It’s been more than two years since Google released Panda and nearly a year since the debut of the Penguin update. In that time, we’ve seen some massive changes in how search results are tabulated and presented to the general web-browsing public. SERPs have become more intuitive, user-friendly and in some cases unnervingly anticipatory. As the leader in the field of web search, Google sets the tone and the rest of the competition tends to follow. Online marketing has largely revolved around reacting to Mountain View’s policy shifts in recent memory. However, this status quo isn’t as secure as some might believe.
The arms race in search has spurred some interesting developments from Facebook in the form of the upcoming Graph Search. Likewise, Twitter is rolling out some advanced search tools of its own and Microsoft has unveiled its ViralSearch platform to boot. The major trend here is that companies with a lot of users are leveraging Big Data to find nuggets of information gold hidden among the chaos. As the pace of innovation in web search accelerates, we’ll see further disruptions soon enough that fundamentally alter the e-commerce landscape. The moral of the story is that the face of online marketing is drastically changing, so buckle up and prepare for a turbulent ride.
Quality From the Top Down
Probably the least shocking disruption is the all-out war on spamdexing, low-quality sites and cheap SEO tricks. Ever since Google decisively snatched the top search spot in the last decade, they’ve been aggressively tuning their algorithms to deliver relevance and better understand user queries. Spammers have actually helped to advance the development of Google’s garbage filters in a big way. The end result is a better search experience for the end user. Online marketers who refuse to take shortcuts have simultaneously benefited from this increased emphasis on quality.
For large and small brands alike, a focus on delivering quality at every level these days is a matter of life and death. Lame tricks like using exact match domains to drive traffic to squeeze pages isn’t really a viable option any more. The concept of overall, across the board, quality in the SERPs is finally gaining traction. Though not perfect, the preventative barriers of Google and Bing that keep junk from floating to the top are proving their worth in real life.
In order to demonstrate comprehensive value, brands are being forced to adopt a more holistic approach to their content creation and proliferation methods. While there’s never really been any single silver bullet that guaranteed top billing in the SERPs, online marketers are being forced to work harder than ever before. A combination of authoritative inbound links, social signals and current, cutting-edge content is what’s required to dominate the niches that brands are after. Before we get to what works long-term, let’s take a quick look at contemporary marketing and SEO tricks used to temporarily fool Google’s quality safeguards.
Flying Under the Radar, For Now
While major search providers have become more adept than ever at weeding out low-quality content, certain blog networks comprised of not much more than spam and links still get results, at least for the moment. In some instances, they’re even thriving. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Russian blog networks still having a positive impact on rankings if you buy a few well placed links. This may be true, but’s not worth the risk and – very soon – I’m expecting to see another big smack down actively targeting these kinds of sites.
Crafting content for actual users rather than for search engine algorithms is the secret to sustainable SEO success. Keyword optimization still counts, though not to the absolute extent that it once did.
Google’s efforts to stamp out these shifty tactics include the de-indexing of BuildMyRank and other private blog networks like LinkVana. As clearly stated in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, paid links are for PPC (where they can actually make some cash from us) and not organic rankings. Though some refuse to read the writing on the wall, the effectiveness of these clever workarounds is quickly fading. Sooner rather than later, these underhanded and deceptive SEO practices will fall by the wayside entirely – something that just a couple of years ago was unthinkable to most.
The Social/Search Nexus