It’s happened again, the New York Times (no link as I refuse to support this sort of grade-school tattling) has blown the lid off another big, monstrous paid link scandal. This time, it was the Mother’s Day Flowers cabal. Yes, those virginal flower companies have been naughty, stacking up paid links to stack up SERP position for one of their biggest runs of the season. So, as long as they’ve been called out, here’s the line up per the NYT: Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers.com, and ProFlowers.
But here’s the news flash: no one cares. Not Joe, not Jane, and definitely not anyone interested in flowers for their loved ones. Sorry. Them’s the facts. When you piece together Aaron Wall’s latest rendition on SEO Book, The Google Brand Bias, in conjunction with how JCP and Overstock have “recovered” from their “slap”.
The New York Times is Not Your Mother
First, I’m going to come out an say it. Stop “tattling” to the NYT. Seriously. It’s school-yard crap that needs to stop. The only thing that accomplishes is to give the whole industry a black eye. It’s paints us as unscrupulous, unethical turds. Once is forgiven, twice is a pattern.
If you have issues with something, just take it to Google or Bing. You know they’ll read it, and if they do nothing, then move on. What you don’t do is go crying to Big Media in attempt to force somebody’s hand. Keep doing that, and the GOOG will be likely to crush you all the next time for showing their ass in public (again).
The Brand Bias is Real
In combination with the Vince Update and the Domain Update [a.k.a. implicit site search], where big brands are getting multiple results at the top of the SERPs, (effectively doing ORM for big brands) it’s impossible for big brands not to get a better than fair shake. It’s always about brands, suggesting otherwise is naive.
That’s Why Joe and Jane Person Could Care Less
Brands are brands for a reason; they have consumer clout, they offer price break deals (in relative terms), and they advertise their asses off in other mediums: television, radio, print, web, etc. They achieve a saturation level at astronomical speeds. And so stuffing a single channel isn’t that much damage to a big brand. Sure they may take a revenue hit in the short-term, but other efforts even this out. That’s the “dirty little secret” no one wants to talk about.
So while a handful of Joe’s and Jane’s likely care as Danny Sullivan pointed out, it’s hard to imagine that these revelations startle anyone but marketplace we aim to provide our skill set and services to.
Showing Google’s Ass in Public: How’s That Working Out for You?
That’s all the tattles, the New York Times, and the Wall St. Journal served to do, drop Google’s pants in a very public way. And, all it made Google do is break out a temporary pimp-hand to show justice has been served. And, if you ask JCP or Overstock how they’re feeling today, they’ll probably say, “just fine thanks”. The numbers don’t lie:
Here’s how the numbers breakdown for each of them:
- Year over Year Gains (March 2010 – March 2011): +17% gain in unique visitors
- 1 Month Post NYT Scandal Article (Feb 2011 – March 2011): +6% gain in unique visitors
- Year over Year Gains (March 2010 – March 2011): -7% gain in unique visitors
- 1 Month Post WSJ Scandal Article (Feb 2011 – March 2011): -7% gain in unique visitors
So, clearly, Overstock got the worst of it, but a 7% decrease is small price to pay. The more interesting of the two is JCP. Not only did they get 17% lift over the year, but EVEN AFTER the “supposed” penalization, they still got a 6% lift. It’s quite clear that the “scandal” did absolutely nothing to effect JCP site traffic, in fact, one could argue for the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad press”. And with the help of AdWords and distributors, there was hardly a tremor felt. Furthermore, it speaks to the power of brand in the eyes of Google and consumers.
What Can We Learn From This?
A couple of things to be certain. First, exploit as many media channels as you can. My gut says that if Overstock were engaging in some other media channels, they could have lessened the meager 7% decrease and probably broke even or had even a slight increase in traffic. Second, Google provides these penalizations as nothing more than dog and pony shows of justice. Even after a public Google ass-showing from the New York Times, JcPenney was doing better. It tells us these “penalties” are nothing more than facades masquerading as “fair and balanced” play. It also tells us, the more renown your brand is, the bigger the facade.
So by all means, keep feeding Big Media these tales of sordidness. Just know that your efforts, as Aaron rightly points out, feed “sleazy pageview journalism”, and serve to puncture holes in industry.
It’s not that this question hasn’t been relevant, but Matt Cutts’ defense of Google’s Search Results brought content and copy to the forefront of the argument. That is to say, if you weren’t thinking about content and copy prior to the “content farm” bomb, you are now. Eric Ward made mention of it in his post at Adgooroo, and was so nonchalantly tucked in Matt’s post, it may have been overlooked by many:
To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments.
The gravity of the situation has changed. Based on the quick digging I’ve done, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea, wrote about the Google Patent on Web Spam, Doorway Pages, and Manipulative Articles back in 2007. It seems Matt might be hinting/referring to using these methods, as well as others, in their new “content farm” fighting methods. Definitely worth reading. Bill and David Harry are really the authority on patents, so they’ll have to set me straight if this is the right place to be looking.
The Problem for You
Admittedly, Matt’s description of hunting down content farms is most vaguely descriptive thing you’ll ever read. It’s says all the right things and provides none the real detail anyone who writes website copy for client sites wants to hear. And, now, the question remains: do I have to change my site content so I’m not classified as “spam”?
It’s a great question. Answer: probably not. Unless of course, your content is spam/spammy. And, let’s be honest, you know if your content is spam (i.e. a deluge of your “target” keyword littered throughout (a real, verifiable overuse), unnatural usage of your target keyword so it’s “stuffed” in there, and in general reads like shit, etc).
What if I’m Not a Writer?
If you’re not a writer, be one or find one. Sorry, there are no easier or simpler answers to that. Fact is, anyone can write and learn to write prose fluidly, structured, and well, but there’s a steep learning curve (let’s call it a lifetime of standard deviations). At some level, you have it in your blood or you don’t.
Writing is like SEO. It’s a blend of science and creativity. It’s back-end research and testing (reading a variety of authors and writing styles) and forging new ground by blending styles to create unique, fresh language and style. Writing for the web is no different, save the exception that the story you’re telling is about a product or service.
Who Do You Write for Now?
There was a post last week that suggest you write for search engines and not people. My general rule has always been that you write for people and not search engines. AJ Kohn, author of Blind Five Year Old, makes some really great points backed up by some big names (Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen); I’d encourage everyone to read that post.
Still, the argument remains: who do you write for? With enhanced, document-level spam-hunting getting underway, I’m hesitant to advise anyone to write for engines solely. I’m also not going advise anyone to write just for consumers/humans either. Neither extreme is helpful, and neither is likely to get you the results you want. It’s in the middle.
When you’re writing for people on the web, it’s about getting them large chunks of important information in sight-byte chunks. When you’re writing for engines, it’s about being keyword-obvious so the spiders know what you’re page is all about. And, the secret is finding a middle ground between those two poles. Making content rich and full without putting your instant-gratification users to sleep.
Simple Things to find the Middle Ground
If you’re an experienced SEO that’s written your fair share of site content/copy, then this is old hat for you. If not, then welcome to the middle ground.
- Break up your content with keyword-driven headings. Structure your content with appropriate use of [H] tags
- Use bulleted lists when you’ve got lists. Whether these lists are benefits or qualities or whatever, there’s nothing worse than reading a comma delineated list in paragraph form. NOTE: try use a bulleted list once. Nothing reads worse and looks worse than multiple bulleted lists slammed together
- Mix your pronouns and keywords in the content. If you never use your keyword(s) in the content don’t expect the engines to know what you’re writing about. And if you never use pronouns, nothing reads worse than: “XYZ is a an amazing product because XYZ can do it all. Countless customers have told of XYZ’s greatness, XYZ will make a believer of you too.” Really, you can substitute an “XYZ” for “it” every now then folks
The answer: you write for both. It’s not easy, but neither is good SEO’d content. Let the Google Web Spam team decide where you fit in. If you do it right, you CAN have both. I’ve done it. Countless other SEOs have done it too. You don’t have to bend the rules, break the rules, to rank. You just have to play the game better: work for long-lasting results, work for solid (from the inside/out) websites, and work to make your competitor’s websites look like amateurs.
Everyone said everything is dead. Again.
Steve “SEO is Dead” Rubel led it off only minutes after the official announcement. (And, no, he does not get link for it) From there we were subjected to various other types of “dead”: paid search, analytics, long-tail keywords, short-tail keywords, etc.
It’s the status quo with the SEM community; if it’s new and foreign from a way of doing things, then the immediate reaction from the community is: IT’S ALL DEAD, MAN! GOOGLE JUST KILLED IT ALL!
Those of us who know the score sat back and watched the house catch fire. People were screaming out for Matt Cutts to set the record straight on this (again, per usual).
So let’s set the record straight: it’s not dead. It won’t be dead. SEO will never die. If Google ever discounts site content and links, then, and only then, will SEO die. Since that isn’t happening, we’re all fine. Everyone ok on that? Great.
What Every Major Google Hub is Saying About Instant
Yes, that’s right, beyond Matt having to shush the SEO Chicken Little’s out there, Google’s 3 major hubs and Google itself put out official posts on how Google Instant will affect the resource.
This in No Way Kills SEO
Sorry. That’s the facts. If you step back for a moment, all GI (Google Instant) has really done is allow people to search faster and offer suggestions, or as The GOOG put it, “mind read”.
Fact #1: There was heavy personalization BEFORE this update
Yes, indeed. Google was helping you, and still is, by honing in your IP address and by search history. Not much has changed there.
Fact #2: Google Suggestions have been around as early as 2008
Again, nothing changed. Those suggestions that still appear below your query, Google helping you refine your thoughts before you hit enter, they’re still there. What has changed is that GOOG is tacking them in your actual query string now, guessing/mind-reading at what you might be looking for.
Fact #3: SERPs Are Still SERPs
Yes, I think the instant update also came attached with some algorithm tweaks. Anecdotal searches I’ve performed thus far tell they’ve tweaked some things; yes, I’ve seen upward and downward movement in my sites’ positions for business-centric keywords. That said, the SERP is still being constructed based on your site’s content, authority, relevance to the query at hand, and off-site SEO.
Why would GI want to mess with a good thing? This update just allows them to serve those SERPs faster.
What’s Going to be Different for SEOs?
A few things are going to change. Keyword research is a premium now. If you were lethargic and lazy about your keyword research prior to this update, you’re in for a real treat. It seems that the GI update, again only from anecdotal searches conducted thus far, that the long tail is much more of a priority and seems to be pushing users in that direction.
What that means? It means that a lot more users are going to be engaging in long-tail search terms. It means this update, is essentially teaching run-of-the-mill searchers how write better search queries to find their information. What I am not saying is that one and two-term keyword phrases are useless, I personally don’t think these will be as much of a traffic force in the coming months. Hence, if you’re an SEO, you better get your keyword data-sloshing boots on, cause’ it’s going to get thick.
The solid SEOs/SEMs out there are already doing this. The hacks will have to play catch up: actually have to consider the content they are putting on the page. Consider dropping in long-tail terms within pages, being strategic with content.
Keep Moving Forward.
Yes, I did. I stole this quote from Meet the Robinsons. The past is the past; let’s all take a moment to reflect on it. [Reflecting]
There. That was great. Now move forward. Google is always going to be innovating, for better or worse, well-thought out or not, and always for the next big payday. If our profession didn’t change, not many would stick around. We’re a dynamic bunch of people; we institute change for others, we strategize how to create dramatic change in conversions and profit online for clients, and change happens to us both professionally and personally.
Stop buying into this ridiculous rhetoric that “SEO is dead”, that the game is so radically different now. It’s not. Put your game face on, buckle down, and get to work.