Google has been making some changes. They tend to periodically tweak their algorithm (math that determines how their software delivers their search engine results). The biggest one lately has been named “Panda” (or some people call it the farmer update). This update was big news for the SEO community a few months ago, as well as for web designers and developers, and website owners.
Exactly what did they change? We don’t know. We can only guess. Search engines don’t tell us everything about how their systems work, in part because people already try and game the system. So why make it easier?
The Panda update is one of several attempts by Google at improving the quality of the search engine’s results. And while people are making a big deal about this particular update (still), the simple fact is that this is only one of many changes Google has made to how they rank websites. It is an ongoing process.
Shortly after Panda was released, there were immediately posts from website owners about how their websites dropped in the rankings. They were unhappy about this and felt unfairly targeted. Some websites that were linked to those sites that dropped, also experienced a dip in Google’s search engine rankings.
Some people feel Google “owes them” an explanation and are outraged about this. Frankly, the site and service is owned by Google. It comes with a TOS (Terms of Service). You agree to their terms when you submit a site to Google. My own philosophy is: play by Google’s rules, or don’t play. All search engines have their terms of service. And in order to provide a high quality service, spam sites must be removed. Personally, as someone who uses Google a lot, I hate running across a spammy website.
What’s a spam website?
Take a look at Google’s spam report tool. That’s right, you can report a website for being spam! There’s a list of items you can check off such as “page does not match Google’s description”. (Isn’t that frustrating when surfing?) One that is not listed here, but is also valid for submitting as spam, are sites that are scraping content from other sites. That is especially frustrating, and I think I see it most when search for anything IT or web development related. I’ll find 10 sites that have taken content from another website (often, forums) and put it on their site. Those sites can be reported too.
Google has introduced another tool to help them refine search results. Those who use Google Chrome to surf can get the Personal Blocklist plugin. Basically, every time someone runs across a site (like those I described) and put it on their block list, Google counts that toward whether to consider this is a site that needs to be lowered in rankings due to spam. Think of it as a vote for thumbs up or thumbs down for that site.
Google was unique when it first hit the search engine scene because their system is very much a democracy. That’s right, you do get a vote. Every site you link to is a vote for that site. This is why so many people spend time trying to get links to their site (or, backlinks). Think of Google like a popularity contest: the more sites linking to you, the higher up you go. The better quality site linking to you (such as Facebook, or the Better Business Bureau, as compared to Joe Bob Bubba’s Personal Website) is kind of like getting a celebrity endorsement. Generally, a few links from a high ranking site are better than lots of links from lower ranking sites.
Another tool Google has introduced is the +1 button. Google says, “The +1 button is shorthand for “this is pretty cool” or “you should check this out.” In this case, you are literally voting for a website.
This is why I rail against black hat SEO so much: I hate spam websites. They annoy me when I’m trying to find information. And those who use those sneaky tactics make people like me who have to use the term SEO (bleah) to help people promote their website are often lumped in with the same black hatters and other snake oil salespeople.
You can play the system, but you won’t make it forever. Even JCPenney got a kick in the pants for misbehaving when a SEO company they used was trying to game the system. Not sure if you are gaming the system? I wrote an article a while back called Black Hat SEO: What Is It and Am I Doing It? Also, Google has webmaster guidelines and tell you what to do and what not do. Google has a Webmaster Starter Guide too. Lastly, Google has a relatively recent blog post that tells you what they are looking for in a quality website.
Really, that’s what it comes down to: quality content. Spend less time chasing backlinks and more time writing good content for your site. Think of unique ways to draw people in. For example, not only does Fossil have a blog but they have a Fossil.Life.Style section where they share interesting and fun things with their audience, from other sites they like to do-it-yourself projects. And most importantly, don’t participate in links schemes. Google does not like link schemes. Every time I get a “link to me and I’ll link to you” email, I send them that page from Google. And where Google goes, other search engines go too. Most of them either pull their results from Google (surprise!) and/or have changed their own algorithms to use a popularity contest type of system like Google’s.
If you don’t have a quality website, why would anyone vote for yours? I truly hate repeating this cliche, but it is repeated because it is true and everyone understands it: content is king. If you stuff your site with keywords for search engines instead of quality material people care about and want to share, don’t look surprised when Google hands you the smackdown. And trust me: one day, they will.