We’re getting a lot of questions about the rolling Google “Panda” algorithm updates focused on weeding out over-optimized sites. Matt Cutts from Google announced this at SXSW and there had been general speculation about it for months. We just need to state that this is one of the reasons why SEO is an evolving, ongoing effort, because the algorithm changes! In fact the algorithm changes about 500 times each year; this one is a big one. What is this? Google has openly stated that they are trying to stop companies who are “gaming the system” by over-optimizing their websites to try to rise in the search rankings. Best practices tell us to not overuse keywords in page copy, to not buy links to website. It tells us to create a good user experience based on true relevancy to the topic at hand. The problem is that Google defines relevancy by using keywords in page copy and by having people think you’re so great at something that they link to you as a source of greatness. So a thin line exists between “SEO Spam” and legitimately using descriptive content that speaks to the customer and doing good PR to disseminate your awesome content. Some “black hat” or “grey hat” SEO companies push the edge, while other downright fly right past it. Google is trying to stamp out the people who are completely gaming the system. However, there may be instances where companies can be wrongly labeled as over-optimized. What can you expect? In most cases we think this will help our clients’ SEO efforts. We’ve always pushed best practices, and known that sites need to engage and convert people, not just spam keywords at them. We think that the spammy companies (that we fume about because they’ve succeeded by breaking best practices) will drop in the rankings. However in some cases clients’ sites have been optimized heavily, and may get caught in a net that thinks they’re over-optimized. One thing that we’ve always promoted is looking for persistent footer links, and this is something that may change and no longer be a practice to follow. We’ve been talking with some of you already about changing these links, where we think it may start to hurt you. We have a persistent link on MinnPost as part of our Pro Bono work with them, and we’ve been in touch with Google via the Webmaster Tools dashboard to let them know this is a legitimate link and relationship. Best Practices for SEO Content
- Don’t repeat the same word too much in page content. Balance it with synonyms or long-tail variations, or break up 2-4 word combinations a bit more.
- Stay at 7% or less. This shouldn’t be new to any of you. We’ve always said that your core keywords shouldn’t be more than 7% of total page content.
- Rich content. Have interesting, unique content that provides helpful informative experience for people. Don’t create pages that are duplicates of each other with only slight changes in the copy.
- Link anchor text. It’s ok to sometimes use “read more” “learn more” “click here.” While in the past we recommended changing most instances of this to become more descriptive keyword-heavy links (Read more about SEO best practices” instead of “read more“), this is something that the update will target. If you have a LOT of links that heavily use keyword rich anchor text, and especially if all the incoming links to the website use keyword heavy anchor text, you might be penalized. Use common sense. When it makes sense to use keyword text in the link, go ahead, but don’t do it on 100% of links.
- Check your rankings and Webmaster tools. Google Webmaster tools is pretty open about telling you if they suspect issues that they think are SEO spam.
- Be real. Remember that Google wants to reward sites with good user experience. Ones that people engage with, convert on, and tell people about. If you provide that experience, and legitimately promote that content to the world, you’ve won a big part of the battle.
Of course for our clients who we’re actively in an SEO project or retainer, we’re always watching your site to see how the algorithm changes are impacting it, and advising on change in course.