By: Joe I’ve always hated the phrase “search engine optimization.” (For one thing, it should probably be hyphenated, but that’s not exactly the issue here.) Late last month, search marketing pubs and the general populous of Web marketers performed their usual routines as Google rolled out the latest iteration of its Panda algorithm. Generally speaking, Panda punishes websites for any attempts to game their visitors or the algorithm itself, and the most recent update expands that mission. (For more in-depth analysis of the algorithm and its latest update, read what the team over at Search Engine Land had to say.) The goal of any search engine, aside from driving revenue for its creators, is to deliver relevant information to site users. Let’s say an entrepreneur wants to integrate a new chat app to make her team a bit more mobile, so she searches for “workplace chat apps.” If you want to appeal to this user, your site needs to provide relevant, high-quality content related to the topic. Group that content with a streamlined site design and solid site performance and you’re already in good shape to stand out in search. A brief history of Panda and its hysteria When Panda dropped in February 2011, it changed the Internet forever, really. Nearly 12 percent of search queries produced different results because of the initial algorithm shift. Twenty-nine more updates and refreshes have come on the Panda side since then and just one has influenced more than 5 percent of search queries. The adjustments and changes target different aspects of site design and content delivery, but the goal is always the same: quality content on a quality website leads to a strong search ranking. The latest update, dubbed Panda 4.2, was a bit different than the previous changes. It’s rolling out slowly, which means its hitting different site pages at different points. The Twitter conversation related to the update ranges from anger to exhaustion to weirdly profound excitement. I understand the general concern a marketer feels when she hears the words “Panda” and “Update” said consecutively; we all remember February 2011. That was a long time ago, though. There isn’t too much Google can change in regard to Panda that’s going to have the kind of impact that doled out the death knell to content farms and made quality content marketing something every business needed to consider. As Google changes, the focus remains the same Buried beneath all of the complaints and hopeful proclamations about the future of search marketing is the truth that every PR and marketing pro needs to understand: if your users enjoy your site and find what they need quickly, you’re probably fine. If you’re engaging in any practice designed as quick fix or directed at getting around some search standard, you’re going to suffer. “Probably” is a dangerous word for PR and marketing. It’s also the most certainty anyone can have about these things. The first installment of Panda focused, unofficially, on content farms – sites with volumes of irrelevant content designed solely to beef up ranking signals, such as cached pages, links and keyword usage. This content wasn’t developed for users, so Google went after it – hard. Google Penguin hit in April 2012 with a stated goal of “decreas[ing] rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines.” Paid links, duplicate content and other practices designed to boost appeal to search algorithms all resulted in sites plummeting down rankings. Some sites that weren’t entirely guilty of any black-hat SEO saw some penalties. They, almost uniformly, were sites that just hadn’t optimized their content and site design for users. They made some adjustments and slowly recovered. Both Panda and Penguin will evolve even further over time. Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird have affected rankings, as well. Their purposes weren’t necessarily to target bad content, though. Google looked at what people really use their engine for and sought to bring them the most relevant results. People, for the most part, use Google to do some quick research on a CRM platform for their small business, find a lunch spot near a new office or any number of other task. They often do it from their smartphones, too, which has resulted in mobile-friendly sites getting a boost from the crew in Mountain View. Marketers with clear mandates to boost performance in search marketing want fast results. The simplest way to get those results is site content designed for humans. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s a straight-line solution. At the heart of everything Google does with its ranking pages is making it easier for people to find the stuff they want, and its SERPs look vastly different than they did even a couple years ago. The dynamic algorithms Google designs and integrates to make search work will constantly evolve in line with audience demand. Through all of these changes and every redesign applied to its SERPs , one thing has always and will always persevere – to succeed in search, focus on the user. Want to develop a content strategy that helps improve SEO and achieve strategic business goals? Check out the Metis Approach.
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