Google's recent changes, in plain English

A guide to understanding Google's SEO changes, by experts, for the rest of us. Photo: Wired

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2013 — Almost everyone uses Google, whether to promote their business or figure out who was that actor from that one thing with the other guy. Not everyone knows Matt Cutts, a distinguished engineer at Google. Cutts detailed the changes Google is making and intend to make in SEO. For those not proficient in SEO the details about these changes may sound like Sheldon Cooper explaining an equation. 

Thankfully, some of the best and brightest in SEO were gracious enough to explain what this means in plain English. For most, these changes will not matter. They are designed to benefit those getting noticed the right way and promote natural promotion (white hat) rather than gaming the system (black hat). Link building and other practices have become outdated. Firms that focus on online reputation management are successful at maintaining and controlling the search engine results page. The biggest takeaway is to produce quality content, get exposure for your brand and motivate people to talk about your brand. 

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Scott C. Benson, Sr. SEO Manager, Vocus, Inc.

Now, to be perfectly clear, links still matter. They are incredibly important. What has changed is the way Google values those links. In the past (years ago), the algorithm could be gamed by building a high volume of links to a site and it didn’t really matter if the linking site was high quality or not. Now, Google has cracked down on link buying schemes and unnatural link signals. Businesses can’t just go out and buy links to achieve high rankings. That practice goes against Google’s guidelines. The shift has been happening for some time, but the recent crack-down has been very clear.

Lyndsey Kramer, Director of Business Development, Digital Third Coast 

Google uses an algorithm which considers hundreds of factors in order to answer a search with the most relevant results. In order to maintain and increase their users, they need to provide the information, product or service that an internet user is asking for in the first few results. Because these first few results receive the most clicks, businesses have realized the value of being listed at the top: they get more exposure to their business and increase clientele. As a result, businesses are constantly trying to find ways to learn and manipulate Google’s algorithm to increase their chance of being ranked first. Thus begins the proverbial cat and mouse game, with Matt Cutts and Google continuously refining the algorithm to ensure the ranked results are pure - and more importantly, what the internet user is searching for, rather than spam of any kind. In an effort to remove spam, Google is also trying to make their algorithm more and more difficult to manipulate. 

The most important concepts to gleam from all the changes is that Google is trying to make the search experience quicker, easier and better for the searcher. Therefore, a business will do best to cater to their audience, identifying how they search, what they search for, and answering their questions with great content, ideas, and services.

Matt Goulart, Founder, Ignite Digital Inc.

On May 22nd, 2013, Matt Cutts and his team launched Penguin 2.0 and it affected 2.3% of English-US searches. For the average website owner they most likely will not be affected (unless of course they are doing black hat tactics or if there SEO expert is doing black hat tactics). 

The basics still apply and don’t change: 1. Focus on developing a great website that consumers will like and that is programmed correctly. 2. Produce related content (more often is always better). 3. Develop a fast website. 4. Link to other blogs and newspapers that produce great material. 5. Provide value to consumers. 

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Tirrell Payton, CEO, BT Software and Research, Inc.

It’s that season again, the season when both clients and marketers are running around like crazy trying to understand what the latest Google Penguin update means to their business. Some website owners have been hit pretty hard, with reports of 50%+ drops in traffic. Imagine losing 50% of your traffic overnight. You would be running around too, because if you are doing business on the web, chances are you lost 50% of your revenue.

According to Wikipedia, “Google Penguin is a code name for a Google algorithm update. The purpose of this update was to penalize what Google deems ‘Black Hat SEO techniques’ such as: Keyword stuffing, cloaking, and duplicate content.”

Keyword stuffing is when you go to a website and see sentences like, “Whether you are looking for a plumber in San Diego or a San Diego plumber, give us a call.” This sentence was clearly optimized around the “San Diego plumber” keyword, as opposed to being written to sound natural to a human.

Cloaking is when you do a search for lawn mowers, and when you click the link it sends you to a site about pool pumps.

Finally, duplicate content is when an article appears on 100 different websites to try to drive traffic back to the author’s site.

Andrew Armstrong, Owner, KickStart Search Engine Marketing, LLC

In essence, SEO is no longer a strange stand-alone strategy that exists in a vacuum independent of social media, public relations, or general online marketing endeavors. Today the links and content that will get your site to the top of Google are synonymous with the links and content that your actual customers will find useful online. This shift has caused an awful lot of temporary pain for a large number of companies and bloggers over the last 12-18 months, but ultimately I think the goal of Google is to create an Internet more populated by useful content attributed to real people as opposed to vast networks of disjointed and irrelevant links created strictly for SEO.

Jeff Barrett is Business Insider’s #1 Social Ad Executive, a Forbes Top 50 Influencer In Social Media, CEO of Status Creative, and record holder for the Most Strikeouts in Tee-Ball. 

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Jeff Barrett

Jeff Barrett is an experienced columnist and business leader. He has been named Business Insider’s #1 Ad Executive on Twitter, a Forbes Top 50 Influencer In Social Media and has previously written for Mashable and The Detroit Free Press. 



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