Go back as little as ten years ago and website SEO was about as clear as it could possibly be for site owners. They would load their homepage with keywords with little regard to quality. They would publish links on directories and blogs in much the same fashion. Link trading and purchasing links were common practices. Many of these sites owned the front page of Google, at least until recently. Today, many of them have been relegated to the back of the line. Why? Well, it can be summed up in two words: Panda Update.
Old School SEO
Before you can understand the modern-day Google, you have to understand where it started. When websites began worrying about being ranked on search engines, there were no real guidelines for getting a site ranked. It made sense that if you wanted to have your site on the first page of a search engine for a specific word or term, you should use that term repeatedly in the content.
As little as five years ago, SEO services and web content writers were using keywords as much as five and six percent. When I first started my business, I had clients demanding this level of keyword usage. I actually refused this type of business because I had heard where Google was going and was more concerned about the future of our clients rather than gaining a quick ranking in the present.
So how bad was this type of writing and how bad were these websites? Imagine reading a page of 500 words that used a specific term between 25 and 30 times. How long would it take you to dismiss this website as a complete joke? Well, that is what site owners were doing and it was how SEO companies were promoting website optimization. They would simply beat people over the head with keywords.
In addition, trading links and/or buying links were very common practices. It is not unusual to see older sites with a huge blogroll on the sidebar leading readers to like sites. Site owners may have traded a link with another site or purchased the space to get a link for a specific keyword.
Article marketing was in its infancy in those days, but the same concepts were used. Look at older articles on directories and you may suspect your eight-year old child could write better. Most of the writing services used during this time were based overseas in countries like India where clients could get a 500-word article for 50 cents or less! Site owners did not care about quality. They wanted nothing more than keywords and content. It was probably this very practice that led to the massive change Google would soon undergo.
Another common practice in article marketing was the use of spinning programs. When coupled with automated blog commenting software, SEO services were able to create thousands of links with one article and one small paragraph. Unfortunately, many people were not very well educated on the proper use of these tools and it created content and comments that simply made no sense at all to the reader.
How the Panda Update Affected Search Engines
Over the last decade, Google became aware of how the system was being manipulated. As an Internet surfer, you can probably recall some experiences reading keyword-stuffed websites that did not make any sense. It would take you a mere five seconds to click off the site. It became frustrating visiting site after site that did not make sense.
To Google’s credit, the company actually listened to consumers complaining about the quality of websites occupying valuable real estate. Readers wanted better content and fewer ads. They wanted content they could understand and that was not keyword-stuffed. Basically, they wanted the content on the Internet to mirror the hard-printed material they had relied on for information for decades. It made perfect sense.
Google’s response was to create more intelligent programming that could actually break down content based on its meaning rather than keywords used. A term that was used regularly prior to the update was latent semantic indexing (LSI). In basic terms, LSI means having meaningful content that contains a vast array of synonyms versus having a page stuffed with only one keyword. In other words, LSI makes content more readable. Granted, this is a simplified description, but it gives you a general idea of the meaning of the term.
For example, instead of using the term “compare energy prices” over and over to get a website ranked for this keyword phrase, a writer now also has to use terms like “ways to save energy,” “ energy saving tips,” “ lower utility bills,” and “energy comparison.” This is actually a good thing for readers because the content has more meaning and reads much easier. However, it is disastrous for any site using old-school SEO techniques.
Internet Marketing Today
While the basic concepts of Internet and article marketing remain the same, the manner in which they are implemented has changed dramatically. Today, if you want content recognized and indexed by Google, it MUST read intelligently. If you want your site ranked, it may only have minimal ads on the homepage and must have relevant content that is NOT keyword stuffed. Quality has finally become more important than quantity.
When the Panda Update first took effect, article directories were some of the hardest hit sites. Ezine was hit particularly hard due the massive amount of low-quality articles it contained. While the site had strict guidelines, there were still loopholes and it was packed with articles from people who had little control of the English language. The site immediately went into panic mode and has become one of the most difficult sites on which you can get an article published, especially if you are doing bulk articles related to the same topic or niche.
Secondary directories have literally become a thing of the past. For a link to have power, it needs to be on a high PR site that is not filled with junk. It must also be a one-way link, as Google gives almost no credence to reciprocal or paid links. Since the programming has no way of knowing the difference, it makes its decision based on where the links are located on the site. Sidebars have become the danger zone for both the site receiving the link and the site presenting the link. Some advertising is okay, but a site that has sidebars loaded with nothing but keyword links taken out of context is bad news.
This has also allowed sites like Squidoo to emerge as true powerhouses in Internet marketing. Having the ability to integrate things like video, stores, and music into a secondary outlet helps build the strength of any site. Keywords with links on Squidoo are more likely to get a website indexed than they are on a secondary directory that allows any type of writing. This site, along with others like it, has changed Internet marketing because website owners must now be concerned with quality more than anything else.
Where is Google Headed in the Future?
From what I have read, Google plans to continue to evolve its programming to completely eliminate the junk publishing and black-hat SEO that was in place for so long. Quality of content remains a major focus, as does the number of sites to which any given site points. In all likelihood, your heart just stopped beating, so let me explain a bit further.
As I briefly touched on, Google wants to do away with an overabundance of paid advertising and is more interested in what readers find useful. While I do not believe directories will totally go by the wayside, I do believe they will have less influence on how a website is ranked. However, since sites will still need to publish links, site owners will have to look to other outlets and integrate very strong social media campaigns into their marketing strategies. Specifically, blog networks, Google +1, Twitter, and Facebook will play a vital role in site success.
Blogs are nothing new, but the manner in which they are used will change. I have long been an advocate of creating your own blog or blog network to help promote your website. If Google heads in the direction I think it is going, this will become more important than ever before. However, there is a trick to making this work properly. If it is mismanaged, it could spell disaster.
In essence, instead of having just one blog, a site owner may want to invest in as many as a dozen blogs. These blogs should be anchored around keywords related to the main site, and while they should point to the main site and each other, they should not contain reciprocal links. This is where the management aspect comes into play.
For example, sites A, B, and C all point to site D, but site D can never point to A, B, or C. This is exactly why having a larger network of blogs will prove more useful to a site owner. In addition, since the purpose of these sites is to boost the ranking of the main site, advertising can and should be kept to a minimum, which will only increase blog attractiveness in Google’s eyes.
What Kind of Content Do I Need?
Remember earlier when I mentioned five and six percent saturation levels as the norm? Well, get that number out of your head right now. As I stated earlier, less is now more. I have marked 2.5 percent as the danger zone, with a preference for total saturation of no more than two percent. Think about that…you are going from a six percent saturation level for only the primary keyword to an overall saturation level of under two percent. This is a pretty dramatic change, to say the least.
When writing for ranking purposes today, you must figure out how to get as many keywords into the article as possible in a meaningful way that is not considered spam. In order to do this, you MUST have control of the English language. This is why I believe outsourcing to overseas writers and overseas writing companies will begin to fall by the wayside. Simply put, the writing they do is subpar and will do far more harm than good if used on a site or in its marketing campaigns.
Readers today want useful information. After all, your website is your salesperson and must act as such. What I mean by this is that if you owned a Ford dealership, would you want your salesmen to merely say, “Buy a Ford” over and over again or would you want relevant and important information regarding the car? This is what your website or article needs to accomplish. It must hold readers’ attention and make them want to share the content. Why is this important? Because you need that article or webpage to find its way to multiple Twitter, Facebook, and Google +1 pages if it is going to help your website with Google.
So where do you go from here? When using SEO services, writing your own content, and marketing your website online, you must be more careful. Your content must use LSI concepts and be readable. By this, I mean it must be informative, entertaining, and considered sharable by the reader. If you are not sure how to do this, hire a reputable company that uses these concepts. Obviously, I would like to you to use my company, but regardless of whom you use, realize that if you are paying for junk, you are going to get junk back.
The days of mass publishing and keyword stuffing are gone. Google is evolving every day and if you fall behind, your site will end up on the last page of Google instead of the first page. Have your site built for the long haul and remain patient. If your SEO campaign is done properly, you stay up to date with Google changes, and you work those changes into your marketing campaigns as soon as they become relevant, you will continue to dominate in the rankings.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to dive deeper into old-school methods that no longer work and are actually harmful to your rankings as well as modern methods that I believe will survive the next wave of updates. Follow us on Facebook to make sure you do not miss a thing!