The Slippery Slope of SEO

From time to time, I enjoy tooting my own horn and expressing just how much of a white hat search engine optimizer I am. Now, I don’t do this to hopefully get Matt Cutts to send me a tin of popcorn next Christmas or to drum up business from companies that have been abused by other agencies. Mostly, it’s simply to express that SEO done the right away works and that you need not take any shortcuts.

Paying Heed to Google

Since the recent Google Panda update, I found that for a few of my clients, I had seen top rankings take a dip of a few positions in Google, and for some, a shift of several positions.

At first I sat stumped wondering why I had prided myself in “ethical SEO” and was still feeling the pain of the algorithmic updates meant to clean up SERPs. After all, I wasn’t a scraper site, I didn’t duplicate content, I should have had nothing to worry about, right?

I soon began to research, in-depth, the link profiles of a few of my clients. What I found was rather straightforward.

Assessing a client’s site that was hit especially hard, looking specifically at inbound links I found a recurring theme. The linking sites were often a part of content syndication networks or sites dripping in ads.

To my defense, these link acquisitions were completed by a previous link builder. I don’t often go after shortcut links from “cheap” sites, but yes, I’ve been guilty of taking an “easy link” to further a sites link building progress.

Lazy Linking and the Crappy Content

For a long time SEOs have aided site rankings will the help of amassing a wealth of less than average links. Interestingly enough, when I first researched the algorithmic updates and viewed SERPs with my SEO for Firefox plugin against a variety of competitive terms, more than once I scoffed at how the recent ranking jumps for several competitor sites seemed impossible as they had such a small amount of inbound links.

Ironically, this is because they were doing it right the whole time. As I reviewed my link profiles I found that when I visually removed the now improper inbound links I was left with a much smaller amount of inbound links and links from unique domains.

The ranking penalties weren’t necessarily at an anchor text level but at the landing page level with respect to the inbound links directing to these landing pages.

Many of us have wondered for a long time how Google would begin to clean up link building and spam. Who knew they would begin to cover these bases at the same time?

Another theme commonly associated with the update are sites that “lack original or unique content.” Outside of pointing fingers at content syndication networks and junk sites, this made me realize that maybe it was time to take another look at my sites and see how unique and credible my content was.

While this may not be a direct focus for the updates, it signals where things are headed. With the help of a content similarity tool, I visited sites which possessed sections that, in the past, have be known to have quite similar content.

I believe that on-site duplicate content has always been a no-no from Google. However, I think similar — and thus less than “original” or “unique” — content will begin to take a larger knock from Googlebot.

It was quite surprising that, when I compared site sections in suspect areas such as multiple location pages, etc., I found several pages unknowingly had a similarity of more than 70 percent.

From my experience this has always been the duplicity threshold, despite my intentions to continually maintain a much lower percentage. In the frenzy of throwing up copy and building large authoritative sites targeting a myriad of terms, I had failed to realize that individual pages didn’t necessarily provide additional content that was of added quality.

Looking Ahead

So, what do we do know? What we should have been doing the whole time. Building relevant links on quality sites to good, meaningful content from within our own sites.

In the rat race of SEO, it’s often easy to think we’re doing everything right just because we aren’t doing what we’re told to avoid. This can be the slippery slope of SEO — just when you think you’re standing on top of the mountain you find yourself rolling down the backside.

The future of SEO will warrant us to abandon quick and easy links to irrelevant directories and AdSense-driven sites in favor of sites that provide relevance in relation to your linked content. SEOs of the future will be forced to think more like a PR specialist rather than just content blasters.

True optimization will begin on-site with creating content that is not only credible but enticing and worthy of the buzz factor. This in light of the trend that social citations are now monitored to some extent and likely with more a factor down the road.

We’re stepping into the age of CTR as a major indicator I feel and your content should be under scrupulous review. I’m wholeheartedly in favor of the recent algorithmic updates and admit that when these come our way it helps to remind SEOs that there is still such a thing as “unknowingly bad SEO.”

Related reading

Search engine results: The ten year evolution
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Three tools providing actionable competitive research insight