Whether you’ve noticed it in the news or felt the results first hand, a lot has been changing in Google’s search engine results. They’ve been cracking the whip hard and many of their algorithm updates may influence your site’s rankings if you’re not careful. Therefore, here at SingleHop we’ve put together a short little summary of what’s been going on in the world of search engine optimization and have included some different strategies and resources for you to use to keep your site ranking well with Google.
Let’s start with Google’s latest algorithm changes; Panda and Penguin. While they may sound cute, these updates have had a big effect on sites and it’s important to understand how they work.
Google Panda is an algorithm update that was released with the purpose of bringing down the rank of lower quality sites and thus rewarding higher quality sites with listings higher up in search results. It was first released in early 2011 and has been updated periodically since then. One of the most recent updates focused on penalizing sites that Google deems to be “over-optimized”. This means sites that were focusing primarily on catering to the search engine were penalized in the results for not providing good content or creating a quality user experience.
Google Penguin is an algorithm update that was released in April 2012. The Penguin update aims at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s guidelines and who are using “black hat” SEO techniques such as: cloaking, keyword stuffing, unnatural links, and creation of duplicate content.
So what do these algorithm updates mean for site owners?
It means instead of trying to fool the search engines into ranking you higher, you need to work with them to give them what they want. Put simply, make your site search engine friendly, but just be certain that it’s designed with people in mind and is providing those users with good, relevant content. So for example, say you’re site is for a running store and you’re looking to make it search engine friendly for the keyword “running shoes”. To accomplish this you could start by employing a few simple best practices to help ensure your site is optimized for the search engines:
URLs – Keep URLs on the short side if possible, make sure you include your keyword in the URL, and use a dash “-” to separate each word. e.g. www.runningstore.com/running-shoes
Title Tags - These should be 70 characters or less, have the keyword(s) closer to front of the title, and the brand at the end. e.g. Running Shoes and Athletic Sports Apparel | Running Store
Header Tags - Make sure your H1 tags reinforce what the content on the page is being optimized for and that it includes your keyword. e.g Increase Your Speed with Performance Running Shoes
Content - Write good, relevant content that isn’t keyword stuffed. You can include the keyword “running shoes” a few times, but just make sure it reads naturally. Also make sure the content is relevant to your audience, because creating good content is what’s going to help drive links to your site.
As we mentioned earlier, the world of SEO is changing, and that includes the link building game. Links are an important metric that the Google algorithm takes into account when ranking your site and its content. Essentially it views links as votes of popularity/confidence for the content on your site. The more established and trustworthy the link, the more valuable it is. Gone are the glory days of paid links and easy link schemes, because Google is on the war path for punishing links like these. There are probably black hats out there that will argue you can still get results with these, however, the links created are typically lower in quality and often result in only short-term success – if you’re lucky enough not to get caught and penalized that is. In fact, some of these tactics are now being used to practice “Negative SEO”, where competitors build sketchy links to your site in hopes of getting it penalized with the search engines. If you find yourself the victim of this, be sure to gather all of your evidence prior to submitting a reconsideration request to Google.
There will always be debate in the SEO world on the use of black hat vs. white hat tactics. However, we’d encourage you to employ primarily white hat tactics for your site, because not only do they keep the search engine gods happy (aka Matt Cutts and Search Quality Team at Google), but they are also more sustainable. So how do you build good links? It’s simple. Just create relevant and linkable content. While that may sound easier in theory than reality, the truth is your hard work will pay off if you create good content that resonates with your audience and other sites relevant to them. And if you’re using a link building agency, make sure you’re using a reputable one like Search Fanatics, who are always on top of the latest algorithm updates and who will help your company’s link profile thrive with sustainable links.
Tools and Resources
The world of SEO is an ever changing one and if you want your site to succeed then you should probably make an effort to utilize some tools and resources available to you. SEOmoz is a great site where you can find article after article of helpful SEO information. They even have a tool called Open Site Explorer that can offer you insights into your site and your competitors’ sites. Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of the free tools that Google offers you for your site. If your site doesn’t have Google Analytics, that’s probably a great place to start for insights. Having access to Google Webmaster Tools is also must. And when it comes to keyword research, the Google AdWords Keyword Tool is a great way to learn about the search volume of the various keywords in your industry.
Surviving on the web in a post Panda/Penguin world requires adaptation. It’s adapt or be left behind. So be sure to stay in tune with the latest algorithm updates and to optimize your site using sustainable tactics that won’t put your site in hot water. If you try to trick the search engines and out run them, be prepared for the consequences on the day they finally catch up to you. So instead, just do what they ask and give your site users good, relevant, quality content. After-all, even if your site ranks high in the search engine results, it’s never going to convert well if the content is lacking and the user experience is poor. If you create your site with the user in mind, optimize it with the essentials, and build content to gain links – the rest as they say, will take care of itself.
To learn more about SEO see Part Deux – How To Audit Your Website