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The brave new world of Google and SEO

 
.. or is it just the old world rules are being more strictly enforced?
 
Google's Panda (Farmer) update rolled out in February 2011 in the USA. Calling an update "Panda" brings to mind black and white, with little in between. It certainly saw its share of casualties - and what would appear to be some collateral damage. 
  
This is nothing new in a major algorithmic tweak, but that is little comfort to those affected who perhaps shouldn't have been. SEO is always a white knuckle ride - even if you only use white hat, Google approved search engine optimization techniques.
 

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Theories abound as to what happened and why - and Google aren't done yet with fiddling. Trawling through it all, here's what I believe to be the essence of what's happened and what is about to occur; mainly coming from Google themselves - or more accurately, my interpretation of it.

- Thin and low quality content is and will be devalued; but more importantly, if there's enough of it on a site, it could have a knock-on effect in regard to other pages that may be of good quality. Thin content is where there isn't much on a page or it is scraped or poorly worded to the point an algorithm can detect it.

  • Pages with heavy advertising "above the fold" (first screen) could suffer a ranking loss.
     
  • Keywords in domain names may not have as much importance in the future. Google is toying with the idea of not placing so much emphasis on this aspect as it provides an added advantage when it comes to anchor text on inbounds.
     
  • Links from low quality sites may be devalued further.
     
  • Google will do more to detect unnatural linking patterns.
     
  • Google will favor in-depth stories and analyses.
     
  • It will pay more attention to social networking signals (mentions on Facebook/twitter etc.)
  • Visitor engagement will get more attention - bounce rates and time on site.
  • Low value pages on a site with little original content (whether intentional or by software glitch) could impact the site's overall rankings. 

Much of this is just further reinforcement in relation to Google's webmaster quality guidelines - so, what may have been a little grey before, may soon be very black or white. Bear in mind, there will always be exceptions to the "rules" and the above is just my opinion.

The Panda update hasn't rolled out in Australia yet as far as I know and I'm really hoping Google will have acted on some of the feedback they've received about the USA rollout before it does. 

Something else I've noticed relatively recently in the AU search results is the number of sites screaming up the ranks, based purely on spam comment and profile backlinks. Maybe it's the calm before the Google storm. 

The problem with leaving things as is though, apart from the obvious, is when X site gets to the top using shady means, others in that sector tweak onto what they are doing and follow suit. Some of these folks won't even realise what they are doing might be a no-no; so when Google does finally come down hard on the practice, they'll be burned too.
  

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I'm making special mention of this as so many site owners appear to fall into this category. I recently warned about cheap backlink services. Aside from the SEO "black hat" aspect, hiring these companies won't do much for your company's reputation as the quality of comments accompanying the backlinks can be absolutely awful. 

Site owners who use these services may also possibly wind up on the hit list of frustrated blog and forum owners where these links and comments are dropped. I know a few who when they see this activity, they dig a little deeper into it and if they find it's a sustained practice by the company or their contractors, they'll report it to Google.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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