The year 2012 won’t soon be forgotten by the SEO industry. This was the year Google took a solid stance against web spam and low quality SEO. Many websites with consistent monthly revenue lost more than 90% of their organic traffic. Google has sent the clear message that if you try to game their system with low quality optimization, they will make you pay. This is forcing those who do online marketing to make a decision. Are you going to stick with old tactics that worked well before or are you going to adapt to conform to Google’s new standards?
There are certain general principles that still apply to ranking well in the search engines. First, you need to have an optimized website that is easily read by the search engines. You also need to show Google that your website has valuable information. This is proven primarily by third-party websites linking to the domain. Content, indexing, and linking have and always will be the cornerstone of ranking a website in the search engines. I would like to discuss these three fundamental factors.
1. Website Content – Before 2012, the quality of the actual content of the website was much less important. As long as it was unique with targeted title tags, you would be able to get the page to rank given enough links. The Panda update started to evaluate user performance on a website. I believe Google will increase in using this data as a core part of its ranking algorithm. The trick is to have something to say. The days of writing pages just for the search engine are over. Put some real thought into what kind of value you are adding to Google’s index. Be sure to include videos and pictures to add interest and turn your visitors into customers. Consider whether you would spend some time on your page if it were not your own.
2. Website Indexing – Having a website that has clean code and is easily read by the search engines has always been a fundamental part of SEO. This is one area that wasn’t really affected by the recent Google updates. If you are newer to the SEO game, I recommend using the SEOMoz Campaign tool. This has a dashboard that will report a variety of indexing issues including needed redirects, duplicate page problems, and blocked pages. If you are more experienced in the industry and would like to do a manual analysis, I recommend using Xenu. It will do a very quick crawl of the website and provide all of the data needed for a thorough analysis. Another great feature of Xenu is the ability to export all reports to Excel. This gives the user the ability to filter, sort, and analyze a ton of data.
3. Linking Profile – This is the ranking factor that underwent the greatest change in the Penguin update. Many websites that were using link-building networks like Build My Rank and Rank Jumpers were severely penalized. Having too many exact-match anchor text links dealt the deathblow to many sites. This is going to be the key area where people either adapt to SEO post updates or continue trying the same, old methods. My recommendation is to evaluate the meaning of the link. Is there actually a reason for the target website to link back to your website? Is the link only built for the search engines or does it make sense from a user’s perspective? What value does the link actually add to the Internet? When thinking about things in this perspective, link-building takes on an entirely different meaning. I strongly recommend varying the anchor text with your links to include the business or domain name. You should also include a number of long-tail variations of the keywords. Further, I recommend having no more than 50% exact-match anchor text links. This will ensure that you don’t get hit with further updates.
Online marketing has always been an evolving industry. The people that are going to be successful are the ones who are willing and ready to change. With their recent updates, Google has shown the main ranking factors that are most important to them. Now, it is up to us as webmasters to adapt to the new environment.