The SEO Mystery
Does tackling the evasive challenge of Search Engine Optimization seem like a hit and miss proposition? Do you feel like pursuing SEO success is like chasing a ghost? Admit it. Search Engine Optimization is a skillset that requires above all else, the ability to adapt to changing priorities, market opportunities and threats, and emerging technologies from the drivers of SEO: the all-powerful search engines. Yup. I’m talking about Google.
If you do feel you could be better at SEO, there are places you can go. You can hire a web designer with SEO expertise. You can hire an experienced, exclusive SEO Specialist. You can seek out training from an expert, and you can engage the SEO community and begin to engage to find answers to your SEO questions. Doing one or all of these is a step in the right direction.
Perhaps the most important factor for figuring out the SEO puzzle is understanding the goal of the Google algorithms: Connect users with what they are searching for as quickly as possible. Knowing this goal, you can already see a way to success as being a provider of solutions to those who are searching for what you offer. The algorithms are designed to weed out abusers or those who do not demonstrate rich, in-depth solutions in their content.
If the content is rich in perceived value, in-depth and substantive, then the user traffic will be present and trackable by the Google algorithms. Whatever strategies you employ in your SEO plans, if you align your actions with Google’s main goal, you will be much less likely to suffer penalties of low SEO/SERP rank by a Google algorithm update. I recommend spending some time reading through the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
The Animals Etc.
The challenge can be in the evolving nature of the set of updates to the Google search algorithms. What was once a practice that reaped SEO rewards, can be exposed by an algorithm update and the SEO rank can suffer dearly. Google tends to name these code updates after animals: Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, and Fred. Remember, all of these updates are designed to serve Google’s main goal, which is relevant results as fast as possible. Each update has a specific set of rules it emphasizes to better accomplish the goal.
Probably the most famous of these is Panda, initially released in February 2011. This update, and its subsequent releases, target content that is deemed less rich or thin of relevant material and therefore less useful to users. It was designed to weed out content farms and give preference to content written to provide value to real searchers and not just content written to contain keywords.
Penguin is a link-parsing algorithm first announced in April 2012. It is designed to penalize abusers for link stuffing or artificially manipulating the number of links to a page in order to manipulate SEO rank. Link farming is one of these techniques that Penguin is designed to discourage — creating a network of websites that link to each other in an effort to boost SEO rank. Most offenders use automated means to accomplish this, but this can also be done manually.
Penguin is designed to find these offenders. It penalizes them in favor of legitimate link strength that is backed up by a link structure that provides usefulness to real searchers and has as its goal the service of a user base.
Pigeon is an update released in July 2012 which prioritizes relevant local search results over other non-local content. This is an effort to serve the convenience of users who are likely to prefer a nearby solution to a non-local one in many of the searches they initiate. Pigeon strengthens the link between local and core Google algorithms which makes traditional SEO practices also good to generate a good rank locally.
The Hummingbird update, announced in September 2013, is interpretive in that it tries to interpret the intent of the searcher and provide results to match that intent. It uses natural language queries to accomplish this goal by considering context and meaning over individual keywords. It does this by using language processing, latent semantic indexing (LSI), and synonyms to interpret meaning even in the event that specific keywords may be missing.
Some interpret these initiatives into a synonym or LSI approach to keywords. I would suggest focusing on addressing value in the concepts offered in your content. It’s great to research synonym keywords but remember to pay attention to parallel themes that show up in the research and focus on delivering content that meets those needs for those who are searching.
Launched in October of 2015, Rank Brain is similar to Hummingbird in that it tries to asses value of the content in a page in order to rank it. Its specific technique is to summarize the pages of a website in the index via machine learning and uses this summary in aligning them with search queries to create ranks for the various pages. It is also said that RankBrain assesses the overall user experience and the main purpose of a page in order to rank it. RankBrain seeks to downrank superficial content in favor of deep and meaningful page content. Google claims that among their ranking algorithms, RankBrain is the third most important signal in generating a page’s rank.
In March 2017, some updates that have not been announced by Google, but have been noted and recognized in the SEO community were tracked and have been called “Fred”, until Google acknowledges and names the update. Fred is said to focus on aggressive monetization by overloading on ads focused on little user benefit and low-value content. The update again focuses on those websites which seem more intent on generating revenue and less on solving a user’s problem. In other words, a page that is too dense with ads and affiliate links will be targeted for downranking.
Possom is similar to Pigeon in that it deals with ranking based on locality. It is designed to vary the results based on how close you are to the location if a given result. The closer you are to a local business the more likely it is to show up in the search results. It also varies the results based on small variances in search terms, like when you use the term “web design company in Leander, Texas” vs “web designer in Leander, Texas“. The two searches will now give more of a variety in the results each one returns.
In March 2015, Google launched the Mobile Update (aka Mobilegeddon). This update created a preference for mobile-friendly pages, including speed optimizations and usability in mobile search. On the flip-side, if the page is not mobile friendly, the SERP is seriously downgraded or filtered out altogether. Google’s Test My Site mobile speed tool is great for knowing the issues it finds with your pages from a mobile perspective. Also big with Google is using Accelerated Mobile Pages, in other words, providing pages specifically optimized for mobile use in the web page markup and makeup. Tools like these are essential for success on the ever-growing mobile platform since they are Google driven initiatives.
These Animals Evolve
Lest anyone misunderstand, the various updates described above are continually modified and upgraded by Google as their codebase improves and adapts to the ever-changing internet landscape. This evolution is one of the key reasons website owners can struggle with keeping a high SERP (Search Engine Results Page) rank. This makes being aware and up to date on the rules of behavior for these algorithms a big part of a successful SEO strategy.
Acquiring knowledge about the Google algorithm updates can go a long way to helping you de-mystify the process of improving your SEO performance. Even more important is remembering what the underlying goal of the Google algorithms is, and that’s providing solutions and answers to search queries as quickly as possible. If that is a prominent consideration in your SEO decisions, you will ultimately be led to SEO success.