Surviving The Algorithm Change

Google changes its algorithm a lot. More than most people ever realise in fact. Last year for example, Google changed their algorithm 550 times. And in most cases, nobody really notices much, except for the SEO professionals.

This time round though, there’s been a bit more noise than usual about the latest change. It might have something to do with the size and extent of it. or it might have something to do with how many sites took a hit thanks to the update.

The new update has been called the Panda Update by Google, (we’re not sure why), and the Farmer Update by almost everybody else, on the basis that it hits content farms the worst.

Content Farms?

In the old days of SEO, (and now too, to be honest, but less so), there used to be what were known as link farms. Websites that existed for the sole purpose of containing links to other websites. Link farms were pretty immediately labeled “bad” by Google, for obvious (and good) reasons.

In their wake though, came content farms. Websites that consisted solely of (usually badly written) articles on any subject under the sun, from delousing your pet to undergoing brain surgery. The point of these articles was (ostensibly) syndicated content. People would write them, and if you needed content on a particular subject, you could go and find some in an article directory, and add it to your site, as long as it was unchanged, and the authors details were included.

That was the ostensible point. The real point of course was to get links. Each article directory offered authors a “resource box” in which they’d put one or two links to the site they were promoting. So the link appeared in the article directory. Then, if somebody used the article, the links would appear on the site that used it too.

Google Update Targets Duplicate Content

Apart from the fact that these articles existed for the sole purpose of generating links, which means that their quality was usually questionable at best, it also exacerbated the problem of duplicate content online.

When Google finds a page of content, and then finds the same content on some other page, it has a problem determining which is original, and should get the credit, and which is duplicate, which in theory, shouldn’t.

With content farms ranking high in the search results for searches on a wide variety of subjects, and the content contained therein being of questionable relevance, and definitely questionable accuracy, Google decided to do something about it.

The Panda Update

Google is actually feeling pretty good about this latest update of theirs. As always, Google’s key focus is to deliver the most relevant search engine results, and that’s what they’re trying to do here.

I mean, would you want that article you’re about to read about brain surgery to be written by a doctor? Or by a freelance writer making 50c a word, whose client needs links for a medical supplies site? I think the answer is fairly obvious.

By consciously reducing the amount of credibility that links from article directories (content farms) provide, as well as links from duplicate content, Google is making it more important to have relevant, unique content on your site. And that can only be a good thing for the businesses that have been trying to do things right all along.
Google’s guidelines haven’t changed because of this update. On the contrary, they’re still exactly the same. All that’s changed now is that they’re more serious about the quality of the links and the content you have.

The Good News, And The Good News

Whatever you might feel about the change, and whatever might happen to your rankings because of it, (Google estimates that only about 12% of sites will be affected anyway), this update is actually good news for anybody who practices SEO the way it’s supposed to be done.

Without, in other words, resorting to methods that Google considers unscrupulous. In the past, it was hard to rank without resorting to those methods, for the simple reason that so many people were doing it that in order to remain competitive, you had to follow suit, or else buy expensive high quality links, just to stay even.

Now though, we’re hoping that this change is going to force a lot of people to abandon those methods, and go back to doing what should get you good rankings in the first place.

And it’s pretty simple.

Beating The New Algorithm

First, avoid links from sites which are spam, or which have no relevance to your site.

Second, focus on high quality content, and not just high quantity. The more useful your content is to people searching, the more likely it is to receive favourable treatment by Google.

Third, don’t add content just to give you a platform for displaying ads. Too many ads are going to be an indicator to Google that your site isn’t valuable to users.

Finally, keep your title tags relevant to your content. Don’t try and make it look as if your page is about one thing, when it’s actually about something else. (And don’t stuff your pages with keywords…that went out of style long ago.)

In Conclusion

If you’ve been paying attention to anything we’ve ever said about SEO in the past, you’ll notice that the suggestions above are no different from the practices we’ve been encouraging all this time.

If you’ve been playing by the book anyway, you just need to keep on doing what you’ve always done, and before long, you should be improving naturally.

Plan, design and populate your site with your users in mind, (which you should always have been doing anyway), and you’ll continue to be not only just fine, but quite possibly, even better, as Google works at weeding the dross out of the search engine results.