Google’s Changes Makes SEO Harder, Good Content Important

Doug Karr’s SEO Is Dead, Long Live Content talk at Blog Indiana last week was a good lesson in the importance of good content for companies that want to succeed online.

In the past, you could hire SEO firms that would use backlinking strategies, keyword stuffing strategies, and any other black hat or gray hat tactic you could think of. And for several years, they worked great. Spend more money, and the rankings go up. Abandon your SEO company, and your rankings would drop.

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have all but killed the traditional SEO industry. It’s gotten so bad that small SEO companies have shut down completely, and the big SEO companies have laid off staff members as they retool and redefine themselves.

But the smart companies are retooling themselves into content factories. They finally got the message that they needed to produce words — lots and lots of words — and quit spending so much energy on on-page SEO, page sculpting, and all the other little tricks. Of course, they don’t always produce good content. . .

Why Should You Make Good Content?

Google wants you to make your stuff awesome. They want you to produce good quality content, and they’re not so worried about the old techniques..

This has really helped the social media savvy writers and content producers, because they’re the ones who 1) know how to produce the best content that people want to read, hear, and watch, and 2) they know how to share it to the biggest, but precisely targeted audience.

As Doug said during his talk, “You need to capture the scale of intent for the problems people are trying to solve online and talk to people the way they want to be talked to.”

In other words, speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about the things that matter to the heart of the dog.

Content Marketing Just Got Harder

This has made marketing more difficult. It is requiring us to turn off Fast Eddie’s Super Fantastic Automatic Marketing Machine, and actually do some old-school marketing, crafted carefully by hand, and done by trained professionals.

It means you can’t automate. You can’t phone it in. You can’t ignore the quality of the writing. You can’t ignore the grammar and punctuation. And you can’t do a half-assed job in your writing.

It means you need to hire people who know how to write good stuff. Who can shoot good video. Who can record interesting podcasts. Who know how to build community online and effectively communicate to them.

It means you have to pay attention to your audience and what they want. You have to know what interests them. You have to know what they want. Basically, you have to listen to them.

5 Changes to Make to Your Blog After Google Panda 3.3

Google Panda 3.3 has caught some people off-guard and made a lot of SEO professionals freak out. After perusing SEOMoz’s discussions on the matter — these are the guys who do SEO for a living — it seems no one really knows what Panda 3.3 has done to their sites. I just know a lot of people aren’t happy about it.

There was one particular change, out of 40, that has everyone freaked out: “Link evaluation: We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.

Now, no one knows for sure what it means, but chances are, if you have been relying on a backlinking strategy to increase your search engine ranking, or you’re painfully agonizing over your anchor text’s keywords, that may become a problem for you in a few days or weeks. We’ll have to see.

In Wednesday’s post, I discussed four changes Panda 3.3 is bringing to bloggers.

  • Improvements to freshness: Google can put fresh content in their results more quickly. Newer posts, articles, and pages are found more easily. This means the quicker you are in hopping on a trending topic, the more likely you are to win search.
  • Consolidation of signals for spiking topics: They can see when a new topic is spiking in popularity, and makes it easier to identify in realtime. If you search for breaking news, you’ll be able to find it sooner, and start writing about it.
  • Improved local results: They can more easily detect whether search queries and the results are local to you. If you search for “Topeka plumber,” and you’re sitting in Topeka, they’ll make sure you see those results first.
  • Link evaluation: This is the big one that’s freaking SEOs out.

Based on these four important changes, what kinds of changes can/should you make to your blog to take advantage of the Google Panda 3.3 update, as well as past updates over the last 12 months? These are five long-term changes you need to start making right now, and make as a part of your regular blogging habit.

1. Focus on local content whenever possible.

If you own a local business, or you’re a local businessperson, you need to write about your business in your city whenever possible. If you’re a real estate agent, write posts about real estate in your city. “How to Stage Your Minneapolis Home Before a Showing,” “Five Things To Fix Before Your Next Minneapolis Home Inspection.” Be sure to use the name of the city in the body copy too.

Learn the html schema code for your particular data types, and tag the appropriate content. (More on schemas in a minute).

2. Use the rel=author tag in your Author bio, point it at your Google+ profile.

First, make sure you have a Google+ profile. (There’s plenty of stuff out there about why you should be using it, so I won’t go into that here. Just know that it’s especially important to SEO now.)

Next, make sure that every blog post you write, whether it’s your own or a guest post, links back to the Google+ profile, and uses the “rel=author” tag. Here’s an example:

<a href=”http://bit.ly/xyLk6s” rel=”author”>Erik Deckers</a>

Hint: By shortening your Google+ profile link with Bitly, it gives you another analytics measurement point. If you really want to get creative, use campaign codes with each article you publish or guest publish, and you can see what kind of click-through traffic you’re getting from a post to your profile.

3. Use schemas whenever possible.

Schemas are a new web classification system created by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Among other things, this is going to help with local search, as well as personal branding, because you can add your city and your name to your blog posts. This will help Google and the other search engines identify you and your town. You’re going to get a boost in local results and a boost on searches for your name.

There are a few hundred schema types, and you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to learn and use them all. In the meantime, there are plugins to use, and you can also identify a few useful schema tags for yourself to use on a regular basis.

For example, if you’re using the PostalAddress schema, to tell Google “this is my local address,” you would write:

<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>5348 Tacoma Ave.</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>Indianapolis</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>IN</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>46220</span>

We’re starting to use schemas here at Pro Blog Service, but we’re still learning the best ways to use it, and are limiting ourselves mostly to the SchemaFeed plugin for WordPress. Suffice to say, schema is a giant, complex system, and by using it only for blog posts, it’s like using a race car to drive down the block. Still, we’re just bloggers, so what do you want?

We’ll have more about using schemas for blogs in a future post. For more information in the meantime, visit Schema.org.

4. Fix your grammar and punctuation errors

One of the changes that Panda has wrought, starting back when it was first introduced was, that it even started looking at grammar and punctuation errors. While Google has not said they are evaluating pages for grammar and punctuation quality, we have discussed in the past how they are looking at user-generated indicators — time on site, bounce rate, click-through rate — to determine the quality of a blog or website. If your page is filled with errors, and visitors don’t like reading what you wrote, they won’t stick around for very long, and Google will determine that your page must not be a good one.

The same is true for the quality of your writing. If you’re a good writer, or even a fairly passable writer, you have nothing to worry about. If your writing has all the quality of a 10,000 word conspiracy theory manifesto that was written at 3 am in someone’s parents’ basement, then you’re going to have problems.

5. Don’t worry so much about anchor text and backlinks

Like I’ve said, no one is sure exactly what Google meant by “we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.” Some people think it means anchor text is no longer a factor, other people think it means they have devalued backlinks. Google already devalued backlinks when they first released Panda, but others have tested this and found that links still carry some weight.

We do know that Google has been seriously knocking many of these link farms and poor quality sites that did nothing but create thousands upon thousands of backlinks. Any SEO strategies that were built on this tactic are now (or soon will be) on the scrap heap, completely useless.

If you have been knocking yourself out trying to earn backlinks and you agonize over anchor text, you may want to pull back a little on it. Don’t give up on it yet, because until someone knows for sure which indicator has been shut off, it’s still a viable strategy. All we’re saying is don’t give yourself an aneurysm trying to figure out exactly the right keywords and placing all the right backlinks in all the right places.

While these five changes are rather involved, they’re going to be important in the coming months as Google continues to force us to focus more on the quality of our writing and content, and less on the automated SEO strategies that many people have been employing as a way to game the system.

If you’ve already been writing good stuff, and earning your links organically, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re good to go. Keep up the good work.

Four Important Changes Google Panda 3.3 is Bringing to Bloggers

Google Panda has been the bane or boon of every serious blogger and SEO professional, provided they can remember the difference between bane and boon (bane = bad; boon = good). While most regular bloggers and web people were unaffected, it was the power SEO users (and spammers) who were greatly affected by the changes. Many of the professionals saw their analytics and search engine rankings plummet after Panda was introduced.

Several days ago, Google’s newest algorithm update, 3.3 (codename: goddammit so much!), has given us 40 new changes for the month, ranging from improved local search results to improving SafeSearch results to tweaking the Turkish weather results.A panda bear

Some of the major developments that affect us as bloggers — Turkish weather results notwithstanding — are:

  • Improvements to freshness: We’ve applied new signals which help us surface fresh content in our results even more quickly than before.
  • Consolidation of signals for spiking topics: We use a number of signals to detect when a new topic is spiking in popularity. This change consolidates some of the signals so we can rely on signals we can compute in realtime, rather than signals that need to be processed offline. This eliminates redundancy in our systems and helps to ensure we can continue to detect spiking topics as quickly as possible.
  • Improved local results: We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.
  • Link evaluation: We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

(Note: these are just four of the 40. I borrowed their descriptions, and you will have to look through the entire list to find them. The one on Link Evaluation is near the bottom.)

Some basic implications I can see right off the bat:

  • Freshness = regular updates. Once a week is barely going to be enough to move the needle. You may need to publish 2 – 3 times a week.
  • Spiking topics means if you can stay on top of, and write about, trends the day they happen, that would help you be a big part of the conversation. Read David Meerman Scott’s ebook Newsjacking (affiliate link) for more information on how to that.
  • If you have any kind of local focus, start writing about your city and naming it when you can. Taht tells Google your content is locally specific.
  • Don’t knock yourself out on linking strategies. It’s important, but it’s a whooooole lot less important than it was two years ago.

This last improvement is what has a lot of people worried. We don’t know what exactly the link analysis was (Google never tells), whether it affects backlinks by shutting them down completely, turns of title tags within links, or whether they’re going to send a flaming bag of dog poo to your house if your anchor text and <H1> title tag don’t match. But you can be sure that a lot of SEO pros will be checking it out.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss five ways these four changes will (or should) affect your blog.

Photo credit: jlantzy (Flickr)

Google Wants You to be a Better Blog Writer

The days of schlocky web copy and $1/post off-shore blog writing are over.

Thanks to Google’s new Panda update, your writing can no longer suck. You can’t just get by on 8th grade writing skills, or by hiring an off-shore blog writer for a buck a post anymore.

The new Google Panda update stresses usability and the user experience over whether you have the right keywords in your title and body copy, and over backlinks. Oh sure, they’re still counted, but Google is not putting as much emphasis on those as they once were, thanks to the recent JC Penney backlinking scandal.Photo of a panda

As a result of this, and other Google gaming-techniques that were being abused, Google said, “You know what? That’s it. No more trying to trick us. Now we’re going to start looking at what your users are doing.” (Watch the Rand Fishkin video at the bottom of this post for a much better explanation than I just gave.)

Now, Google is starting to pay attention to the user experience: Do they visit more than one page, which means they like what they see? Are they on for a minute or more, or do they bounce out after 10 seconds, which means you didn’t captivate them? Did they even visit your page when you were at the top of the search engine (i.e. did your page even look interesting)?

The short of it is, if your site sucks, people won’t visit. If they visit, they won’t stick around. And they certainly won’t subject themselves to more than one page of it.

So how do you get them to stick around? You’d better have great content. Not just good enough, not barely readable. Not “meh.” It needs to be awesome.
 
 
 

Wistia

Photo credit: peromhc (Flickr)