Don’t be a “search engine chump” … ah, too late

If you work in SEO, or use an SEO agency or have even vaguely heard of the phrase you can’t fail to have been affected by the (great) work Google has done since they rolled out Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.

The SEO agency world is full of, how shall I put … “low-quality, snake-oil vendors” seems to be harsh but that’s how lots of respectable companies feel today.

Panda started to appear 3 years ago, followed by Penguin a year later and Hummingbird 8 months ago. All three are penalty systems, punitive in nature and designed to de-rank those sites that explicitly broke “the rules”. The punitive penalty is still in place (probably).

All three were also designed to increase the quality of information on the web by stamping out poor quality content. It’s implementation was contentious and many called foul. However, if you hadn’t been link chasing, or faking content or building gateway pages, keyword stuffing or buying links then the change affected you in a positive way.

We’ve always steered away from black, grey, off-white and magnolia hat techniques. Pure white is what we do. It’s whats we’ve always done and only as part of a larger, integrated marketing campaign.

At the time of the algorithm updates, Google prepped a feedback system to help those that were unjustly affected and also allowed you to see any manual penalty inside your Google Webmaster Tools account. Mostly, SEO companies since the turn of the century have been trotting out the same scams to sell services at an ever-reducing price to companies determined to chase lowest cost. In that sense, it was bound to come crashing down.

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Build a site that is structured well and has clear, text-based, links that are relevant to the content and marked up properly. But don’t go mad, no-one wants to see 150 links on every page so Google doesn’t either. This should be the responsibility of your web builder, or digital agency, if you use one. A decent web-site should be 95% correct.
  • Provide a site index. A place where all your pages can be reached within a single (or maybe two) links. If you site is large (200 pages plus) think about multiple index pages, nicely segmented.
  • Content must reflect the subject matter and as that has to be found, via search in most cases, then the content must contain the sort of words that people might search for. Make sure it’s yours and not copied from somewhere else. Copying is bad, Google (and people) don’t like duplication – if you want to use copy elsewhere provide a nicely documented link.
  • Avoid flash, big images, clever javascript and other non-text stuff. Whilst Google can read some non-text stuff it mostly prefers (and therefore rewards) text-rich content.
  • Implement information hierarchy. Important stuff goes at the top, headings need to be marked as such and use list code for lists and table code for tables.

Simple, but too simple. There are lots of additional things you can do to get noticed by Google but all those revolve around you being noticed by other (real) people. If, and when, these other people like your content they will link to it and promote it. Google likes this. Here is a more complete list of best practices.

If you buy links from any source and Google finds out, it could de-list you.

Got some old links that you need to get rid off? There is a formal process with Google, it’s slow and a bit tedious but highly effective. If you’re dumping links you’ve previously bought or acquired… well, tough luck.

The greatest irony of all? Most SEO companies still in business are now being paid to remove the links they themselves were adding only a couple of years ago.

If you want honest and effective SEO that purrs along nicely and incrementally improves your search engine position as our graph shows below. With ups and downs. Then we’re a good bet to talk to.

You want “wham-bang thank-you M’am” SEO that sees you rocket up and then come crashing down? Do a Google search for “SEO agency” and blindly take your pick, you might be lucky.

60 days in the search engine life of our site

You might notice the downward bump on the 13th, when we re-structured the news sections on our site, or the solid rise in the middle of February when we re-wrote the Services section.
Search engine positions on a WordPress site

By Martin Dower