It certainly seems like Google enjoys naming algorithm updates after black and white zoo inhabitants. Last year, the Panda update created a stir by penalizing websites with poor quality or duplicate content. This year, the Penguin update is taking aim at overly optimized web pages.
Both these changes have left website owners at risk for big penalties including being lowered or even dropped altogether in Google's search index. This can lead to a serious and costly drop in web traffic.
Google's opinion on content is crystal clear. Quality content means readable content! And, taking shortcuts just to improve search engine rankings could jeopardize your website faster than a penguin sliding across an iceberg.
These updates and the inevitable future changes to search engine algorithms are rapidly redefining the role of SEO. While keywords remain important, great content written for the benefit of actual readers " rather than the search engines is now a must.
The recent algorithm changes may be alarming to some SEO professionals who are uncertain if their work will soon become obsolete. For those who have profited from using black hat techniques to help clients move up in the rankings, the days of stuffing keywords into nonsensical articles may be quickly coming to an end. But, that doesn't mean that SEO is a dying art.
In fact, the opportunities may be growing as quality content becomes increasingly important to the success of a website. The need for optimized websites is still there! However, SEO will become more collaborative in nature, also requiring the input of copywriters and designers. SEO teams, working together to develop content strategies, useful articles, interesting blogs, and website pages that engage readers are the future.
In the meantime, website owners are smart to review their existing online content to make sure that there is not questionable content that will raise Google's red flag. Here are a few things to check for to ensure you're not a victim of Penguin:
First and foremost, the titles that you use must make sense. They should be written for readers and not just for the benefit of search engines. This means you don't want to overdo the use of keywords and phrases. Keywords used multiple times in a title are a dead giveaway that you're trying to rank for keywords, rather than write for readers. A little can go a long way when it comes to titles, so play it smart and keep them focused on what your site visitors are coming to find.
More isn't better when it comes to internal links. In fact, additional links with the same anchor are not useful. They also look questionable and spammy. Simply put, its just not worth it to link repeatedly to the same page. It will irritate your readers and could possible trigger a closer look by search engines.
We have all seen lists of anchor links in footers. Its doubtful that these are ever clicked on by a reader. Ten years ago, this might have been a smart technique to improve your SEO. Not anymore! If you're going to provide links in your footers, stick with those that are actually useful.
Another tip off to search engines that you're trying to manipulate content is the dreaded content block. This is an irritating little block of keywords, designed to simply trick search engines. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it, search engines are smart enough to detect content blocks. With the new Penguin update, chunks of mindlessly placed keywords are a sure way to get your site penalized.
Instead of using this now useless SEO technique, try writing readable content throughout the entire page. You might just be surprised that keywords naturally weave into your text when you stay focused on writing for site visitors.
You'll also want to be careful where you're getting back links. While it may not always be easy to control where you're receiving all your links, you definitely don't want to encourage any linking that appears to be black hat or gray hat SEO. Instead of trying to accumulate as many back links as possible, your time is better spent building an authentic online community with which you can share links.
You definitely want to build a comprehensive site, but you don't need dozens of pages that target slightly modified versions of the same keyword. Too many pages that are too similar look strange and may be picked up by search engines as being redundant. This can definitely get you in trouble!
Once again, were all being told by Google that content is king. This doesn't mean poorly written text loaded with repetitive keywords or links. Rather, by sticking with the goal of writing informative content that is useful to your site visitors, you cant go wrong. And, you just might find yourself moving up in the search engine rankings by doing so!
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Don is President of Expand2Web, where he writes about WordPress for business and local search marketing. He also created GetFiveStars - a tool for business owners to encourage feedback and positive reviews from their customers.