Google Told You So.

Posted by Laura Lippay

Music selection to enjoy with this post: The Unforgiven (Metallica)

In October of 2007 I was standing in front of a full house at the Yahoo Sunnyvale headquarters. I was on a mission to try to explain, with very little actual evidence, that SEO is more than just site “optimization”. I could see what was coming down the pipeline loud and clear. SEO isn’t SEO anymore, it’s different. SEO (especially for enterprise-level sites) equals a damn good product.

Here’s a slide from the presentation:

Search engines vs. spam timeline

See the point here? It’s the epic frenemy battle of SEOs vs. Search Engines that whittles the SEO techniques down to what eminently points to no other option but to have a great product. What is a great product? It’s a site that people want to go to, return to, share with their networks, email their friends, etc., (aka building natural links and “buzz”). Get it? Great content and natural links and buzz = the new SEO.  But it’s not actually new, it just hasn’t always been adopted very well. 

Until now. Remember what it’s like when an algorithm shift changes the rules of SEO? Of course you do.

Since this timeline I threw out there in 2007, not a lot has changed on the “spammy methods” side of things (and doesn’t that just tickle the “SEO is dead” funny bone). But wait, do you know what popular widely-preached tactics since 2007 are missing since this chart?  C’mon, think Panda/Farmer update. In the current days of black-hats-gone-grey, what’s the spam tactic to be battled at this point?

If you’ve ever bothered to follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines or anything that Matt Cutts has ever said anytime in the last x years, you’ll see that you, my build-content-for-search-engines friends (I still love you, you tried), have had warnings sitting out there as clear as day. Might I show you a select few?

Google Webmaster guidelines on content

Matt Cutts blog post snippets on quality content

And I quote: “Great content has to be the foundation of any good site, because mediocre content tends not to attract exceptional links by itself. And if you’re trying to get exceptional links on really really crappy content, you’re going to be pushing uphill.”  “You want to have a well-rounded site, and one of the best ways to do that is to have fantastic, interesting, useful content, great resources, great information, and then that naturally attracts the links.  And then search engines want to reflect the fact that the web thinks that you are interesting or important or helpful.

But I build exactly what people are looking for in search, how can that be bad?

There’s a difference between building content to attract your audiences and building content to attract search engines. But, your audiences are doing the searches in the search engines, right? So what is the difference? Someone asked me recently why ‘content-rich’ Suite101.com was on the Farmer update loser list. Here’s exactly what I sent back to him in an email:

  1. Its obviously created for *search traffic*, meaning the company goal isn’t to invest everything into creating something rich and meaningful for their audiences, but instead the primary goal is to create content for search traffic, THEN maybe throw a little investment into the rest of the site experience.  That’s a Google no-no.
  2. When there’s "shallow content", the site likely isn’t the best resource for anyone researching something through search. Do you want your search results for how to cope with your depression to be this article plastered with ads from Shauntee Jackson (mother of two rambunctious toddlers in Ft. Worth, TX) who even says in the article "I’m no expert in depression" or would you rather have a site that not only has experts dedicated to helping you learn about and cope with your depression issues, but also provides hotlines, medical information, community support and resources, maybe even tools for diagnosis or self-treatment options.

Get what I mean?  Suite101, like every client that says their number one company goal is to get search traffic, is doing it wrong.  Their number one goal needs to be providing value to audiences.  Which in turn provides valuable content for search results. And on top of that, it provides a cleaner, less spammy and more useful web overall. Leave it to Google.

Learn from past mistakes

You’ve heard about the “quality content” mantra, right? If you’ve been in SEO for ten minutes you’re preaching it. So where did we all go so wrong? How can an entire innovative, on-the-ball SEO industry have let this go right over our heads? How can the warnings of the Do No Evil Silicon Valley giant have been so blatantly ignored as if nothing would ever come of them?

If you sit back and think about it (and if you’re old enough), you might get an eerie sense of those dotcom bubble burst days when millions of investor dollars were thrown into internet companies with no staff, no experience, no plan, and only existed as an overblown trend-following idea on paper. Some people had some new ideas and made some money online and all of a sudden everyone’s building online businesses, with dreams of (being) sugardaddies dancing in their heads, forgetting a very basic, fundamental core of a good long-term business model – providing actual value to their audiences. Shallow much?

The 2011 spin on quality content

This is the deal. We know that search engines want to provide sites that people (aka audiences) find valuable. We know that they use signals like social mentions and influence, and clickthroughs from search, and potentially dozens of other buzz-measuring indicators that go into determining if a site is something that people are really into or just some shallow content hanging around the web trying to feign legitimacy like Snooki at a Mensa convention. How to be one of those sites that people are into, that seeps of naturally linkable, sharable, emailable, tell all your friends, come hither, and come hither again content is fodder for another article. But as you create any content online ask yourself this question: “Self? How will this be more valuable to my audiences than what my competitors are doing?”  If you are lucky enough to not have any competitors, then just take that part off the sentence.

But I don’t have to tell you that, because if you’re listening…

Google Panda update announcement

…Google already told you so.

Stay tuned for my next post on how this update doesn’t just change an algorithm, it changes the web.

xo, Laura

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