Google, the internet behemoth, has a stranglehold on what content is presented to web users, when they search for information on a particular topic. Today, we can’t think of an online environment without Google; forget the online environment, we can’t even think about a world without Google. The very thought sends shivers down my spine, so much have we come to depend on it. The reputation built by Google as a technology giant doesn’t come with its own share of brick brats, a case in point being this Forbes article on Google Wants to Change the World – But Do We Want to Be Changed; people have always had strong reactions about its products whether it’s the Nexus series of smartphones or the Chromebook or it latest project, Project Glass.
But whatever the reviews received by its hardware and software products, there is absolutely no doubt that its search tools are the best in the industry and Google Search is the catalyst that is driving the growth of the web. Although this company has continuously explored new avenues for growth and brought forth some revolutionary developments over time, its foundation rests on ‘search’. This link gives you extensive information on the economic impact of Google’s search and advertising tools.
Contemporary content Optimization and Google
The basics of content optimization vis-à-vis Google has remained the same for many years – Research for the Keywords that you want to target and optimize your website’s content with the keywords for which you want a particular web page to rank. This is of course a very simplistic idea of what optimized content is all about, but you get the drift. Over time, Google’s kept pace with the changing demands of web users and kept updating its search algorithm to meet expectations of its users. Moreover, it’s always played a preemptive role in changing the scope of search and kept improving search quality. As the situation stands today, there is no other search engine that can compete against Google on the basis of popularity and search quality.
Even today, although the contours of an effective SEO strategy have changed, Google is still all about optimized content, but webmasters don’t have it easy any more. There are certain key players that have been added to the search mix namely the Panda and Penguin updates, Google plus, the focus on fresh content, and Social Signals. Taken together all of them are critical for the success of an SEO campaign, if you want a high rank on Google’s SERPs.
Google Panda – Changed the Way Webmasters Approach SEO
Two years after Google released its Panda update, Google’s Matt Cutts made an announcement at the SMX Westthat this update will no longer be manually pushed but will be a rolling update. What this means is that the updates are going to be less transparent and webmasters and SEOs will be on their toes to keep track of the Panda updates and how they are impacting their website’s search rankings.
This is an important development because plenty of webmasters have still not recovered their rankings they lost because of the Panda update. This article on Google Panda Two Years Later: Losers Still Losing and One Real Recovery, gives you an idea about the impact on search rankings because of Panda, and the fact that the sufferings of many webmasters haven’t eased.
What Google Panda update is essentially doing is that it’s finding websites that people really like and pushing them at the top of the search rankings; and the ones that people don’t like are being pushed down.
Panda is revolutionizing SEO and contributing towards better optimized content because its way more than just creating good content or doing great keyword research and making sure that your content is optimized with those keywords, and you getting natural links to these keywords. The Panda wants SEOs like you and me to think about the ‘experience’ of the website. Its wants us to also play the role of web strategists. Google’s Panda update asks us to broaden our horizons and not just think of SEO in terms of quality content.
The user experience and design of the site is of significant importance when we talk about this update. There is absolutely no doubt that a satisfying design user experience makes people contribute content to it, and generates more links. More importantly, the fact that these websites are liked by its users means they get more shares on social media. All this helps improve your ranks on Google’s SERPs.
Now let’s talk about content. Unique, useful content is no longer enough. What? It isn’t? Yes, it’s the bare minimum; what you need to focus on is shareable content. Even if you have high quality content on your site, your site can be penalized by Panda if it thinks it’s written purely for the purposes of SEO. Google is now looking at the kind of value addition that your page offers to the readers and not just whether itskeyword optimized or not.
The concept of content optimization has really changed and changed for the better with the Panda update. The fact is that this update also takes into consideration whether people coming to your site spend a good bit of time on the site or they are just bouncing. The browse rate of the site is an important search signal. This is only possible if you offer an amazing website experience to your visitors. This experience is not just about content, but is about useful content that people will actually love reading.
Social Signals – Gaining in Importance
There is a “fear” in certain quarters whether social signals will be the new drivers of future SEO campaigns, with links being relegated to the dustbin. Go through this article inSearch Engine Journal on Will Social Signals Replace Links?, to get a better idea about why people think this is but inevitable.
There is a long running debate on whether Google’s search rankings are influenced by social signals. The fact that Google has kept its cards close to its chest has not helped matters; in early 2012 Google had made it very clear that links will continue to be given more importance than social signals. Yes, so links are important, but does it say that social signals aren’t? No it doesn’t; suffice to say they are an important ranking factor as well.
Social signals both have a direct and an indirect impact on your rankings. The numbers of people that like your brand on Facebook; the number of shares; the number of tweets that mention your brand name or include your website’s link; the number of Facebook and Twitter followers; all these have a direct impact on your search rankings.
How? Let’s take the example of a Tweet that includes a link to your website. It’s a natural link back to your site and this is a ranking factor. The same thing goes for all the Likes that you get and the posts and updates that you share on your Facebook page. The more you share the more you build links and this drives your rankings upwards.
Add to this, the indirect impact that social media presence has on your rankings in the form of positive reviews and improved brand awareness and you have a great reason to use social media for your SEO efforts.
But, where does content come into the picture here? It’s only if your content is worthy of sharing that your social interactions will be profitable. If your content is not good enough, your social media presence is going to falter as people will stop following it. Here is an interesting read on The Google Social Signals Map you didn’t know existed; it will give you a better idea of how to build a great social SEO plan.
Google’s very own social media platform is definitely leaving its imprint on SEO and this comes as no surprise.
Facebook and Twitter definitely are great for SEO, but the very fact that Google cannot access all their data, limits their impact on SEO. But, there is no such limitation with Google Plus and you can achieve tremendous SEO value with the use of this social platform.
When you add people to your circles or people add you to their circles, you are contributing towards your SEO campaign; the ‘number’ of people who have added you to their ‘Circles’ has a direct impact on your rankings.
Even the +1 Button has an important role to play in search engine rankings. When users click on the +1 button, they are conveying their appreciation for the article; this also gives Google the indication that the article or content has merit. Also the presence of a +1 button on your blog or site works as an engagement metric and the more the number of people clicking on the button the faster the indexing of the content on that page.
Here again, content plays an important role when you are trying to leverage the immense potential of Google Plus. This is yet another dimension to content optimization for Google. This SEOmoz post on 10 Dead Simple Tips to take Advantage of Google+ for SEO, will be of great help if you want to make good use of this platform to boost your SEO efforts.
Freshness as a Ranking Factor
Fresh content influences rankings. One factor that determines content quality and its impact in the optimization efforts is its freshness. But nobody really talks about this as a ranking factor.
Google gives importance to fresh content so if you have news stories up on your site, then it’s the recent news stories that will get the Google thumbs up. If you have written an article and mentioned certain facts and figures, if they aren’t the most recent, the value of your content goes down. Way back in 2010, Google came up with aweb indexing system called Caffeine; this system allows it to separate fresh content from the stale, and it made sure that the freshness of content was added to its algorithm as an important ranking factor.
So what does fresh content actually mean? Well, to put it simply it’s the content that gives importance to current events, offers real time information, focuses on useful information, and something that people can make use of immediately upon reading. This is why SEOs are regularly updating their website content, using social media to know about the ‘hot’ topics of discussion to get an idea for their blog post topics and basically doing everything they can to ensure that their content is fresh.
This is yet another dynamic to content optimization for Google. This article on Freshness Factor: 10 Illustrations on How Fresh Content can Influence Rankingsgives you a closer look into the importance of freshness when it comes to content optimization for Google.
Penguin Update and SEO
There is yet another update that made life “hell” for many SEOs, and it goes by the very innocuous and innocent sounding name of ‘Penguin. The impact that the Penguin update had on the rankings of websites is still being analyzed by webmasters whose sites have been affected by the same.
The core focus of this update is penalizing those websites that use unethical backlinking techniques. So, sites that are focusing on fresh and quality content are going up in the SERPs and those that are using various tricks to generate backlinks are going down. This article gives more information on the Google Panda vs. Google Penguin update; go through it to get a better understanding of what these updates are all about.
What the Penguin update wants us SEOs to do is to focus on getting backlinks from authority sites. Create high quality ‘link juice’ to rank better. So, what you will need to do is not focus on getting as many links to your site as possible, but paying more attention to where you are getting your links from. You must ensure that you are getting backlinks from reputed sites that have a high authority in their niche.
What does this means for content optimization? Well, for Google content still remains the king and is the lifeblood of an SEO campaign. You can’t expect to get natural backlinks if your site or blog has low quality content. Authority sites will like linking to content that is of top quality, because linking to bad content will affect their site’s ranking too. I believe more than Panda, Google’s Penguin update has had more of an impact on the content aspect of SEO.
It’s made SEOs stand up and take notice of where their content strategy was going and everybody has started putting more effort into the kind of content they are getting out there on the World Wide Web. There is a direct relation between brand reputation and content quality. This essentially has changed the way we look at content forever.
As can be seen Google is all about content optimization that rests on the five pillars of the Panda, Social Signals, Google Plus, Freshness and the Penguin. Remove even one pillar and the whole edifice of your SEO campaign will come crashing down.