The non-expert’s guide to changes to Google’s SEO algorithm

I’ve lost count of the number of clients who have asked me how I can get them to the top of Google search results. The answer is easy (I’ll explain it in a moment) but the task of achieving this can be highly complex.

Like the recipe for Coca-Cola, Google’s search algorithms are of course a huge secret. There are many, many companies online for whom being near the top of page of or near the bottom of page one for significant search terms can mean a difference of millions in income. And they are happy to spend vast amounts of money to improve their search optimisation.

So where does that leave small to large businesses?

How to get onto page one of Google

There are broadly two categories to search optimisation described as on-page and off-page SEO. The first half is relatively straight forward. Your website needs to be properly built so the “architecture” of your coding makes it as easy as possible for the search algorithms to understand what your website is all about. In addition you need lots of original, well written content to demonstrate the value of your website compared to competitors. Generally the more content the better, and the more new content received on a regular basis can count for a lot. All this we can control.

The second broad category of SEO is referred to off-page optimisation. This is all about what OTHERS are saying about you. Google uses links to your website to determine how respected your website is. If your content is good enough so that other websites are referring to you with links to specific pages, then your website must have valuable content. The higher the ranking of the websites that link to you, the more significant those links will so.

So for example, a single link from one of the News Corp websites like Adelaide Confidential will be worth hundreds of links from little known blog sites.

How do I get links to my website?

This is the really hard bit. The reality is that no matter how well your website has been built, or how vast the quantity of valuable information you’ve invested hours and hours in writing and uploading, unless you have quality links to your website you probably won’t be found on page one for the search terms that really matter.

Life used to be easy in the earlier days of Google. There used to be any number of websites, now referred to as link farms, which used to offer free or paid links to your website. Some SEO companies developed automated programs that could upload thousands of links onto these link farms in a matter of minutes. But Google is very, very smart. They have become very sophisticated at determining the value of links to your website.

The best way to build links to your website

Google are very clear about how THEY want you to build links to your website. You can read about it here. Or for a more comprehensive explanation from Google about good SEO, download their PDF here.

What they advise is quite simple; write lots of valuable information and set it up in a well-built website. Then other people will like your information so much they will link to your website. Of course that’s fine from Google’s point of view, their focus is on providing quality search results for people looking for information.

But for small business operators life isn’t so easy.

Who has time to keep writing lots and lots of valuable content for their website? And how on earth are other people going to find out about that content?

Taking short-cuts to building links

In an effort to achieve tangible results for clients, SEO service providers have developed smart ideas to build a lot of links quickly. Some of the more common practices that have worked until recently are:

Media announcements. There are a huge number of websites that will accept “press releases” from businesses describing their services. Of course the likelihood that any of the press releases will be published or even read by anybody else are practically zero, but it does serve the purpose of moderate-ranking websites which have pages talking about your services with links to your website.

Online directories. There’s nothing wrong with links to your website from the Yellow Pages, or perhaps True Local, Hotfrog or industry-specific directories. So what about the hundreds or thousands of other directories around the world that offer free listings?

Social media. We’re all familiar with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But there are also many hundreds of other social media websites globally who are all jostling to become the next Facebook. How about posting links from a few dozen of those lesser known sites?

Blog and forum comments. This can become a grey area because there are sooo many spammers now trying to get links from blog comments and forum moderators are careful to delete non-genuine participation on their forums. But done properly this can also be an entirely legitimate way to build links.

The problem remains, however. Even taking these short cuts to building legitimate links can be an extraordinary time consuming process. And of course you also need to know where to go to find all these websites where you can legitimately build these links. So a massive industry has grown in low-wage countries where you can outsource this work for just cents an hour. And Google doesn’t like this one bit.

Recent changes to the Google algorithm.

Goggle continually update their algorithms to stay a step ahead of people taking short cuts to building links. After all, they want to continually deliver quality search results. The trouble is that even highly legitimate websites can get stung by the changes.

This has happened just recently. On the weekend of 18-19 October 2014 Goggle introduced a massive change which has been called Penguin 3.0. This has affected search results for a lot of businesses quite drastically. You can read about Penguin 3.0 here or here.

Some of my clients have been marginally affected. One of my clients, however, used to be number one on Google for the most obvious keywords for his business, now he can’t be found on the first ten pages of Google unless you search for his business by name. Naturally he is highly concerned about how this will affect his business.

What is doubly frustrating is that the current Google search results for his most important keywords are giving really lousy search results compared to before. The top four results are repeat entries for Yellow Pages and a little known directory which provides very little information. The rest of the first page results include crappy businesses in the other perimeter of Adelaide’s metropolitan area.

Fewer short cuts

Getting onto the first page of Google results has just become a whole lot harder. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it will take more work over a longer period of time than what it used to. Ultimately that means clients will either have to work harder on building more content or pay more for someone else to do this. There are also no guarantees that climbing to the top of results in the short term won’t result in further downgrades resulting from future changes.

The good old days of SEO are over.

2014-11-05T20:37:19+00:00 By |

About the Author:

Mark Gibbs has broad experience as a marketing manager and graphic designer. He holds an MBA with a marketing specialisation. Mark runs a consultancy called MadLab: The Marketing And Design Laboratory. Based in Adelaide, he operates around Australia.

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