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Search marketers battle Panda, Penguin, and other Google animals

You’ve probably heard about the various black-and-white animals that Google has named its new search ranking algorithms for. First, in early 2011, it was Panda. Panda used human raters and machine learning to assign a quality rating to every Web site for every search. Penguin is singularly focused on spammers, especially paid links and other link schemes. Not sure what the next algorithm will be named–skunk? I could write this entire article about all the things that have been going on, but I won’t, because I think people are focused on all the wrong things.

If you are a clever black hat search expert, you have already forgotten more about these updates than I will ever know. I’m concerned more about the people who are truly trying to follow the rules and noticing that their sites are dropping in the rankings. If you are in that situation, and your response is to try to find out what Google is looking for now, that’s probably not the best response. Google is looking for quality content, and its algorithm changes might or might not accomplish that. But if you stay the course and keep improving quality, I believe that will eventually be rewarded.

But it is hard to do. No matter how much we might believe in the value of our content and the importance of that long-term approach, dropping ten spots in the search rankings for an important keyword rattles you. It shakes your confidence. It makes you question what you might be doing.

But these two latest Google updates seem to be more confidence-shaking than any I have seen before. Really good sites have been hit, even if some of them haven’t suffered as much in conversions as in rankings. But I have been especially struck by something that I have heard over and over again lately.

People have been contacting me because of my personal Web site and this blog site, saying that they are being penalized for low-quality links that point to their site. They are asking me to remove the links to their sites. My thinking is that Google is recognizing that they are low-value sites or have had some questionable link patterns, so their sites don’t have the oomph that they did before that recognition. I am not sure how removing links from my sites fixes anything for them, however.

It’s as though you have a stock that was worth $100 yesterday and today it crashes to $10. It doesn’t make you any money to give away the stock–you just lose $10 more. Yes, you wish that it would go back up to $100, but what you really need to do is find other investments that go up.

To me the true pursuit if quality content is like betting on mutual funds. They don’t go up all the time, but they go up more than they go down and they are a lot less risky than individual stocks. Anyone trying to spam Google is taking a much higher risk. Yes, sometimes even the mutual fund approach doesn’t work, but it is the way for most of us to bet.

Instead of thinking that you are battling Google, maybe we should just be focusing on the kind of content that is truly helpful–where anyone reading it benefits even if they don’t buy your product. I know that sounds radical–invest in high quality content even though most people reading it won’t buy. But is it really any different than spending lots of cash on advertising when most of those seeing the advertising won’t buy?

I say no. But I know that some people are worried about skunk or seabass or walrus or whatever is coming next…

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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