Every Spring for the past three years Google has rolled out a big algo change that “washes” away the unnatural search results from their index. Spring of 2013 brought Penguin 2.0 and a summer full of updates. Spring of ‘12 brought Penguin. Spring of ‘11 brought Panda (technically that was late February but it nearly fits my scheme here). What does Google have for us this Spring?
If you were enjoying good search rankings before any of these updates, but then noticed a big drop afterward, it’s likely that you have not fully recovered yet. And I hate to say this, it’s also unlikely that your site will ever get back to where it was in terms of rankings and traffic from Google.
Most businesses have been in some state of flux regarding Google and I’ll attempt to layout where you’ve likely been and your options for going forward.
Most sites penalized, either manually or by the algo, were small businesses who violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you do not understand SEO or trust what your SEO firm does, then do not get involved in SEO and/or pull the plug on the current project. It does not matter if you had good intentions, when Google learns that you have enjoyed good rankings by violating their guidelines, it won’t matter who did it, you’re site is going down, down, down and it’s a long road to get back up if at all.
Google has been at war with SEO in general for the past 3 years
Gaining G’s trust is difficult, especially for small businesses but absolutely essential for improving search rank.
If you are a big business and on G’s trusted list, you generally get great benefits for doing SEO. If you are a small biz, you aren’t on any G list typically (unless you’ve engaged in lots of unnatural link building) and SEO becomes a series of punch vs. counter punch.
G has a big problem and they do all kinds of things to fight spam mostly via Panda/Penguin and Matt Cutts.
Cleaning up your link profile is only the beginning
Clean up your link profile if you can discern a bad link from a good one – many throw the good links out with the bad because they don’t know the difference and fear any “suspect” links. But if you have not received a manual penalty from Google, then Google’s algo has already discounted the bad links and disavowing them alone usually doesn’t bring your rankings back.
Realize that links do count in Google’s algo if they are natural, so you must reform the way you build or earn links to your site going forward and you’d better get started since most of your unnatural links have been thrown out already.
Michael Martinez commented at seroundtable.com about how to use the disavow tool to get rid of bad links:
- If you know you have been naughty and Google has punished you for being naughty, use the axe.
- If you know you have been naughty and Google has NOT punished you for being naughty, don’t wake the sleeping giant but keep glancing over your shoulder.
- If you know you have NOT been naughty and Google has punished you for someone else’s handiwork, use the axe.
- If you know you have NOT been naughty and Google has NOT punished you, don’t wake the sleeping giant and don’t look back.
How to start climbing back up
Be real and consider a diverse mix of online marketing
Small businesses have many challenges when it comes to online marketing, don’t let the temptation to take short cuts early on turn into a ticking bomb in the future. Instead be real and do what real companies do to establish credibility, even if it takes a while. And rather than putting most of your eggs in the SEO basket, diversify your traffic and online marketing mix by identifying those places where your target audience is at in a high concentration and creatively get your message in front of them.
Content marketing can hit almost all of your online marketing target audiences and impact search rank. Here is one way to utilize content marketing to earn links and build a pool of prospects.
I agree with Sean Jackson that the term SEO is dead because it comes with lots of baggage and makes people wonder if you are a spammer. Today SEO really means optimizing content for discovery and conversion (OC/DC) across the web, not just search engines. For years we have needed a better way to describe the essence of SEO and Sean suggests OC/DC, I like it!
Can you and I keep a secret?
Back in the day when SEO was more of a secret, there were very few shocking updates to the algorithm. But when people began sharing the secrets to SEO for reasons like publicity, a go-to-market strategy and the like, these secrets fell into the hands of people who either did not interpret them correctly or abused them in ways that Google’s engineers never realized would happen, and so G was forced to deal with the masses trying to manipulate their search results.
Many of us in the SEO community saw what was happening (large scale abuse of legit SEO techniques) and began adjusting our approach long before Panda was introduced in 2011. Not that we escaped the Panda, but we knew certain techniques had been over done.
Even today there are secrets to SEO but they rarely remain a secret for long for some of the same reasons I stated above. And Google isn’t making it easy to guard secrets either. In fact, Matt Cutts is partly to blame.
Ann Smarty suggested that this problem of guarding the secrets could be managed much better by Google by the way they choose to talk about or not talk about web spam and SEO.
I do think their public reps (Google) should be more careful with what they are saying – that’s for sure because, again and again, whatever they say blows up. But they don’t seem to be learning their lesson…
SEO community needs to grow up and stress upon doing something real instead of picking up on Googlers’ words and making money on tactics rather than strategies.
This reminds me of the way great hedge fund investors keep their secrets. Sometimes, after one of them has made millions with his techniques, he might write a book to let others know about it. But when the book sells out that’s it, no more editions are published and if you can get one, all the better for you and too bad for those who don’t (competitors).
These type of authors/publishers know it won’t do the markets any good if everyone can get to their secrets and so the price of their book (content) goes up even though they do not directly make more from the second hand sales.
Will Google choose to keep a lid on things in the future? I doubt it since PR is part of their ammunitions against web spam. But, it would be great if we (Google included) got back to a less troubled algorithm by guarding secrets for the greater good. Think about it, we may be headed there again.
But for now we are in the endless cycle of SEO vs. the Algorithm. Yes there may be some secrets about SEO, but lets be real and keep secrets for the betterment of the online marketplace.
Does Google have another surprising update for us this Spring? Let’s hope so – one that enables small businesses who have learned their lesson to move in a more positive direction.