This article was originally published in October 2012 and was revised in January 2013. 2012 was the annus horribilis for SEO professionals and website owners alike. No sooner had the Google Panda update drawn first blood, the Penguin update came along with an uppercut. Several more updates and refreshes throughout the year landed some blows and a few months ago the EMD (exact match domain update) landed a direct hit slaying the injured. Now the chosen few, the Gladiators who are still standing wait, battle weary and nervous, without a shield and eyes peeled awaiting the next algorithm attack. The future of SEO in tatters. The truth of the matter is, these changes were needed. SEO is the most vague practice in the modern world. There are guidelines that we all try to work within but as SEO experts we all have our little secrets that we guard closely, our little victories, the fruits of our studies and trials. Some unscrupulous SEO practitioners have crossed over to the dark side, tempted by the Sith Lord of Black Hat SEO (the unscrupulous practice of short term gains attained by flouting Google guidelines) and it is the work of these unsavoury few that have made the changes to the algorithm necessary.
To be fair, I’ve perhaps painted a much darker picture than is necessary here but I can’t resist making references to Star Wars so forgive me. The truth of the matter is that Google have never given much away. What they do however is drop heavy hints. Matt Cutts of Google is a master at being vague, he has to be as SEO disciples the world over hang on his every word and dissect his announcements looking for hidden meanings and clues. Matt may suggest that links are good and the next day the SEO geeks around the world are tapping away on their Macbooks writing guest posts and seeking bookmarks. Some take this to the extreme and dream up elaborate schemes and automated systems to build not only links but highly sophisticated networks of terribly poor quality link wheels and blog networks whose sole purpose of existing is to feed link juice back to one website. Articles are wrote badly and then spun (spinning involves replacing words and phrases automatically based on synonyms so to fool Google into believing that they are original) several times until they are non sensical and after each spin are submitted to another low quality article directory. The end result of this is an internet full of dross, content that exists purely for SEO purposes, purely to game the algorithm and to get the website at the top of this sordid pyramid to rank well in the search results. Google has to deliver quality content, it does this for free, it doesn’t charge a single penny for providing a search facility to anyone who uses their service. Because Google provides relevant results it has risen quickly to be the worlds most popular search engine. This enables it to charge for sponsored listings, 3 at the top of the results and a sidebar full on the right of the results. When someone clicks onto one of these listings Google charges them anything from a few pence to over £50 just for one click! This is just one of the ways in which Google makes money. It is pure genius and love them or hate them you can’t help but admire their business model. So the spammy results really pose a threat to Google as if the quality of the search results were to decline, so would their users and in turn their revenue. And it is here where the problem becomes self fuelling.
Google couldn’t really give a rats arse if your website has been affected by the changes. Seriously they couldn’t. If you were peddling poor content then they are glad they caught you out. If you on the other hand are a dolphin caught up in the tuna net then you can contact them and they will in their own time take a look at your website. The time delay isn’t a result of Google not caring, it’s simply a numbers thing with every webmaster in the world crying wolf they can only go as fast as their staffing levels allow. So with each update we have thousands of website owners suddenly facing a drop in traffic and in turn a reduction in revenue. Some of these website owners will take a Hollywood fairy tale approach, clean up their site and wait patiently with some cucumber sandwiches until Google decides to reindex their website (some months or years down the line) Others however will take the Chuck Norris approach and turn to the Dark Side again in an attempt to save their business. There are always “specialists” and I use the word lightly who will offer a solution, a quick fix, a get out of jail free card. And so begins another different albeit spammy scheme to game the search engine. Eventually these futile attempts to beat the system will either see Sid the Spammer paying for Adwords in which case he’ll be penalised for poor content yet again (yes even advertisers on Google need to provide quality content) or he’ll give it all up and go and sell solar panels for a living door to door.
It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this question although it’s easy to give a logical one. Google has always above everything else encouraged us all to provide quality content. There will always be many various ranking factors but they will become increasingly difficult to decipher. In future it’s going to take much more than a weekend a Bletchley Park to crack the code. Even Jonathan Creek won’t be able to solve the future algorithms. It is safe to say though that content really is king and will be for the foreseeable future. Don’t however think that this means that you can stuff your website full of dross, The future of SEO will depend on content being original, varied and engaging. Write for your readers not for Google. Build a relationship with your traffic, build trust. More importantly add value to the world wide web.
Don’t go searching for links for links sake. Publish your articles on your own blog, let people link to you because your articles merit a link. Google have recently been granted a Patent regarding the frequency and the relationship of phrases and synonyms within sentences, in paragraphs and in relation to page structure. Trying to make sense of the Patent application paper will make your eyes bleed. It’s obvious that Google are trying to encourage any content provider and copywriter to write as naturally as possible. SEO is now less about trying to figure out the system and more about conforming to the system which let’s face it provides a better internet experience for everyone.
We’re in the eye of the storm at the moment. There’s a dead calm. We know this because all of us who are left standing can see that there are still a number of rogue websites ranking too high in the results. There will be another wave, more cutting and more ruthless than the last. Stick to the path and don’t be tempted by the dark side and you’ll be fine young Skywalker, the force is strong in you and the future of SEO is in your hands!
This article was written by Gwiz
SEO Geek, Web Designer and Online Marketing Advisor. Steve works with businesses of all sizes across the UK and blogs about small business, marketing, web design and SEO at http://stevegrady.org