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The New Google Doesn’t Like Old SEO

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I read – and commented on – a great post called Panda 4.0 & Google’s Giant Red Pen by Trevin Shirley. Panda 4.0 just hit; the SEO space is hiding under their desk, with some reacting either out of panic or for show.

It’s definitely news, but at this point, I don’t see any reason to scream from the rooftops at Google. It’s what we should be expecting by now.

In 2011, the first Panda showed us Google is not afraid to drop atom bombs. Panda opened the door for Penguin, and many updates have come since. Matt Cutts said he wished Google had acted sooner, and in his shoes, I’d probably agree.

Let’s not forget how spammy the results used to be:

Google junk

I can imagine the conversation at the Googleplex between the webspam and search team:

“Man, how did you let this get so bad?”

“Me? I though you were paying attention…”

“Look – we need to fix this. But the algorithm can only be tweaked so hard. I mean, it’s not Skynet yet.”

“But people think it is…”

“We’re going to lose our shirts if we don’t act quick. How about we take drastic measures.”

“But the SEO community will have a cow.”

“But hopefully the rest of the world won’t notice and just start loving, trusting, and using a cleaner Google!”

“Agreed. Hey Navneet Panda… do you have any ideas?”

It’s A New Google – We Need To Accept It, Rebuild

gojira

Maybe they should have named these things Godzilla instead of Panda or Penguin. The battles that ensued since the birds and the bears were nasty. Some search results were leveled. I’m not being dramatic for the sake of a metaphor – I’m pretty sure we can all agree the results have never been the same. Some SEOs were/are slow to give up the fight. Some agencies still sell SEO that doesn’t work. Others, however, have realized the new rules – while different – still offer great opportunity.

Google declares their war on spammers a victory, noting black hat forums have slowed down. They’ve admitted to throwing some FUD into the mix like Kim Kardashian’s publicist might do, but for the greater good of their mission – to fix the results and uphold their “reputation.” All the hatemail and tweets to Matt Cutts isn’t going to change this. I’m pretty sure he’s holding steadfast. While Google won’t nod to the fact that some good got swept up in the bad, they obviously know it.

But honestly, I think it works for me. I think the changes, and casualties, were necessary. Were they supposed to wait until they were perfect? Plus I was getting tired of the lack of imagination… not that some of the dark arts weren’t brilliantly designed and executed. But in some sectors, SEO is very slow to change.

What I mean is, I was missing the marketing. In 2007 I was in a full-service agency’s marketing department doing SEO. Yet, SEO didn’t feel like marketing then. It was still firmly planted in web development. But in my situation, marketing and web development were siloed. Our departments weren’t friends (some internal politics at play). As asinine as that sounds now, I learned it wasn’t uncommon in big agencies back then. So, to make our SEO offering work, I had to tie “marketing” and “technical” together.

As evolution would have it, there’s no doubt that SEO is a marketing channel now… so I kind of lucked out by getting an early jump on it. The more I tied the two together, the more long-lasting the results were. Even today. It’s the only real Panda/Penguin proof strategy I’ve seen.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Like many rock bands, Google has changed their formula. I agree – relatively speaking, Google now works pretty well. Or at least they’re finally poised to substantially improve. And that’s from me – a guy who hates change. Update your website or UI and I throw a temper tantrum. But realistically, has anything ever stayed the same? Did David Bowie not continue to produce great music, albeit different? Did Empire Strikes Back not kick more ass after changing directors? Did Windows 8 not improve upon Windows 7?

Granted, it’s still Google’s property, and they can do with it as they please, so if they only want to represent a portion of the web, I suppose they have that right. Maybe in hindsight it was kind of ambitious to attempt to organize all the world’s webpages. Ah, the dreams of two bright-eyed Stanford students.

In his post, Trevin quoted something from Hacker News that I found very interesting: ““We are getting a Google-shaped web rather than a web-shaped Google.” I sat with this for a few days. Ultimately I don’t think we’re getting a Google shaped web or a web-shaped Google. I understand the concern, especially when Google is a massive part of discovering new content and a provider of big revenue. But the web is much larger than Google. The citizens that create on the web, outside of the SEO bubble, are very much their own people, inspired by anything and everything. Alternatively, a web-shaped Google – which I argue was their first attempt – was a bit unrealistic.

When I worked with a client who was an innocent casualty of an update, I used to get angry. I used to think Google was a bunch of jerks. Then, I got creative, and found ways to get the client back onto Google’s radar – usually to a larger traffic and brand-recognition increase. Plus, I started relying on some of the other valuable internet marketing tools and channels. Talk about silver linings.

But honestly no client I’ve ever had, who got hurt by a Google update, was a true victim.  Google always told us they wanted to rank the best, most useful content to their users. I’ve worked with some clients who got the traffic, but only because Google didn’t realize they weren’t the best. I’ve seen sub-par, homogenized content ranking well, and though, “meh – might as well ride it while Google is still dumb.”

Now looking back, if they got swept up in an update, it’s because they really weren’t doing more than the bare-bone basics – Google simply stepped up their game. These sites weren’t the originator of content, topics, and incredible ideas. They were just “running through the motions”.

Maybe it’s time to accept Google has graduated from grade-school.

Conclusion

In another post I wrote about lazy SEO. The more I think about it, I think old-school SEO is lazy SEO because it simply doesn’t move the needle enough to quantify hitching your wagon to. I truly think if you haven’t moved on by now, you’re only going to be playing catch-up in the next couple years.

So what do you think? Am I right? Or have a misguided myself?


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    Comments

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    1. Nicolette V. Beard
      May 27, 2014

      Bill,

      I am SO glad you wrote this article! I missed marketing too. I knew in 2009 that Google was rewarding relevant authoritative long copy. Why are these updates such a surprise? If Google has graduated from grade school, is it too much to hope that the entire Internet marketing world is growing up too?

      Keep preaching it!

      Nicolette

      Reply