After almost two years of seemingly back-to-back ranking algorithm changes, Google has indeed altered the playing field for search engine optimization. Google actually overachieved their prediction that they would do more than 500 algorithm changes in 2012. In the aftermath of so many changes, the real question is, “Have they improved the search results in any noticeable way?”
Google’s Panda Updates and Penguin Updates continue to evolve. There will be many more Panda and Penguin updates, as well as smaller ranking algorithm changes such as the Exact Match Domain Update that dropped the natural ranking advantage for many sites when their domain name exactly matched a user’s search.
The following are the new best SEO practices for 2013 as I see them. A lot of sites that have traditionally ranked well may continue to do so. The real challenge is in trying to get a new site to rank well in an increasingly competitive environment.
A Web Site Needs to Be Focused
General topic sites have pretty much dropped out of Google search results. A site now needs a focused topic or overall industry theme. It is not a good idea add articles that are not directly related to your business focus. Keep a web site as narrowly focused on a single theme as you can.
Quality Content is Still King
Quality content does matter. I have always stressed the importance of having the best quality content that you can produce. Be the expert in your industry when you write articles or describe your products and services.
More-so than ever before, every page in a web site must contain absolutely unique content. Web sites can no longer get away with finding an good articles, altering some of the words and sentence order, and then publishing it. The chances are pretty good that Google’s new algorithms will determine that the article is not substantially different from the original article. When writing an article, my advice is to do your research, look for good articles that cover the topic you wish to write about, take some notes, put all of that aside and write your article from scratch. When finished, check the article with the tool on the Copyscape site to see if it is unique. If Copyscape returns any similar articles, the content is not unique enough.
Minimal Amount of Content
I’ve bumped up the minimum number of words for a page to 300. GoogleBot seems to be paying less attention to new web pages with less than 300 words. The word count range that I like to hit is 300 to 600 words. You can go over that if you wish, but try to always generate at least 300 words for each content page in a site.
Plan to Continue to Build Your Web Site
The larger the site, the more attention is is getting from Google. The old Google concept of creating a level playing field on the web where small sites have an equal chance for ranking as well as larger sites has been abandoned. A search for just about any product will likely yield many search results pages dominated by the mega sites and stores, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Office Depot and other large players. It has become increasingly difficult for a small site to compete in any industry dominated by large web sites. Local businesses have a better chance for ranking well as long as the site content is localized.
The content mass, or overall number of pages focused on a topic, does matter. Not only does the total number of pages matter, but the number of pages focused on each keyword phrase can have a significant effect on a site’s overall rank positions. When a site is built, it should be built with a plan to continue to add pages to expand the content mass. If a targeted search phrase is critical to your business, keep adding articles focused on that keyword theme. For many sites this can be accomplished through tutorials and how-to articles about a product or service. You do not have to get into nitty-gritty details that reveal your methodology or trade secrets. Articles can be written to show people what to do without revealing how to do it.
Be Very, Very Careful About Using Link Building Services
Google’s Penguin updates severely penalized sites that utilized “unnatural linking methods.” This is a manual penalty that can only be removed after spending extensive amounts of time finding and requesting removal of all of the crappy links set up by link builders, as well as through poor link building practices by site owners themselves. It also requires appealing to Google through a Reconsideration Request and the use of their Disavow Links Tool. This is not a simple process and Google forces a site owner to suffer through a lot of wasted time and effort before they will release a penalty.
Despite Google’s best efforts, search engine optimization is not dead. Weak SEO practices that previously yielded results may no longer do so because Google has radically altered the way it works. Google’s working environment has evolved. SEO best practices have also evolved.
Just like the quote from the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”