.

Takeaway: If you have published low-quality syndicated articles or have poorly written content (even if you wrote it!) on your web pages, it’s time to re-think and re-write for the new rules.


Freshness Counts

Google’s “freshness” ranking signals are highly important, while inbound links have become less important. Simply put, if you don’t add fresh content to your website regularly, don’t expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Google’s freshness ranking signals focus on three key areas;

1) Recent events or trending topics,

2) Recurring events such as the Superbowl or elections, and

3) Recently updated or “fresh” content discovered on a website.

Takeaway: Add new content or update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month, because sites with “fresh” content get better quality scores and higher search positions than sites that have not been updated in a while.


Originality Counts, Too

With the Panda and Penguin updates, original content is now one of the most important ranking signals that Google uses in evaluating a website’s quality and determining ranking positions. Today, instead of flimsy content and “unnatural” inbound link building, sites need solid, original content that attracts links organically. If you don’t have the time or skills to write original content, hire someone who does – it’s that important.

In 2013, it will also matter who creates the content, and who does the linking out to that content – which is why Google is pushing businesses to get active on their Google+ profiles. According to many SEO experts, Google’s “Author Rank” now has the potential to be the biggest algorithmic signal for SEO since the hyperlink itself.

The Google Authorship feature lets authors tag their own original content (articles, web pages, posts, etc.) as belonging specifically to them by tying it to their Google+ accounts. Google already uses Authorship to help identify duplicate content on the web and provide rich snippets (images, video) in search results, but it is also likely that Google uses both Authorship and Google+ popularity as ranking signals as well.

Takeaway: If you publish original content (tied to your Google+ profile) and your competitors do not, which business do you think will be listed higher in Google’s search results?


Social Impact

Google now uses social “content” in its search results (e.g., “sharing” on Facebook, re-tweets on Twitter, posts on Google+, etc.). However – don’t just slap together a business profile or two on the social sites! In order to be successful, your social profiles should not only match your existing branding (colors, logo, marketing message), but must also provide valuable content that will resonate with customers. A social profile that just sits there (or spews pre-canned robo-posts) provides little value to visitors and no value to Google in trying to evaluate your social impact.

Takeaway: An active social presence matters – a lot. If you don’t currently have a marketing strategy that includes regular posts and sharing on social media, you need to think about including this for 2013. Marketing today demands a multi-channel approach (e.g., website, social media, mobile, SMS, SEO, etc.) in order to reach your customers and prospects effectively and score quality points in Google.


Technically Sound Architecture

Today, Google has little regard for websites that are built with non-standard code or contain technical errors. If your site was built with a freebie template, uses tables-based design or Flash code, or was created more than two years ago, it is probably time to re-evaluate the architecture of your site and repair or rebuild as necessary. If your site does not have the basic technical elements right, you have very little chance of getting Google’s attention – or rankings.

Takeaway: Google rewards websites that comply with its quality guidelines, which means that if you have not been keeping up with Google’s changes (e.g., using standards-based code, valid CSS tags, correct meta data, etc.), it’s time to get your site in technical shape.


What Matters for 2013

The year of the Panda and Penguin brought about some pretty substantial changes in the way Google evaluates and ranks websites, and if you’re still thinking that inbound links and keywords are the path to good rankings in Google, you need to think again. Although many of the tried-and-true SEO strategies are still in use by Google, they are less important today than ever before. So for 2013, the Panda/Penguin updates mean that your Google strategy must include:

* High-Quality Content (no pre-canned articles or poorly written page content)
* Regular Updates (freshness)
* Original Content (with Author Rank)
* Social Impact (useful, quality posts that are shared socially)
* Technical Correctness (standards-based code, error-free HTML, no templates or Flash, etc.)

In the coming year, experts predict that marketing channels will continue to mesh together – for example, the way that Google now uses social media signals as SEO ranking factors – so your marketing strategy needs to include multiple channels as well. The Panda/Penguin updates have fundamentally changed the way in which your website is evaluated and ranked by Google, so proceed accordingly.

How to Write Good Website Content Google Loves

4 Dec 2012 – Ben Kemp – Featured

Content is King! Now that we have that out of the way, I will set about explaining what I think content means, why it’s so important, and how to ensure your website content bears the stamp of royalty. Feel free to disagree, contest, or add to the definition…

The role of search engines is to deliver the best quality, most relevant websites in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). As searchers, that’s exactly what we want too…


2012 Webscape Changes

The year of 2012 has ushered in the greatest changes in search relevancy ranking algorithms since Google’s establishment. These changes have wreaked havoc across the webscape, punishing sites that had hitherto been dominant. The changes have been twofold:

1. on quality of content – Panda
2. on links schemes aimed at subverting search rankings – Penguin

At the same time, Google has rewritten almost every Webmaster Guideline in an effort to ensure that we all have an understanding of what to do, and what not to do. They have explained in greater detail than ever before what they want from you as a content producer, and what will almost certainly get you demoted.


How Write & Create Good Web Content

Overall Concepts

Good content may be categorized by multiple affirmative adjectives, which could include – engaging, informative, entertaining, unique, personal, amusing, educational, authoritative, persuasive and, above all – original.

Don’t cheat or steal… No copying, plagiarism, duplication, scraping or other nefarious shortcuts! The moment you copy other people’s efforts you are (at best) immediately second best!


What is Web Content?

Well, it’s not just what you “see” on any given page. The concept of good content must extend to the entire website, all its descriptive elements, and many of its functional aspects, including;

* Pages: headings, paragraphs, images, image alt text, anchor text & hyperlink titles

* Posts, Categories & Tags: ditto

* Navigation: link text, hyperlink titles

* URLs: file names on all pages, posts, categories, tags and images

* Business Brand: be unequivocal about WHO you are

* Location: if you serve a specific locality, be explicit about WHERE you are

* Spelling & Grammar: spell check and proofread

* Broken Links, 404 Errors:

* Call to Action: guide your visitors down the right path, don’t make them guess

* Credibility Factors: testimonials, business contact details, privacy policy, terms

Basically, good content encompasses each and every area and element that search engines uses to classify and categorize your website. There are many content quality signals that search engines use, so the more ticks you get in the credit column, the better off you are! Conversely, every failure to fix an issue is a tick in the debit column!


Copywriting & Web Content

Web copywriters don’t copy web content, and nor should you! Real copywriters create pages populated with original and authoritative material, personally written in their own style, specifically for the purpose of the page. The web page copy is aimed at a predetermined audience, written to inform, persuade and encourage the reader to take a pre-determined action or path.


Check Your Copywriting Efforts

Whether you write your own web page content or not:

* DO use your spell checker on all new pages!

* Get someone else to proofread pages for both grammar and punctuation errors!

“You never get a second chance to create a first impression!”

Understand Your Genre

Each genre presents challenges, some more so, than others. Try to identify information voids, and fill them with useful content. There is much online advice on the concept of presenting yourself as a helpful expert in your field.

When it comes to preparing web page content, its also much easier to present yourself as an expert if you provide professional services, or if you are a tradesman etc. You can write insightful articles on your profession, or helpful DIY tricks and tips.

For an e-commerce website, selling manufacturer’s product lines, it’s much harder but certainly not impossible to create unique and original content. Just bear in mind that most of your competition will use the supplied product information verbatim! Therefore, simply by rewriting the default Product Descriptions, you immediately distinguish yourself as being out of the ordinary, different and worthy of reward.

For a bed and breakfast business competing on a local and regional level, you can achieve prominence by providing pages filled with interesting snippets of information on the local and regional sites of interest, attractions and activities in your area. Write it in a different manner and style to the currently dominant competing pages, add interesting images and links for additional information.

Every step you take to rise above the pack will be rewarded, because most website owners simply don’t make the effort.


Brand Your Website

One positive and demonstrable impact of Google’s efforts in 2012 is the promotion of your original Brand over and above the other websites that may list it in their content. A very good example is the Bed & Breakfast genre, where the plethora of B&B Directories and Book sites previously dominated top rankings for any relevant search.

Now, if you search for a specific business by its Brand Name, and the site is properly branded, that business will show in first place in the SERPs!

To achieve that, you must follow the Webmaster Guidelines on use of the Title tag:

* maximum of 65 characters including spaces
* Accurate but brief outline of page content
* Brand / business name at the end

By way of example: Luxury Bed & Breakfast Accommodation – Wanaka NZ | Maple Lodge

Were you to do a search for “Maple Lodge Wanaka” on, you would see that the Maple Lodge website does indeed appear in first position. That’s no accident – optimization of the website content, correct brand application and attention to details in a recent website redesign has helped.


Local is as Local Does

If you are a “local” business, you should ensure that your whereabouts is clear and unequivocal across your website!

* Add your street address in the footer, Contact Us page and in your Location Map page

* Take control of the Google Local Search listing for your business

Give Google the information it needs to associate your business with a correct geographic placement, and you will benefit from that.


Local Search

By taking control of any existing Google Local Search listing for your business, or adding a new one, you can add a great deal of additional helpful descriptive information to that listing. This includes:

* Branding: business name
* Address: correct street address
* Photos: you can load multiple business-related images
* Description: brief outline of what you do, don’t repeat name, brand, or category
* Categories: list the appropriate categories of business activities
* Opening Hours:
* Website, Phone, Fax, Email

Every piece of information accumulates to paint a more detailed picture of where you fit within the overall scheme of things.


The Credibility Factors

Domain Ownership: does the Domain Registrant name match the business name? It should… Google is a Domain Registrar and has access to a lot of background information about your website.

Business Address: provide a physical address if you have an office or shop, otherwise at least provide a postal address. Not having one precludes your site from inclusion in many web directories.

Business Contact Details: provide as many forms of contact as possible – contact form, email address, phone, fax, mobile, Skype address etc.

Testimonials: where real clients have made genuine compliments about your work, share those with potential clients with as much detail as you can. Conversely, don’t invent testimonials – fake ones have the stench of insincerity about them!

Privacy Policy: not having one gives your site a black eye. It does not need to be overly complex. The fact that it exists is sufficient because it indicates you have an awareness of this important issue. Information sharing is a real concern for many web visitors.

Terms & Conditions: prevent conflicts before they happen by explaining how you deal with various issues; payments, refunds, delivery, returns, warranties etc.

404 Error Handling: check for 404 page not found errors and eliminate them via redirects to an alternative page / image. Make sure your site displays a custom 404 error page containing at least a full menu and preferably a site map so that you can keep the visitor on-site and help them find what they were looking for.

Robots.txt: a crucial file that all search engines look for. Not having a robots.txt file generates unnecessary 404 errors.

Sitemap: all search engines look for an XML-formatted sitemap, which should contain a full list of your website’s important content – pages, posts etc. Visitors may also look for an HTML sitemap as a quick way to see what information is available and how it is arranged. This default Table of Contents becomes more important the larger the site grows.

18 SEO Killers You Must Clean Up and Avoid for 2013

Jill Whalen – Featured

There’s a lot of talk lately of Google having finally killed SEO through their Panda and Penguin algorithms, which continue to ensnare more and more websites with every new update.

So is SEO Really (Finally) Dead?

When you look at some of the Google organic traffic losses that companies have faced since the very first Panda algo (aka Google Farmer) hit in February 2011, you might certainly think so.

Analytics data showing losses of over 50% of Google organic traffic is not uncommon for afflicted websites:


And traffic that used to increase over time, suddenly took a huge dip:



These patterns certainly make it look as if SEO could be dead.


But Is It Really?

In order to answer that question I went back through the multitude of lost traffic site audit reports I’ve been doing since early 2011. I looked for website problems that were consistent through many of the sites I reviewed.

It didn’t take long for me to conclude that, while SEO was certainly not dead, SEO tricks and shortcuts were definitely on life support – if not already completely dead.

So if you relied on tricks and shortcuts, then yes, for you SEO is dead.

In fact, it’s likely that the very things that helped you before are the ones that are hurting you now. But even for those of us who have always used best SEO practices, some things have changed.

Today, and for the foreseeable future, SEO is much less about optimizing for specific keywords, and much more about technical issues, social signals, and the overall trustworthiness of a company and its website.

When I went through my lost traffic website audits, I found no less than 18 specific problems that had likely contributed to the huge losses of organic Google traffic and the subsequent loss in conversions and sales that so many companies have been facing.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Duplicate content
2. Keyword stuffing
3. Doorways
4. Footer links
5. Auto anchor text
6. Spammy comments
7. Low-quality pages
8. Poor presentation
9. Content below fold
10. Technical problems
11. Poor writing
12. No content
13. Splitting link pop
14. Merry-go-rounds
15. Unnatural links
16. Semi-hidden text
17. Rich snippet abuse
18. Trustworthiness

While some of the above were deliberately done to or for the websites in order to increase organic website traffic (back in the day), others were more inadvertent – with some issues overlapping others.

For instance, duplicate content can be caused by technical issues, but it can also be done deliberately as an easy way to add more content to a website. And keyword stuffing is often done in conjunction with having content below the fold, but not always.

For the most part, the issues can be broken down into a few overall categories:

* Technical issues
* Content issues
* Usability issues
* Linking issues
* Outright deception

Over the next few months, I’ll go into more detail about all of the above SEO problems and issues, and show you some specific examples in future articles. For now, however, here are the main takeaways you need to know to do good SEO in 2013 and beyond:


Fix Technical Issues First and Foremost

Technical issues affecting SEO have always existed and smart SEO consultants have always made fixing them a high priority. But after Panda and Penguin, fixing them is more important than ever. Technical issues that are a problem for SEO run the gamut from bad content management system (CMS) setups that create duplicate content to having a sitewide navigation that’s basically invisible to search engines. Whatever your specific technical issues may be, now is the time to fix them. If they’re not already hurting your site’s SEO performance, they likely will be after a new Panda or Penguin update.


Think Less About Optimizing for Specific Keywords

I know this seems counterintuitive to everything I’ve been preaching to you for years, but it’s a very important point. When you do SEO with the goal of optimizing for specific keywords that you want to rank for (as we’ve always done), it can end up hurting you now. What happens is that you focus too much on those specific words and end up putting them in too many places on your pages and within the website as a whole. But now this is not as helpful to search engines as it used to be. In most cases this will actually lower your rankings and traffic for those specific keyword phrases. Instead, reread what Karon Thackston recently recommended (and which Matt Cutts from Google confirmed) and use much more of a variety of words within your content. Be sure to keep my new SEO mantra in your head: “Less is more.”


Have a Real Content / Social Media Marketing Strategy

Forget about old-fashioned link building. Google now really does consider it to be web spam. (Yay!) If you can add a link to your own site just by submitting it somewhere, you can assume that it won’t count for much (or anything) by Google. In other words, forget about useless directory submissions, article directories, link wheels, forum signatures and comment spam. That’s all done, kaput, a useless waste of time.

Instead, hire real writers and put them to work writing blog posts and other informational content on a regular basis. Be sure that what they’re writing is truly of interest to the people who might buy your products or services (aka your target market).

Learn where your target market is hanging out online, be it Twitter, Facebook, Google+, industry forums and blogs, and hang out with them. Make friends with them and be sure you make them aware of all the helpful, informational content on your website, as appropriate. Be especially sure to let them know when any new content comes out that they might be interested in. Remember to share their content as well, and don’t be afraid to ask them to share yours.


Most of All, Earn Google’s Trust

If your site is poorly written or keyword stuffed, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If all the links pointing to your site are using one specific keyword phrase rather than just being the name of your company, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If people can’t easily find what they came to your site to find, or if they keep going around in circles on your site, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If you have a number of sites all selling the same products when one would suffice, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google.

If you truly want to earn Google’s trust, you (and your site) must be trustworthy. Stop trying to trick them into thinking your site is something it’s not, and start making it be that something. Having a business and a website was never supposed to be easy. While Google had let most of the above slide for a long time, they really are putting their money where their mouth is now. So forget about trying to find the latest shortcuts and get to work!