Over the past few years, Google has introduced some high profile updates to their search ranking criteria, in an attempt to improve the quality of their search results and to combat some of the less desirable search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques that have tried to ‘game’ the system. As a result, some SEO agencies have been using scare tactics to overplay the impact and to convince some website owners to sign up through a potentially misplaced fear.
Google’s primary concern is to provide their users with a positive search experience, to get to the desired results – and quality of results – as quickly as possible, and so to return again for future searches. They have always done this well, which is why they became so successful, but they are always competing against the SEO industry, whose aim is to get websites into the relevant search results to drive visitor traffic to websites. This can be a fine balancing act and although Google provides best-practice guidelines to webmasters, many companies try to manipulate the results to their own advantage using techniques that are not acceptable to Google.
Over the past few years there have been several significant changes by Google to improve the quality of search results. These updates have been introduced and refined over time and the main ones have been named as Panda (from Feb 2011, targeting low quality content sites) and Penguin (from April 2012, which was mostly targeting poor quality link networks). More recently, the Hummingbird update in August 2013 was a different update which changed the way the search algorithms read and interpreted online content to try to understand the relevant meaning and context.
These developments have been used as a core sales approach by some search marketing agencies and not just from those anonymous Gmail addresses that send out templated emails – usually from India – but also from some mainstream agencies who are touting for business. The claims of widespread ‘changes to the rules’ and massive impacts across most websites are often overstated to scare companies into signing up and serve to continue the myths and confusion behind effective SEO techniques.
However, the basic principles of SEO remain much the same today as they always have. Yes, there have been changes in emphasis and focus, but the core elements such as title tags and on-page content focused around the search phrases that people use remain just as important, as do clean and fast loading websites, fresh and unique content, plus external links from other high quality and relevant websites. Most sites that had their rankings impacted over the last few years were usually the result of poor quality link building, often outsourced and generated from low quality sites that Google can identify and penalise.
Some say that SEO is now ‘dead’ or that it’s changed significantly, but this isn’t the case. Google and other search engines still need to use signals from websites to determine relevancy, as well as the hyperlinks between sites and social media signals to identify popular or good quality websites that will provide unique and useful content to users.
If your website has been following these key principles and complies with Google’s guidelines, then little has changed and you may have even seen ranking improvements as competitors drop back. SEO remains a core online marketing strategy, which needs to be an ongoing and long term process for every website. It also needs to be focused around words and content that takes advantage of the many ways that people search online, and the content also needs to be focused on the searcher’s needs and expectations when they find your website.
If you’d like to discuss your current and future SEO performance or strategy, please contact us for more details.