Google has recently updated its algorithm in a number of releases (called Panda and Penguin). These updates penalise ‘short-term’ SEO practices (such as keyword and phrase stuffing in articles) that focus only on search engine result positioning, often at the expense of the customer experience.
It now appears that search might be getting sophisticated enough that hoodwinking it is no longer a viable strategy. Instead those organisations that focus on understanding customer needs and deliver customer-centric features and functions will now benefit from the nirvana of first higher ranking and then higher conversions once customers get to their sites.
What Google’s algorithm updates mean
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.
These ‘webspam’ or ‘black hat’ techniques have not been specifically defined, but it looks like they include the following:
- Low-quality article marketing and blog spam
- Tactical keyword stuffing in internal/outbound links
- Aggressive ‘exact-match’ anchor text
- Overuse of ‘exact-match’ domains
What’s the replacement for tactical ‘black hat’ SEO? It’s no real surprise…
The alternative to all this ‘spamdexing‘ is providing appropriate customer-centric content and features and delivering a good service – basically focusing on the customer experience. It’s what we always knew would win in the end and it’s not really a replacement, it’s what enlightened organisations have always invested in. But now these organisations might benefit even more because they’ll rank higher in search results and therefore get even more well deserved traffic, which (because their sites are good) they will convert well.
How to achieve good rankings that the pandas and penguins like
Unsurprisingly, user-centred design practices can achieve rankings to please the pandas and penguins, but there are also some other considerations. You’ll need to:
- understand your customers – by researching their behaviours, goals and motivations rather than just demographics
- model your customers and their behaviour – using tools like personas, mental models, scenarios, journeys
- map content to customer needs – to deliver genuinely useful content and features that customers are searching for and use once they find them
- construct an appropriate content strategy – think about how your content can exist in wider context than just a page on your website, like blog posts and appropriate forums and social networks
- construct an appropriate social media strategy – this is increasingly important as traffic and search results are ever more driven by social media
- ensure your content is accessible – the good structure and interoperability that accessibility provides is natural fodder for search engine spiders and their ranking algorithms
- ensure it’s usable – it’s no good getting them there and engaging them if they can’t act on what they want – make it effective, efficient and satisfying
Conclusion: Is this the death of SEO?
Certainly not. There are many good SEO companies and talented SEO experts out there (indeed many that Bunnyfoot works with) who engage in ‘white hat’ optimisation and their involvement usually improves the user experience. Hopefully though this is the end of those who ruin our customer experience by producing vacuous content that tickles old computer algorithms, rather than the hearts of our customers.