Beware of the Panda
June 15, 2012
Business owners are constantly being sold on Search Engine Optimization. Marketing companies may claim they can get you first page rankings or several billion page hits, but often fail to specify their SEO strategy. Some of these companies are pushing SEO methods that come straight out of the 90’s and would not only fail to help your business get noticed, they could actually hurt it tremendously. With last year’s introduction of Google’s Panda algorithm (that’s right, a giant, ever-present robot Panda), getting your SEO right became more important than ever.
Many business owners are afraid to get into the specifics of SEO, because some of the terminology can seem intimidating, but ensuring your company has the right strategy is absolutely essential to success online.
So how do you come off as an expert when talking to a marketing company about SEO?
First, why SEO? Search engines try to provide you with content that is as relevant to you as possible (if they didn’t, you wouldn’t use them). To find out what sites would be useful for what keyword searches, they scan (or, in robot jargon, crawl) every site on the Internet.
If you think this sounds like a lot of work, you’re correct. At last count, the number of pages on the Internet was roughly one trillion. Because of this sheer volume, search engines won’t spend a lot of time on your site.
Search engine optimization essentially means you design your website content to make it as easy as possible for the engine to understand it. And robots, believe it or not, prefer things that are easy. Then they can categorize your site accurately, instead of demoting it to the “incoherent garbage” website pile.
Good SEO will make your website appear closer to the top result when a relevant keyword is being searched for. (There’s a reason Google has an “I’m feeling lucky” button. People only tend to look at the top few search results.) A page rank difference of one or two spots can mean thousands of dollars in extra revenue.
But SEO is not what it was 20 years ago. Search engines have gotten considerably more sophisticated. In the past, a popular SEO method was to ensure you cover every keyword through sheer force, by including a list of every possible keyword combination imaginable at the bottom of the page. Something like:
“little jack marketing littlejack jackmarketing littlejackmarketing seo optimization search engine optimization business social media revenue Facebook” x1000
If a marketing company attempts to post this on your webpage, run.
Enter the Panda
The search engines of the past merely tallied up these keywords and showed the above page as “relevant” to you if you searched for any of them. Modern search engines know what you’re doing. Last year, the Google Panda learned to copy human users in evaluating website usefulness. This single event changed the ranking of 12% of all sites on the Internet. Pandas — so cuddly, yet so deadly for your search results.
And you don’t want to make the Panda angry. If you trigger the alarm and the search engine thinks you’re cheating, there are no checks and balances (there are just too many pages on the Internet for that). Your site will immediately be demoted to a lower page rank, or, if you’re particularly unlucky, will be excluded from the search results completely.
So what can you do to avoid these traps? SEO really isn’t as complicated as it sounds, and the most important strategies don’t require a computer science degree.
- Create quality content. There’s no getting around it. This point might be deceptively simple, but the single greatest predictor of relevance is if people actually find your content useful and link back to your site. The more external links pointing back to the same site, the higher the search engines will rank it. Win over the robots by first winning over humans.
- Express yourself clearly. The keyword list above falls in the category of something called “keyword stuffing”. It doesn’t really work, and it’s equally annoying to search engines as it is for humans. Don’t anger the Panda. Convey actual, unique, and useful information in a grammatical way — preferably in complete sentences, ideally, coherent ones. Search engines look for this, and it makes their job easier.
- Know a little about web design. We know, we know, this was supposed to be easy. It is though, we promise. This category is as simple as filling in the correct information in certain key categories such as the title tags (what appears on the top bar of your web browser), meta tags (the text that appears next to the link in Google search results), etc. Search engines place particular importance on these categories, and using them correctly will make your life easier. If you’re brave, read more about these strategies.
That’s really about it. The key to SEO is thinking like a human, not like a robot. Attempts to cheat the engines might work briefly, but in the end real content will always win out — feed the Panda a nutritious diet and it will protect you.
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