SEO and Google PandaIt’s a new year, which means a host of predictive and retrospective blogs and a metric shedload of posts on Facebook with resolutions and mottos for how people would like to live their life.

I’m not (or not in this piece anyway) going to do a predictive blog so will instead focus on resolutions. My personal resolution is to use fewer tenuous links in blog posts.

Seeing so many resolutions listed on Facebook and Twitter has naturally led me to think of the countless parental mottos that bombarded me on an almost daily basis as I grew up, passed down from my grandparents, through my parents, to me. And I’ve already started repeating to my 1.9* children. In particular I love:

  1. You won’t feel the benefit (I doubt it was just my grandmother who said this if you put your coat on indoors).
  2. I want doesn’t get (a saying that, back in the 80s, made my mother sound like a scratched record every time we went near a toy shop)
  3. And, if it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is

This last one came up a lot towards the end of last year when discussing old and new SEO practices and the arms race between Google and SEO firms**. Google sets its algorithm. SEO firms try to understand it and game it. Google upgrades it and so on. At its worst (back in about 2006), a page of well optimised gibberish would trump well written material written with the end audience (in our case, engineers) in mind.

One of the easiest ways to do this was to create pointless press releases with in-bound links and spread them via a newswire service, the result was hundreds of in-bound links.

Too good to be true? Yes, actually.

The industry got large and visible to Google. As of July last year there were over 60,000 (sixty thousand) people with SEO listed in their Twitter profile. Roughly 250,000 tweets on SEO are written each month. Amazon currently lists over 7,000 books on search engine optimisation. And Google returns over 3 million pages that reference the phrase search engine optimisation.

Google got wise to this and its most recent updates (particularly Panda and Penguin), sent shockwaves through the SEO and online PR world. Badly written releases with spam links could now hurt your SEO.

And, as Amazon’s top book on the subject – SEO 2013 and Beyond by Dr Andy Williams – says, “If the SEO book/course you are putting your faith into was written before September 2012, then you could be following advice that will get your site penalized, or even removed from Google… Strategies taught as best principles in early 2012 are now considered “black hat” or just plain risky in 2013.”

Simple. Change what you do. But…

The Google changes don’t just apply to new content, they apply to old releases too… including those you’ve sent out via a newswire service, and the countless sites on which they appear and you have no control over.

Towards the end of last year, Joe Laratro, an SEO expert and PubCon lead moderator , said: “The real concern for the SEO industry right now should be backdated enforcement. If this is now considered a penalisable tactic, how are companies that have been using this tactic for over a decade going to deal with the old content and links?”

So what to do?

Well, as I’ve written previously, Penguin

[and Panda] is one of the best thing to happen to the PR industry as Google is now getting good at distinguishing between real content and keyword spam. This means your customer, and not Google, is once again your primary audience. Write with them in mind. Write well. Be original. Use links to give information and back up your argument.

Do this and people will choose to link to from their original content. Thankfully, this means that lots of in depth and interesting technical content will bring you success with both Google and your engineering customers.

And finally, know that trying to game Google will probably come back to haunt you.


*The .9 is yet to be born, due in mid January – and I will be accepting congratulatory presents – Bristol Beer Factory does an excellent IPA and stout since you ask

** Oh dear – resolution broken already