For the past few months, I have been practically living in an analytics dashboard, constantly monitoring my clients’ organic search data for even the smallest hint of a Google slap. If you haven’t noticed, Google has been busy updating their search products (see: Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar).
On top of those changes that they have publicly documented, we are also seeing additional SEO-specific updates by Google. We’ve had a “page layout algorithm” update, Panda updates and even a bug in Google’s system that caused sites to accidentally be delisted.
Now, there’s a Penguin in the mix. Pandas, Penguins and bugs – Oh my! It’s like I’m at the zoo. And a zoo is pretty much what the SEO world feels like right now.
Also in the mix was the Matt Cutts announcement about a penalty for overly-optimized sites. And then a few weeks later, we started hearing more and more about ‘negative SEO’, which is essentially the process of sabotaging someone’s organic search rankings by generating tens of thousands of “bad” links to their website.
That is really sad, but apparently, there is evidence that it can work (although some people predict it will only work in specific situations, such as sites that already have suspicious link profiles). Yeah. Let that sink in. SEOs targeting SEOs. It makes me sick.
If you remember the good old days, you remember when Google would make one big change every once in a while. Rarely was it several major changes at once, and algorithm updates that had massive SEO implications were even more rare. The infrequency of major algorithm updates made it much easier to identify and measure the impact to rankings and all other metrics.
The best SEOs would figure out which factors changed and/or which factors had received more or less weight and then adjust their sites accordingly. This is not the case today. Lately, SEO is more like an gun fight where the dust never settles.
All Is Fair In The Land Of SEO?
As I mentioned earlier, SEOs are now living in a zoo, where every day feels like an adventure in controlled chaos. And with ‘negative SEO’, we’ve got a situation where SEOs are basically trying to eat each other. So instead of a zoo, maybe it’s more like Jurassic Park.
With Google’s Panda and Penguin updates affecting so many sites, I’m paranoid that my sites might be next.
One moment, I’m seeing a minor fluctuation in my traffic, and it’s like I’m hearing the footsteps while staring at the water rippling in the cup on the dashboard. Then, I feel like I’m riding in the jeep with Jeff Goldblum as we try to outrun the tyrannosaurus rex. And I’m a white hat! I’m the good guy!
I’m building fresh, quality content. I’m spending hours and hours researching market trends and creating value for my site’s visitors. I’m *not* buying thousands of links on private blog networks. Rather, I’m spending time contacting webmasters of websites related to my niche to advertise and build contextual links that make sense for my site.
I’m active on the social media front. I’ve invested in usability, information architecture and landing page optimization. But none of that matters because lately it seems like Google is targeting blackhat SEOs, but in the process they are affecting whitehats and blackhats alike.
I can’t help but think that there have been quite a few false positives related to Panda and Penguin. In fact, it must be a high number, as Google created a form to complain that your site was unfairly targeted.
Google may be targeting spammers and blackhats, but they are also inadvertently chasing people who actually care about their websites’ value, content, and overall marketing campaign. Google shows no sign of slowing down.
In that classic scene from Jurassic Park, the T-rex chases the jeep for awhile and then gives up. I can only hope that Google does the same. At least give us a chance to catch our breath.
So we’re living with Panda, Penguin, and all the other updates going live every week. Sometimes I think I’d feel safer if I just didn’t move. Maybe Google won’t see me if I don’t do anything at all. But I can’t do that. I’m not going to live like that. But I will be smarter about everything that I do and recommend.
So where do we go from here? Below are some tips for moving forward and getting settled on your piece of land in the SEO zoo.
If you are managing SEO and link building for a big brand, I recommend ceasing all paid link building campaigns. I’m sure I’ll take some heat for that recommendation, but I just can’t recommend paid link building to big brands right now. It’s just too risky at this point in time.
If you have a knowledgeable, experienced link builder working for you and you haven’t been slapped by Google in any of the recent updates, then you are probably okay.
However, it’s still a big risk, especially when you consider what you are risking. But if you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket and if you must insist on maintaining some form of paid link building, here is my advice:
- Stop building exact match anchor links.
According to pretty much everyone, this is the biggest red flag in the land of links. If all of your links say ‘blue widget’ because you want to rank for ‘blue widget’, then Google will eventually punish you. It’s just not natural to have all of your links be exact match anchor text. You should be diversifying the anchor text, focusing more on links that mention your brand and less on links that mention non-branded keywords.
Don’t balk at links that say Read More, Here, or www.yourdomain.com. Having these types of links will make your link graph look more organic (pun intended).
- Make your link building consistently inconsistent.
For example, if you have a budget of $2,000/month, then you are probably building a set amount of links each week or each month. And when Google looks at your link growth, what they’ll notice is that your link count is growing by the same number each month.
This type of is link velocity is unnatural, especially if you’re buying all the links from one network. It’s easy for Google to notice this type of paid link growth because Google is smart. So be more like a MLB pitcher: throw some fast balls and some change-ups. Don’t make it easy for Google to find a pattern in your link growth.
- Diversify the quality (read: PageRank) of the sites you are buying links from.
If you are only buying links on sites with PR1 and higher, it is easy for Google to detect because that is unnatural. Obviously, you want to get links from sites with PR here and there, but don’t strictly focus on that factor.
Be very selective in your paid link placement. Diversify your paid link portfolio. Go for a range of sites that are big, small, popular, unpopular, no PR, higher PR, etc. Also, don’t be afraid to buy nofollow links. Don’t ignore potential links from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. However, as you get more selective, be ready to spend more on links.
- Buy a site/blog instead of buying links on a site/blog.
Buying a blog can be a much more effective use of your money in the long run. You’ll get a lot more value than just the links, and you won’t run the risks of being penalized for buying paid links.
- Find all the free links that you already have.
Get familiar with your 404 reports, log files, and broken internal links. Check Webmaster Tools. Look for any indication of internal and/or inbound links pointing to inactive URLs. Look for links that are being 302 redirected to a final URL. Also look for URLs that are going through multiple redirects. Make sure all links are finding their ways to your active pages without passing through 302 redirects or some sort of redirect chain.
When I’m beginning a new SEO campaign, it never ceases to amaze me how many broken links I find in Webmaster Tools accounts. Sometimes the numbers is in the thousands. These are free links! These are free links that you earned! Make sure they are 301 redirected to active URLs!
Because paid links are a little too risky for me right now, I’d recommend moving the majority of any paid link budgets over to the budget for content creation. And when it comes to content creation, here are some of the ways you can spend money to add unique content and value to your site:
- Write how-to guides
- Develop infographics
- Dust off the old corporate blog and start publishing new content on a daily basis
- Build microsites
- Build new landing pages
- Create a buying guide for your most popular product categories
- Write weekly press releases
- Create video reviews of your products
The thing about great content is that it will generate links. But more importantly, great content will add more value to your site’s visitors. Just be sure to promote your new content. Encourage your visitors and customers to share your content and products.
In the end, you may be surprised that you get more bang for your buck with rankings via content creation than paid link campaigns. Also, the lessons you learn with content are priceless. It can really help to educate entire businesses about what their website visitors are looking for, enjoy, dislike, prefer, etc. You can use that information to make your site better overall.
Obviously, I could also include an entire section in here about the importance of being active on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. But I’ll leave that to the social media folks.
I could also write a how-to guide outlining the importance of AgentRank and setting up the rel=author and rel=me tags for all your authors and contributers, as a recent study reported that 17% of SERPs are showing author integrations. But this post is already getting too long. So maybe I can write about that next time.
In the meantime, hang in there. Be smart. Be cautious. If you can, wait for some of the dust to settle before you make any moves that could in any way risk your search rankings.
As Jeff Goldblum puts it in the movie: “I’m simply saying that life, uh, finds a way.”
As an SEO living in the days of Pandas and Penguins, I, too, will find a way.
Remember that in the end, Jeff Goldblum makes it out of Jurassic Park alive.
So if you’re stuck and needing help making a decision about your SEO campaign, just ask yourself: What would Jeff Goldblum do?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.