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Google's latest update – widely known as the “Panda” or “Farmer” update – led to some pretty dramatic shake-ups in the SERPs, striking a major blow to previously “untouchable” sites like Associated Content, Mahalo and Suite 101 (as pictured below).
Smaller publishers felt the sting as well, seeing a major drop in SERP rankings, traffic and PageRank – which, in many cases, led to decreased income as well.
Image: Digital Inspiration
Many website owners say the slap came “out of the blue” and that there was very little warning that Google would suddenly devalue entire linking models and promotional strategies. In this kind of environment, it's easy to wonder if your site is next, or if the techniques you're using on your website could result in a similar slap in the future.
Is there really any way to protect your website from future changes to the Google search algorithm? Or are you doomed to spend your life as Google's bitch – running around and putting out the fires caused by every slap that comes along?
Realistically, there's no way to say with absolute certainty what will work with Google one day and what will be slapped the next. And given the size of the internet and the scope of algorithm changes, it's possible for sites to be devalued unfairly – even if they do follow ethical SEO guidelines to a tee.
However, there are some things you can do to lessen the chances of your site being bitch-slapped by the next big Google shake-up. Let's look at a few here:
Avoid Over-optimizing Websites
While there are certainly some well-defined best practices when it comes to SEO, employing every single tip you come across on your website is bound to turn off the King of the Search Engines. Do you really think that Google won't notice that every page on your site contains the “optimal” keyword density, that you've got thousands of links with the same anchor text pointing to your website or that you've meticulously optimized every title and headline tag on your website with the same phrases?
If you take only one thing from this article, let it be this – Google's primary concern is to improve the experience it delivers to its users. If search engine visitors decide, all of a sudden, that a new search engine is more powerful or offers better results than Google and make the switch, Google's market share – and, consequently, its profits – drops.
Make no mistake; as much as Google cares about its visitors and their search experience, it cares about its bottom line even more, and it's going to do whatever it takes to provide the best possible results for its visitors. With these stakes on the line, Google's preference is always going to be towards sites that have built an audience and a strong backlog of high quality content naturally, compared to those that appear to be gaming the system.
It doesn't matter if your content is the best in your niche – if you appear to have earned your traffic or your rankings in an unnatural way, you're putting yourself up for increased scrutiny by Google.
So what's the solution? Instead of obsessing over following every piece of SEO advice to the letter, spend more time building your site in a natural way. For example, when it comes to backlinks, simply write and share good content – the links will come without you going out and looking for them. When it comes to content, write naturally instead of awkwardly cramming keywords into your text and Google will reward you with high LSI scores.
Don't Engage in Black Hat Practices
Do you remember when it was actually considered “good” SEO advice to stuff meta tags full of keywords or fill webpage backgrounds with keyword spam coded in the same color as the background? Do you know of any sites running today that still use these practices and maintain high SERP rankings because of them?
Of course not – those practices were long ago devalued by Google, and the sites that used them were subsequently slapped.
That's the thing about using black hat SEO practices – they only work for a short time. In a sense, you're building your house (or your website, in this case) on quick-sand, instead of a solid foundation of ethical internet business practices. Eventually, Google and the other search engines catch on to these tricks, and when they do, you're left struggling to regain your position with the “latest & greatest” techniques.
But how can you tell if an SEO recommendation is black hat or not? Before implementing any new technique, consider who it benefits. Does it benefit you exclusively, you and your readers, or you, your readers and the search engines? Chances are if you're engaging in a practice that only benefits you, it'll be up for a slap at some point in the future.
Be as “Natural” as Possible
In the Panda update, Google devalued many of the content farms that webmasters thought of as safe havens for backlinks. And when these directories got slapped, other websites that relied on links from them as part of their backlinking strategies felt the pinch as well, as the quality of their incoming links – and, consequently, their PageRank – went down.
For many SEO workers, building links through article and content directories was seen as one of the most ethical backlink building techniques. Submit a good quality article (especially to sites like EzineArticles that featured a manual review and approval process) and get a good quality link, right?
But look at it from Google's perspective… No matter how high quality the articles submitted to these directories were, they were still unnatural attempts to game the system and earn higher rankings. In these situations, it wasn't regular people going out of their way to recommend good content via backlinks – it was webmasters spewing out content in the hopes of ratcheting up their SEO scores artificially.
Panda isn’t designed to punish content on demand websites. Instead the new algorithm forces the major on demand websites to examine quality over quantity. This is Google’s attempt to remove web pages with poorly written content.
Fred Meek – Mindbox SEO
So with that in mind, what types of SEO promotional strategies can we use that look as natural as possible? For one, guest posting and guest blogging is expected to make a big surge in effectiveness in the wake of the Panda update. This technique has all the hallmarks of good, natural traffic-building – it's driven by other website owners who are putting their seal of approval on a piece of content and recommending it to their users.
Blog commenting, forum commenting and social networking also fit these criteria, as long as they're done in a natural way. Spamming forums with thousands of nonsensical posts in an effort to generate easy backlinks won't work for long, if – indeed – it's still working at all.
At the end of the day, the only people who really know what Google wants are the PhDs that are constantly improving the algorithms to eliminate spam and improve the results they deliver. But even without knowing exactly what Google and the other search engines want, it's possible to minimize your chances of getting slapped by adhering to ethical SEO practices that value natural growth and good content over the “quick fixes” that'll turn you into Google's bitch.