Over the last two years those folks at Google have been keeping bloggers busy with algorithm changes that effectively tear up the rulebook.
I should qualify that by saying there was no ‘rule book’ as such. Google tends to be cryptic with the information it releases. The rule, as they were accepted, were those developed by webmasters and writers themselves.
Bloggers had a good idea of how manipulate searches a few years ago which went along the lines of – stuff copy with key words, link like crazy and set up satellite sites that interlink to squeeze the most Google juice they possibly could from a piece of writing.
Google may have been big back then but it was a lot less sophisticated than it is now. Over the last few years it has developed algorithm changes intended to punish what it saw as ‘black hat’ tactics. This is in line with the development of Google+ which has increasingly meant reviewers are no longer able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity.
The algorithm changes came as a shock to many businesses which thought they were ahead of the curve. In 2011 Google came out with Panda which led to some websites being unexpectedly slapped by an extinction threatened Chinese bear.
A panda slap proved the be the death knell for some businesses which saw web traffic drop by as much as 50 percent.
In its algorithm change Google took aim at poor quality websites. It penalized, among other things, a high percentage of duplicate content, page content that failed to match search queries, high bounce rates, unnatural language, low quality in bound links, a lack of original content and so called “boiler plate” content on each page. I still encounter marketing gurus who have not caught up with Panda, who are still teaching the development of the perfect “boiler plate,” which is anchor text on each page.
Panda, pointed out Mark Nunney, was no ordinary change. Unlike previous realignments it contained very real penalties for those who crossed the “Panda Line.”
A year after Panda in April 2013, Google launched its Penguin algorithm change. It used a different set of criteria and aimed to target spamdexing including link bombing. Spamdexing comprises a number of methods, such as repeating unrelated phrases in an attempt to manipulate the relevance or prominence of the product you are pushing.
Search Engine Land states Google launched Penguin to “better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those doing so by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings.”
Now Google has implemented Hummingbird which targets key words. The message is key words are no longer important and content is key. Google will no longer even provide information to webmasters about which key words are driving traffic to their sites.
In an article about the algorithm change my former colleague Paul Hill of Content Marketing Institute writes : “Consider synonyms — the alternative words or phrases that describe what you do and that people might use, rather than focusing your content around an exact-match keyword.”
In a webinar on October 15 Tom Foster of Foster Web Marketing said the loss of key words would be a shock to some, but the overall effect would be a positive one.
“Don’t be mad at Google it’s a natural evolution of what they are trying to do. They are trying to make a better product,” he said.
Danielle Ruderman, Director of Research and Development at Foster Web Marketing, said the steady stream of algorithm changes highlights the importance of a diversified business strategy.
“If the majority of your business is from the search engines, you are a sitting duck. Do not rely on Google for all of your traffic,” she said.
But for now you ignore Google at your peril. Recent research shows it’s used in 67 percent of web searches. It’s not the only game in town but it’s the biggest player which means it gets to dictate who plays ball.
The fast-moving modern environment is littered with corpses – BlackBerry, MySpace and Alta Vista to name three. Google’s preeminence is unlikely to be permanent.
In running a market strategy you should always consider every eventuality and never put all of your eggs in one basket, be it Google, YouTube or social media. The next Google algorithm is unlikely to be called elephant and to trample on the rule book as we know it. But there’s nothing to stop Google doing it. Put simply Google may do it simply because it can.
David Macaulay is the marketing director of the Cooper Hurley Law Firm and the founder of Veritas Legal Media – firstname.lastname@example.org