As the dust settles after Googles infamous Farmer or Panda algorithm change, many businesses are now asking themselves what it means for them and their SEO strategy.
It's well known Google constantly tweaks their algorithm but recent criticism that content farms were increasingly dominating search results and lowering the tone and quality of the internet forced the company to try to remove as much derivative and cheap material as possible. The aim of the algorithm change was to see that original and quality journalism from publishers and newspapers (who invest in good writing) would not be buried in a pile of scraped, shoddy, keyword-dominated rubbish that barely makes sense.
Weve all seen it, and many of us who work in SEO are guilty of using it (and writing it) too. You know the stuff. If youre writing an article for a limo hire company in New York who want to be on the first page of Google you might submit an article to Ezines or Buzzle entitled Limo Hire in New York that starts:
So, youre looking for limo hire in New York? Well, for the best limo hire in New York, why not
The internet is awash with such rubbish, 70% of which barely makes sense.
Those of us who write for a living have at least tried to put out interesting and original articles for clients, which, more out of professional pride than necessity, are both readable and simultaneously provide a backlink. But weve all also had clients who arent afraid to say they couldnt care less about the content, as long as they get the backlink.
The question now, however, is how much that attitude needs to change. Googles algorithm adjustment seems to have affected approximately 12% of search results so far. The aim of the change was to punish scraper sites and content farms and push them down the SERPS so that legitimate sites and sites with decent quality content rank higher. The general feeling out there is that this has worked, to a point. Sites such as ezinearticles, hubpages, buzzle, associatedcontent, suite101 and many more content farms have indeed been hit hard, with ezinearticles dropping down 71% in total keywords. One estimate quotes ezine as losing 130,000 positions on Google. Similar figures are quoted for many of the other content sites. Yet they cannot be too surprised. Whilst ezine articles started out offering articles that were fairly good quality, in recent years the standards have dropped considerably to the point where there seemed to be no point to the articles other than backlinks.
To be fair to ezinearticles, they took the blow on the chin and responded immediately with some strict tightening of standards. However an exchange between Ezinearticles CEO Chris Knight and a copywriter, Susan Greene highlights the problems facing both sites such as ezines and writers of good quality content. In addition to a number of new measures on quality, Chris Knight mooted the idea of no follow links; in response ezine user Susan Greene wrote:
"Not sure what Pollyanna planet youre from but let me assure you, EzineArticles does not exist to provide information that is beneficial to the readers. EzineArticles is a business, not a government organization or charity. EzineArticles was created to make its owner(s) money. Theres nothing wrong with that, but dont fool yourself into thinking theyre a bunch of do-gooders. By the same token, the majority of us who publish on EzineArticles dont do so to benefit readers. We too are running businesses, and EzineArticles helps our own websites get traffic and ultimately sales."
And theres the rub. Hundreds of other ezine bloggers joined in and added that they wouldnt be writing content out of the goodness of their heart and that if ezine articles removed the no follow link, they would not be writing there anymore. Consequently Chris Knight bowed to pressure and removed the suggestion of no follow from the table. And you can bet your bottom dollar that ezine will, as a consequence, stay lower down in the rankings.
The same attitudes persist in a lot of other places. Content and quality is treated as an afterthought, whilst everyone concentrates on ranking and gaming the system. Similarly, those copywriters who occasionally dirty themselves on Elance or Odesk will know the sinking feeling as you read through the jobs on offer and see people asking for 50 articles on acai berries, 400 words each, for $40.
This is why the latest Google algorithm is a step in the right direction. By all accounts there is some way to go and a number of sites who put out decent quality content are feeling quite aggrieved that they have been slapped down too. Likewise many people are suspicious of how Demand Medias ehow site seems to have improved in the rankings, post-farmer. But these are mere wrinkles to iron out. The fact is that anyone who cares about quality should be happy about the change. The more quality-orientated the search results become, the better for the user and consumer.
And for your business, the strategy is simple now. Make your site something to be proud of, a source of quality content. Think about what Google is looking for:
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites"sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites"sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Dont stop using keywords as part of your business strategy, or posting articles for backlinks. Indeed this article will contain a backlink at the end. But the deal is that to get the back link, you put some time and quality into the article.
By posting high quality articles and filling your site with high quality content everybody wins. Build it and they will come! Be original. And if you cant do that, find a copywriter, someone like me, to do it for you! Meanwhile Im off to write those 50 articles on acai berries
How did you fare the Panda update? Do you fear the next one? Think Google is playing fair game?
Greg Dickson who writes a daily blog for the Bedouin Group about issues affecting contractors, covering everything from taxation to Umbrella Companies. For more content like this please reach out to me on twitter.