August 30, 2012 | Posted in: Featured, Search Engines

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here. All this while, the internet marketing industry has been trying to come to terms with the very “violent” (for lack of a better term) changes it has experienced in the recent past. Ok, not really the entire internet marketing industry, but mostly search marketing, and more specifically SEO and link building.

By now, I guess you must have gotten tired of reading about Panda this, Penguin that. But just for good measure, here are a few articles you can read to know what I am talking about:

  • To know more about Penguin and other recent Google changes this article at WordTracker.com offers some valuable insights.
  • Thanks to Penguin, getting rid of “unwanted” and “unnatural” backlinks seems to be the hottest thing at the moment. This WebProNews article asks if Google be killing the web as we know it.
  • With google’s renewed aggresive stance against “spam”, any thing you do to improve your Google organic search rankings (SEO, essentially) is potentially counter-productive. See this article at SEOBook.com.
  • As it often happens with Google algorithm changes, some businesses have found the going too tough, and have had to close down. The story of Children’s Furniture Store is just one of many.
  • All of which reminds of a sermon that I think we are not preaching loud enough: THOU SHALT NOT LIVE BY GOOGLE ALONE. Read this article for reference.

As you would expect, bazillions of the internet marketing “experts” and SEO “gurus” have written countless posts on what to do to penguin-proof your site and recover any lost traffic. The chorus goes something like: write great content; focus on link quality not quantity; remove any on-page spam you might have engaged in; remove all spammy links to your site; diversify your links’ anchor text to include brand anchors, naked URLs, and junk anchors (e.g “click here”, “read more here”, “see this article”); submit a reconsideration request to google; etc.

All of this is great advise, and it might get you some positive results. But remember, even the experts aren’t always right. Sometimes we only parrot what Matt Cutts and his webspam team are feeding us. And lately, Google’s message seems to be “just build it and let it be, if it is good enough, people will link to you naturally. Any form of active outreach is spam”.

The sad reality is that internet marketing is a jungle of some sort. You cannot afford to sit back and wait for things to fall in place, no matter how great your content or product is. Otherwise, smarter competitors with inferior products will easily outdo you. That is why it is called marketing, you have to get people to know about it. The problem is in the how to.

Before Panda and Penguin, SEO was an assured way to easily reach your audience. One of the surest ways for ranking (at least in Google) was to amass thousands of links with keyword rich anchor text. Many of the techniques most SEOs used to get such links were purely meant for [manipulating] the search engines. Yes, that includes several so-called “white hat” techniques. I am sure you know why; It’s because those techniques produced results. Then along came Panda and Penguin, and you know the rest of the story.

Certainly, there were a few lonely voices in the wilderness, e.g Eric Ward, who were preaching against building links for the engines, urging us to focus on human traffic instead. Some of them even warned us about an impending Googageddon.

What then should you do in the light of these changes?
Let me first make a few observations:

  1. There is still some residual, non-SEO, real-traffic value in many of the link-building techniques that we consider obsolete. Take reciprocal links for example, sometimes it makes perfect sense to “exchange” links with a website whose content complements yours. The aim here is not to manipulate search rankings, but to give visitors of either websites an extra reference resource. Here’s an old article by Eric Ward as to why reciprocal links are viable. You can make a similar case for several other now-demonized techniques (article marketing, social bookmarking, directory submissions, and even footer links).
  2. Any new and hot internet platform or fad can be, and will be overused, misused and abused  by internet marketers. (Pinterest, take note). Right now, increasing your “social signals” may be touted as the next ranking secret, but at some point in the not-so-distant  future, it will become a noise signal, considering how we are already spamming it. Another trending ranking “secret” at the moment is guest blogging  (even though  it isn’t entirely new). It is only a matter of time before a whole industry emerges for this purpose alone (remember directories when Google came along?). From then, their SEO value will be all downhill. But even then, some people will still be using them effectively for business. You can be one of those.
  3. So far, most of the people complaining about the poor quality of search results post-penguin are the marketing type and/or website owners. We don’t hear much grumbling from the “ordinary” users (who form over 90% of the searchers, I guess). While this may be because they don’t own any blogs or web properties in which to vent their anger, it may also be an indication that the results aren’t as bad as we claim. This user group – the consumer – is what Google cares about most, because that’s where their profits lie.
  4. Despite what Google is saying, some link spam still works in getting top rankings. I have observed it in a few niches that I actively monitor, and others have written about it too. Read this post, and this very long one for example. I believe there is a limit to how far Google can go in punishing link spam without diluting their search results quality to an extent that angers their most important user base.  Fact is, some of the guys producing the very best content also engage in some form of link spam, knowingly or otherwise. If Google penalizes every bad link out there, all this great content will be nuked too. The ultimate loser will be Google. It will be in Google’s best interest to only devalue (not penalize) some spammy links.

So, what to do?
I wish to reiterate the message of my previous post. It is time to re-examine your overall online strategy, and decide on what is important for you. If you are in it for the long term, the slow, steady and deliberate process is the best approach. Do what you have to do, without focusing too much on search engines. Focus on building meaningful and complementary relationships. The search engines may reward you or disregard you, but that won’t make or break your business.

If you prefer making a quick kill, then moving on to a new project, you should not fear to experiment. But while at it, use some brains. Don’t spam for its own sake. If you spam your way to top rankings for a very competitive keyword for example, you’d better make sure you milk the most value for those rankings when the visitor lands on your site. For your effort, you might even earn a few “natural” links/social shares/social bookmarks.

If you want the best of both worlds, learn from the experts on both sides. Borrow the aspects you are comfortable with. Use social media and paid advertising in the meanwhile.

Whatever your style, don’t just sit there and pray that Google will reward you because you have great content. Reach out.

I have been involved in the web development and internet marketing business for the past seven years or so. I therefore like to think of myself as an internet marketing expert, even though the truth is that I am continually learning in this ever changing field.

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