Most website owners, rely on the perks of organically generated traffic from the major search engines like Google. For some it is a matter of life & death for their business to appear at the top of Google search results and every extra upward placement is merrily celebrated.
SEO has become one of the hottest selling products for the past decade and no wonder! Many SEO improvement companies use all kinds of gray-hat/black-hat tricks to bring their customers to the top of Google results (if they could).
But things have changed. What was once perceived as healthy indicators of relevant website content are now considered to be negative influences (from a SE ranking algorithm point of view).
In 2011 Google released the search engine ranking algorithm Panda. Its main purpose (besides many others) was to increase user experience and to demote sites of low quality and ad-filled content while promoting the opposite. One of the major influencing factors that contributed to positive website ranking was a focus on online social interactions. Soon enough 1000’s of questionable online forums and social hubs (mostly with scraped content) sprouted to generate that which the algorithm perceived as high value and legitimate; and offered millions of “quality” links to sites in need of (and who paid for) the SEO boost.
It all changed again in April 2012 when a new algorithm called Penguin 1.0 rolled out. That by itself changed the lives of web owners overnight. Many legitimate websites took a major nose dive in their ranking. Mainly because of the high numbers of inbound links from the above-mentioned link farms. Once considered beneficial, legal SEO practice is now detrimental and the previously glorified rich presence of relevant keywords contained in your site was now labeled as “keyword-stuffing” – and that too was punished by a rank drop.
This was a major blow to website owners who purchased SEO services from 3rd party “SEO specialists”, and the majority of work done for the betterment of their SEO turned against them. Some websites previously ranked 1st or 2nd with Google plummeted out of sight.
But most of us recovered over time. And as usual, it didn’t take long to figure out that it is a good idea to follow the SEO evergreens:
- pick the right domain name (the most important step of them all)
- use SEO friendly URLs
- make sure your pages are valid HTML
- use your <h> tags properly
- label and title your links and images
- have valid HTML, TXT and XML sitemap
- do not forget to use relevant title and meta descriptions for each page
- avoid grammatical mistakes
- use unique content and prevent content duplicity
- update your site often
- build quality inbound links
- build internal links with relevant keywords
- make sure your site loads fast (minimize the code)
- take advantage of webmaster tools and analytics
- create a mobile version of your site
- implement social media
- implement a Google search tool (unverified)
- start a blog with periodical, fresh content
- reveal your identity (unverified, but it has been suggested that sites where owner’s identity could be verified rank higher)
- generate periodical PR
- implement email updates for your opt-in clients
- pay attention to what’s above and below the page fold
- use relevant web hosting (if you target Canada, do not use US hosting)
- screen and limit the number of outbound links (remember that plain text containing the name of some website could be considered as a “link”).
However, the major factor, which for past 12 months seemed to be crucial for ranking, was to ensure high inbound traffic. Good and steady incoming traffic with a low bounce rate seemed to be considered yet another vital sign of healthy website. As usual, SEO experts directed their focus on building elaborate fake traffic generators that could bring their clients tens of thousands seemingly legitimate hits with low bounce rate.
It was puzzling at times to see that local US sites received tens of thousands of seemingly relevant hits per month from India and were climbing the ranking ladder. Will the future ranking algorithm penalize this?
Early in May, 2013 Google’s SEO Expert Matt Cutts announced a new version of the current Penguin algorithm – internally called Penguin 2.0. It is expected to take effect in a few weeks and it is already causing beads of cold sweat on many webmaster foreheads.
So if you begin to observe interesting changes in your site’s ranking position during the upcoming month or so, just remember to stick with the SEO basics and more than anything else, keep your website content fresh and unique. And, when you receive your next WordPress comment saying “We will get your site on the top of the search engines for $1,000” you bet it could be true, however it may not be on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Dog Pile, Ask, DuckDuckGo or any other coveted search engines.
Also, for those unjustly hit by the last Penguin algorithm Google offered a recovery form to request ranking correction, however forgiveness was not granted to those who clearly violated the new rules. Will this be offered again for the Penguin 2.0 upgrade?