Google’s ostensible goal is to create the best corollary to how users browse the web. Without impediment, this would allow Google to eventually provide near-perfect information to the user. Whether by commission or naiveté, the SERPs are not free of the static noise that is SPAM. As such, any methods Google perceives as disruptive to this goal will eventually be devalued or penalized, in an effort to clean up the results.

Traditional SEO has become a balancing act of effectively responding to increasingly aggressive updates from Google. Agile response to these updates is crucial, as many techniques are still effective, even if they don’t necessarily gel with Google’s mission statement. This agility must be tempered with acceptance of Google’s process, and embracing of more “bulletproof” methods.

The more natural the method, the higher its inherit power. The more control over a method a webmaster has, the more potential it has for exploitation. Onsite optimization is a far weaker signal than a citation. Citations imply the relevance of the site to others to the engine, whereas optimization ensures proper indexation, and definition of site hierarchy and content. Optimization is still important, but implies a more technical perspective in attempting to garner traffic, through manipulation of rank.

Power vs Control

(Fruit Punch)

Humanization will be the new optimization. Content must be crafted for people, not regurgitated banal brochure copy crammed with alchemically-devised mixtures of anchor text and keyword densities. “Linkbuilding” is dwindling in deference to inbound marketing, relationship building, and outreach to like-minded individuals. Social interaction isn’t icing on the cake anymore, it is a necessary avenue from which sites must garner traffic.

Decline of Optimzation, Rise of Humanization.

(Blueberry / Cherry)

Content Strategy vs. Page Optimization

Onsite work has always been divided into two camps, content and speed. Speed is purely technical, and will always remain a constant. This is not to say that new technical standards may not benefit the way in which sites are indexed, cataloged, or presented, but it is a scientifically objective avenue.

Speed is always a positive thing in terms of user experience. Content, a purely subjective concept, is open to interpretation by the individual user. It used to be the case that content could be approached almost like speed, in that you could “optimize” by hitting certain keyword densities and ensuring that self-constructed satellite properties were also using the same key terms. That is not the case anymore.

While a certain amount of attention needs to be paid to meta data, headings, and content in terms of attempting to gain ranking for particular keywords, it is only establishing a definition of your pages content for the SERPs. Content needs to provide something other than repeated keywords.

Google scrutinizes duplicate, thin, or “overoptimized content”. Content should be natural, unique, and of an appropriate length for its purpose. If content is on a page purely for SEO, the existence of that page should be questioned.Guess the Smell!

(Guess The Smell! Answers at the End of the Post!)

All of the items above add value to a site’s content, beyond simple information. Some are harder to implement than others, but the return is much higher. Often, content can be generated by the user given the correct platform.

• Any informational site can craft evergreen content. Create tutorials for how to use your product, craft case studies for on-site contractor work, show people the value of your product over another.

• Gamification has become increasingly popular. Sites offer onsite rewards, certifications, or levels of achievement that may, or may not, have any bearing on the outside world, but inspire the user to continually engage the site.

• Often users are attracted to the opinion of others on current events, politics, or whether Star Wars is going to become a Jar-Jar fest with Disney at the helm. People crave interaction online. Sometimes even just a strong, opinionated, personality can draw people.

• Staying on top of news, regardless of topic, can pull users in. If you’re the first to report on certain topics, especially in niche spheres, it can by a massive boost to your perceived authority, garnering interaction and citation.

• I admit, humor could have fit in with other sections, but very few things bring as much repeat traffic. If you can get on someone’s funny bone, you’ve got a repeat visitor for life. Just don’t let them down.

• User generated content is a powerful thing that can quickly grow out of control, in good and bad ways. Many of the most popular sites on the net are fueled purely by user generated content. Consistent curation and censorship is necessary, but the returns can be limitless.

• Rich media powerfully augments any standard content. Video especially can aid in explanation, entertainment, or humanization of a conversation. With the constant decrease in cost and increase in quality of video equipment, it is becoming increasingly easy to create professional rich media.

• Social interaction does not have to be relegated to offsite resources, start discussions on your site. Bring on guests to spark continual interests. Host offsite events. Introduce users to other users. A constantly growing community is one of the most powerful tools a site can yield.

So now you’ve got powerful, engaging content. How do you get people to see it?

Inbound Marketing vs. External Linkbuilding

Linkbuilding has been one of the most abused areas of SEO for a very long time. Often, inbound linking resources were constructed with low quality, duplicate, or non-existent content. Because anchor text matched, they would still imply relevance to Google. Legitimate properties have existed for just as long, but were easily outmatched by overzealous submission to article directories, social bookmarking sites, and other artificially malleable sources.

Since the last wave of Google updates, included the dreaded Penguin, these practices have been largely devalued, leaving many sites with the proverbial rug pulled out from under them. Additionally, when sensing significantly artificial link velocity, Google penalizes sites, crippling their ranking power for the offending anchor text.

It Smells Like Sadness!

(Scratch Penguin’s belly! It smells like sadness!)

So how does one imply relevance without bulk loading one’s diet with artificial domains? Content crafting shifted from emphasizing optimization to humanization, and linking follows in lock-step. While attractive quality content that fulfills a consumer need can be all you need to garner an impressive link portfolio, it is not only avenue.

Social Integration vs. Community Leadership

Pure organics should be supported by effort-driven social engagement. Every site has the potential to become part of a community, industry or otherwise. Local meetups, charities, or other personal interest groups can connect people in ways business relationships can’t.

Social interaction used to be the icing on the cake, a sidecar to powerful SERP rankings. It has become increasingly important, with the decreasing effectiveness of artificial SERP posturing, to develop a decent social profile. The more a profile interacts, and adds to the universal conversation, the more it infers authority to the rest of your sphere.

There are two important aspects to any social campaign. Cognizance of social discussions, trends, news, and events is paramount. This shows that you are a true player upon the social stage. Tempering this is consistency of message, voice, and brand. This inspires user trust in the stability of your brand, as well as allowing them to adopt your site into their social routine. Basing social actions on these two avenues helps grow your authority.

Social Action Grows Social Authority

(Maple Bacon)

Once established as social player, a few things will happen:
• You will likely garner more organic links to your properties, as people discuss your interactions.

• You can help lead the industry discussion, often to your benefit

• You may be asked on other properties to weigh in on industry topics

• Industry players may be willing to appear on your properties, weighing in on industry topics

Tracking Success in a Post-Penguin, Post-Panda World

Since its inception, the SEO industry has been hung up on ranking and SERP traffic. While organic traffic will always be important, and a reflection of ranking performance, one must not discount other metrics. First, just because the SERPs are sending traffic through the site does not mean that traffic is converting. Social traffic may have higher conversion potential, even if it is volumetrically weaker. Once relationships with other sites are established, direct channels from those referrers may also garner a significantly higher conversion percentage.

To compound the issue, in most cases a conversion is a monetary transaction, but this is not always the scenario.

• Information Gathering – A conversion may be a contact form, lead capture, or crowdsourcing.

• Content Generation – An upload of user generated material

• Social Interaction – The goal of the site may be to generate online or offline event participation

• Internal Operations – It may be a recruiting tool for company careers, or an education tool for current employees.

Because of the wide gamut of possibilities, it is imperative to properly quantify your site and what conversion is.

Humanization is the Future, Welcome to the Atomic Age of SEO

Old vs. New Linkbuilding

(If you print out the large version (pdf | png), please be kind enough to scent the right side with a zest of lime, and the left with raspberry.)

What makes the internet so powerful is its ability to bring people together, regardless of location. The shift from optimization to humanization is occurring, ushering in a new age for SEO and the internet. Unique and effective content, outreach, and community engagement will all become integral in the success of any campaign.

Feel Free To Embed Our Atomic Infographic!

(Lime, Banana, Blue Raspberry, Cherry, Grape, Lemon-Lime, Orange, Shame)

It’s impossible to read the latest news in our industry without noticing the tone of immediate concern that so many others have. Ever since the more recent Panda updates started taking a significant toll on SERPs linked with popular trending keywords, everyone has been pointing at Google and blaming the company for the increasingly poor performance of their websites. Add to this the shakeup with Penguin and company’s ongoing silence regarding its algorithm and it’s easy to see why so many well-known voices in the SEO community are up in arms.

When the Penguin update first hit a few months back, Google was quite forward with the reasons for why we saw the rankings drop. Citing duplicate content and heavy anchor text usage as prime elements of sites that were trying to game the system, the company came under fire by many webmasters who themselves were using these disingenuous tactics. It also certainly didn’t help that the initial version of the algorithm hit several well-to-do sites and messed up their rankings for a brief stint as well. Nearly everyone in our industry was up in arms and panic was rampant.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Months after the most significant updates, thousands of link-farming directories and sites fraught with black hat SEO tactics have finally been dropped from Google’s SERPs. While not every exploitative page has disappeared from the page one results, most keyword searches now return results that have achieved their position due to smart design and ethical SEM campaigning.

Tried and True Tactics with the Best Impact

At the end of the day, it’s those SEO companies that have used and continue to rely upon transparent marketing techniques and natural linkbuilding practices that have fared the best since the Google’s updates began rolling out in full force. Google-friendly site optimization, social media campaigning, and original and interesting content generation are all methods through which the most notable online marketers are getting their clients onto the top of the SERPs these days.

Although search engine users continue to see mainstay sites like Wikipedia appear in the top 5 spots of their queries, many non-brand specific search terms have now become easier to lock down as trending keywords for clients’ brand. And, surprisingly enough, it’s Google’s Panda and Penguin updates that we have to thank for these SEO opportunities. While the constant search algorithm revisions certainly have made all our lives a little more complicated, these new challenges are being made in the name of better content for users. And that’s something we can all get behind.

Link building strategies have come a long way since the early days of SEO and search algorithm updates such as Google’s Panda and Penguin have made the process even more complex.  Formerly, link profiles existed merely to bolster the authority of pages within the SERPs.  However, the quality of those backlinks was not deemed to be nearly as important as quantity.  As the search engines have improved their functionality, quality and relevance have become crucial and certain link building strategies have been rendered obsolete.

Many webmasters find the task of building high-quality links to be particularly challenging and some may even wonder if there is still value in link building processes post-Penguin.  Does a strong link profile still matter to online businesses?  Yes.  In fact, it may be more important than ever before.

Why Links Still Work
Although Google, Bing and other search engines now consider quality to be paramount, quantity still plays a part in determining organic rankings.  Link building isn’t dead, it’s just different.  Paid links that were once effective for gaining authority are now penalized and backlinks from reputable sites have become even more valuable.

An Optimized Profile
P.R. initiatives, guest blogging and social media are proving to be effective ways for business owners and webmasters to gain high-quality, authoritative backlinks.  Additionally, these strategies also enhance overall brand awareness and visibility outside the SERPs.

The future of link building looks to be very secure.  It always has been and likely, always will be, a key component in SEO and digital marketing.  However, online businesses must be prepared to forge a new kind of link profile with quality at its core in order to retain their presence in the organic search rankings from here on out.

What are your thoughts on link building on the post-Penguin Web?  Drop me a line at brymshaw@webimax.com or follow me on Twitter: @brwebimax.

MOUNT LAUREL, NJ– (MAY 7, 2012)– Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, a leading search engine optimization firm, announced today that the company launched PenguinWatch.com, a Google search engine update resource center.

Google launched a major update to their search engine algorithm, titled the Penguin update on April 24th.  The Penguin update targets websites and businesses that Google has identified as over-optimized and penalizes them for trying to trick their search algorithm and increase rankings.  This update is predicted to impact 3% of all search queries.

“While 3% may not sound like a lot, the reality is that represents over 365,000 websites including those of small- to medium-sized businesses and even Fortune 100 companies,” states Wisnefski.  “WebiMax launched PenguinWatch as a full-scale resource center offering free website analysis, strategic recommendations, tips, news and updates.”

Google officially announced the Penguin update is one of over 500 annual updates to their search algorithm, however the problem is the amount of sites that were wrongfully flagged.  Last year when the company released their Panda Update, over 40% of websites were wrongfully penalized.

“Google’s recent efforts to reshape its results listings have come under fire within the SEO and webmaster community,” states Todd Bailey, Vice President of Marketing and Digital Strategy for WebiMax.  “This effort has been viewed as a harsh update with underlying intent under the protection of the company’s standard mantra of clearing out web-spam and providing better results for the user.”

Last year when Google released the Panda update, major U.S. based retailer J.C. Penney was penalized for spam because their SEO firm was using black-hat optimization tactics to inflate their search rankings.  An official spokesperson from J.C. Penney revealed that they quickly fired their search marketing company and worked to remove the ill-advised paid links that were in violation of Google’s SEO guidelines.  After 90 days, the ban was lifted and J.C. Penney returned to normal rankings.

“The Penguin update is an industry game-changer,” discusses Chris Countey, Director of SEO Strategy at WebiMax.  “Link schemes, keyword stuffing and automated SEO tools have always been frowned upon by the SEO community, but now they are dangerous, too.  Companies who have not yet realized that real inbound marketing is the only sustainable way of improving traffic and conversions are likely to be impacted by Penguin. This could potentially destroy businesses that do not change how they market online and it’s apparent the effects are already being felt,” concludes Countey.

While the update is expected to impact 3% of search queries, Todd Bailey states webmasters already know who they are.

“Nearly 2 days after the Penguin update was rolled out, WebiMax received a ton of calls from prospective clients asking for help,” states Bailey.  “Given that, we decided to have our internal team of developers and senior SEO strategists create PenguinWatch to serve as a reliable platform to provide complete website analyses and deliver additional resources so webmasters can hedge against a detrimental change to their search rankings,” concludes Bailey.