The world of Internet marketing is constantly changing: and the lead player in search marketing, Google, often drives these changes, whether webmasters want them or not.
For the end user, most Google tweaks result in a better search experience: for SEO staff, though, it can be a minefield of checks and changes to maintain ranking.
Google updates have the propensity to panic webmasters. The last big change, the Panda update, was met with alarm and confusion, and a pinch of disappointment. Panda was designed to weed out "poor" content - stuff that Google didn't see as relevant, well-written, trustworthy, or original content was suddenly wiped out the search results overnight.
For sites with a good search engine optimisation strategy, the change made little difference. For others, who had perhaps built ranking through more questionable means, the game was up.
And this is where the good side of Google's tweaks are clear: no search user wants to land on a site which claims to give trustworthy advice or information, only to find it's actually entirely made-up, untrustworthy or stolen copy which is ranking because it's spammier than a ham sandwich.
Article repository sites felt the pinch of Panda the most - they'd previously enjoyed excellent ranking based on hosting a huge amount of third-party content, covering topics from "How to clean your car engine" to "How to wire a plug".
The problem was, the volume of third-party content made it virtually impossible to fact-check. And so, whilst a site may have had a percentage of excellent, informative and original content, those third-party pieces which were plagiarised, poorly produced or irrelevant, and uploaded without checks, would have dragged their ranking down.
Panda stepped in to do the user's job for them: recognise poor quality, spammy results, and hide them.
Now, the game is about to change again - as Google looks to weed out sites which have put search engine optimisation over user optimisation.
Matt Cutts, Google's spam chief, already revealed algorithm changes were afoot which would be able to tell if a site was "overly optimised" in order to achieve a good Google rank. These sites, Cutts said, would be penalised for "playing the game" instead of providing meaningful, useful content - helping to "level the playing field" for honest sites who struggled to rank against spammy, but less relevant, competitors.
The other thing with Google, though, is that they like surprises: whilst Cutts revealed the update was on the horizon, he didn't spell out exactly what constituted "over-optimisation".
Webmasters, then, have been left to fill in the gaps - using their existing knowledge of SEO strategy to separate what might be classed as a gentle SEO tweak to a full-on trick.
It's likely Google could look at a range of SEO factors - some may be penalised more heavily than others. Spammy articles with unnaturally high keyword density are likely to be downgraded, along with those using repetitive anchor texts, duplicate content or who have created an "unnatural" linkbuilding strategy using inorganic or paid inbound links.
Other things to watch out for, which are likely to come under Google's scrutiny, include excessive redirects, keyword overuse, mutual link schemes and thin affiliate work.
Google isn't interested in punishing webmasters: but it does want to ensure that information it provides to search users is pertinent, quality and trustworthy. As long as your website is playing fair, is relevant and has fresh, quality, unique content, the latest tweak should leave your site unscathed.
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