A lot has been happening over at Google lately. Last month we saw a substantial algorithm change, probably the biggest one since the “florida” update of 2003. And again this week we are seeing even more shifts. Fortunately, Pole Position Web has been ahead of curve on the algorithm changes. Several months ago all of our clients sites underwent a substantial optimization review based on the changes we, and a few others in the industry, had suspected were coming.
This first change earlier this year was primarily about the on-page content. Search engine technology is getting smarter and they are learning to detect pages that are being “optimized” for keywords. Essentially, the search algorithms are looking at natural language text and usage of additional related words that should accompany the targeted keywords. Optimization is no longer about keyword density or the number of times your keyword falls on the page. Its about building and organizing page content to be utilized in proper context with the targeted keyword phrases. That’s important so I’ll repeat it: Optimization is about building and organizing page content to be utilized in proper context with the targeted keyword phrases. Got that? Good.
Many SEOs are still looking at keyword density as the primary on-page optimization factor. That is so 2004!
Does this mean that you just need to hire a good writer–no more need for an SEO? By no means. In fact, the content is so important that you need both a writer and an SEO working together. The best SEOs will have a professional writer on the payroll, and I certainly would not consider hiring an SEO that doesn’t. But the actual writing is only half the battle. SEOs (should) have intimate knowledge of the search engines and how the algorithms function. Writers generally have to be guided by the SEO to ensure the page is properly optimized for top rankings for the targeted phrases. Notice here I say writers should be ‘guided’, not ‘directed’ by the SEO. When in conflict on word usage, natural language trumps. But the SEO should know that already.
The second and most recent change is still subject to speculation (as are all algorithm changes, sometimes for months or years after the fact) and seems to be about the linking methods employed. Linking, the primary off-the-page factor in optimization has been subject to a considerable amount of spam. Before Google, spam consisted mostly of keyword stuffing and doorway pages. Today’s spam is link spamming. Google seems to have tightened the reins on what they consider a true and valid link.
Deciphering this can be quite difficult. What is a good link? What is a bad link? As link spamming became more and more common, Google and other engines looked for better ways to value a link. It used to be that any link was a good link, didn’t matter the source. Then it evolved into seeking out high PR links (links from high PageRank sites and pages). A good link today is a link from a site that is considered relevant to you. Linking sites that are not related by industry or common value to the user may still work, but the time on that is running short.
Based on our recent experience working with new sites, I think link aging is now a factor in the Google algorithm. By looking at how long a link has been in place a search engine can assign weight and relevance based on time. A new link has little or no value. A link that has been in place for several months has more value, and a link that has been in place for a year may have the most value (or no value, depending on when the page the link is on was last updated!) How link aging is actually playing out (if it is at all) is and will continue to be something of a mystery. Its one of those factors that is extremely difficult to assess its true nature.
What does link aging accomplish? It fights link spam. Many link spammers try to achieve top rankings for their sites by getting hundreds, if not thousands, of links for a site virtually overnight, or by purchasing “ads” on high PR sites for the purpose of getting the link value, where the ad itself is of little or no consideration. These are methods used simply to make a site be considered “important” in the eyes of the search engine. Link aging essentially makes these linking methods less valuable and less cost effective. Mass link purchasing is less attractive if the link must stay in place for months before any value can be attributed. That can cost a pretty penny!
All in all, this equals a pretty sizeable shakeup in the search industry. Many “expert” SEOs are finding that they don’t have the knowledge or experience to keep up with the new changes or find ways to make their client’s sites rank well. Even more experienced SEOs are finding that many sites can take six months or more just to see any kind of ranking improvement. This will make it even more difficult to differentiate from those who can improve your rankings and those only say they can. My recommendation: get a list of references from the SEO and check their results. If they can’t demonstrate enough current top rankings for fairly competitive keywords, you might want to keep looking.