Stop cowering in a corner waiting for the next Google update

Posted by on 9th, Jul, 2013

It’s been around a month since the latest Google update, Penguin 2.0, was released and people are still analysing results and rankings – assessing the winners and losers. It seems that the update had less of an impact than thought or feared. To the uninitiated it might seem like a pointless exercise, a damp squib. But Google rarely does something for no reason. In contrast, the previous Penguin and Panda updates (2011, 2012)  had big impacts and quite rightly people began to sit up and take notice.

Google’s all about iteration at the minute, making those small but regular changes to get closer to what we all supposedly want - better search results.

But is ‘better’ the same for all of us?

That raises another important question, what do we define as ‘better’ search results? In most cases people want to see their own sites ranking well for related phrases, and at the same time, they want the most relevant information when searching for an answer or a product or service. Can one search algorithm deliver both these things? For a site owner who hastily writes content, doesn’t see the point in making connections and relationships on the web and does no ‘real company stuff’ – to use a phrase coined by Wil Reynolds – the ‘right’ results are probably not going to make happy reading.

But for the rest of us, these are fairly close to the right results. How many times do you search on Google and genuinely struggle to find what you want?

Real world examples of the ‘wrong tactics’

Let’s imagine for a moment that Google is a mix of the Advertising Standards Authority (a UK agency that controls and ‘polices’ the advertising industry) and the local council.

You’ve been trying to market and advertise your company for the last year – so far you’ve tried fly posting, sending unsolicited text messages to a list you bought and handing out leaflets at an event put on by another company. The ASA stopped you sending the text messages and the council stopped you fly posting. Handing out the leaflets didn’t work and just made you look unprofessional and clueless.

This is a perfect analogy when looking at what someone worrying about the next Google update is likely to have been doing over the last few years.

If low quality directories, spun article marketing, spam guest posting, comment spam, link networks and forum signatures have been your only or main form of online marketing – then you’ve every reason to keep looking over your shoulder. Either stop those things today or you’ll always be under pressure from the next Google update.

The rogue agency problem

There’s always the possibility that you’ve engaged an agency and asked them to improve your rankings – with the very best intentions. What if they tell you they’re doing everything by the book but they’re actually putting their efforts into the quick and dirty end of the link building and optimisation spectrum? You either find out when your site begins to lose traffic or when the agency calls and owns up. It’s also possible that you’ve brought in a traditional agency (PR or marketing) who’ve ‘given it a go’ – maybe to keep your business – and have managed to mess things up by accident.

The only real way to avoid these issues is to get the right people for the job and make sure you stay involved. Ask to see the links they’re building, the sites they’re guest posting on and the social updates they’re making. Don’t stifle them and put unnecessary barriers in the way, just make sure they know what you expect – transparency, best practice and professionalism.

In most cases good agencies love it when a client gets involved. Sitting back and letting an agency ‘get on with it’ is never in the interests of either party. Have regular calls, meetings and reviews but most important of all try to keep them updated with any information from your industry they might not be privy to – company updates that could help with content creation or link building efforts.

What does the rest of 2013 look like?

Google’s made it’s position pretty clear, with 7 major updates to the algorithm in 2013 and 37 in 2012. It looks like we may truly be getting to a point, 3 to 5 years, when sites using spam tactics won’t rank at all. I’m sure we’d all be happier with them ranking ‘not for as long’ and ‘not as highly’ right now. We still uncover sites ranking well with nothing but terrible links and old school on-page spam – pretty disappointing.

If Google does what it says it’s going to do, the remaining updates in 2013 will focus on tweaking the Penguin algorithm, removing the value passed by newer ‘types’ of spam links – possibly even the link network schemes being touted as ‘guest blogging’ at the minute. Firstly, those are ruining the good name of guest blogging – a hugely valuable traffic and trust building strategy. Secondly, I’m sure they’ve caught out some well meaning people already – they probably just don’t know it yet. If that does happen and people with ‘guest posts’ on unrelated blogs which themselves only have links from other unrelated blogs in the same ‘network’, that’s going to to be pretty easy to spot for an algorithm designed to detect patterns and trends.

Maybe some of the data garnered from the Disavow Tool will start to come into play as well, even though Google’s Matt Cutts recently stated that they don’t plan to do that – but surely there’s some valuable data there?

Whatever the next 6 months brings it’s sure to be interesting, just try not to be one of those people scrambling around in a blind panic if when another update comes flying our way. Start yourself on the right path as soon as you can and don’t look back.

Photo credit

Will O'Hara

Posted By Will O'Hara

Will leads the digital strategy for Tone. He enjoys delving into technical search work and generating exceptional content ideas with the team. Follow him on Twitter @willohara or Google+