Google SEO Guide: Simple as Black & White
Google Panda update impacts Google search results (2011+)
How to survive a Google Algorithm Change or Update
Each time a new Google update is rolled out, the moans and groans from webmasters, bloggers, and internet writers whose traffic seemingly fell off a cliff can be heard across internet forums.
Survivors chime in too, tentatively claiming victory, although accompanied with the uneasy feeling that maybe they only dodged the Google bullet this time.
Yet, these "unlucky" and "lucky" internet content providers often have this in common: they have no understanding of why the most recent Google update caused their site's search engine traffic to either sink or survive.
But ranking well in Google SERPs does not have to be a mystery.
In reality, Google SEO is as simple as black and white.
Google Penguin update impacts Google search results (2012)
Google Panda and Penguin
Website owners dependent on traffic via Google understand that a sudden loss in traffic may mean a sudden drop in income. During 2011 and 2012 this was the case as Google changed their search algorithm with the Panda and Penguin updates.
The over-arching goal of Google's search algorithm updates is to return higher quality sites to users. Yet, it seems as though Panda and Penguin have been unfairly blamed for the traffic loss that many websites have experienced.
Remember the old saying about blame: when pointing a finger, three are pointing back. Sure Google is setting its "rules" for who gets to play in its top-search-results playground, but the only thing that website publishers, bloggers, and writers can do is examine and change their own body of internet work.
Impact of Google Panda
How did Google's Panda update impact traffic to your site?
Impact of Google Penguin
How did Google's Penguin update impact traffic to your website
Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO
Perhaps the names of the most recent Google updates, Panda and Penguin, provide insight into Google's expectations for pages to rank high in its search engine results.
Think about it:
- Question - What do a panda and a penguin have in common?
- Answer - They are both black and white.
To those in-the-know about all things SEO, black and white are very meaningful terms, as in black hat SEO and white hat SEO. Whether or not Google is attempting to humorously pass this subliminal black and white message along through their update names really does not matter. What is important is understanding that each can have a major impact on search engine rank. Simply put, Google penalizes sites employing black hat techniques and rewards those using white hat SEO.
What is black hat SEO?
Black hat SEO involves exploiting a weakness in search engine algorithms in order to gain rank. Keyword-stuffing, web-spamming, link schemes, cloaking and doorway pages are just a few black hat techniques. According to Wendy Brown, web search guide for About.com, in Black Hat Search Engine Optimization, black hat SEO characteristically:
- Breaks search engine rules
- Creates a poor user experience
- Unethically presents information differently to search engine spiders and users
What is white hat SEO?
On the other hand, white hat SEO enhances the user's experience. According to Webopedia, the term white hat SEO refers to...
"...the usage of SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus on a human audience [as] opposed to search engines and completely follows search engine rules and policies."
Google Webmaster Guidelines
The good news is that the key to achieving good Google search engine rank is not a secret. In fact, Google publicizes it for anyone to read. Google Webmaster Guidelines is a must-read, providing a list of, and explanations for:
- Design and content guidelines
- Technical guidelines
- Quality guidelines
Google is very clear about their expectations, strongly stating that,
"Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit."
Watch Google's Maile Ohye discuss SEO in practical terms
Google shares SEO insights
User is King
The goal of the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm changes is to return higher quality sites to users - sites that provide a great user experience and meet their information needs.
It's often been said that "content is king" but perhaps the new mantra should be "user is king." Certainly creating essential, high-quality, and unique content is almost mandatory to achieve good rank and must not be overlooked; after all the user's information needs must be fulfilled.
But spend time reading Google Webmaster Guidelines and the official Google Webmaster Central Blog, and very quickly it becomes apparent that the user's experience is the heart and soul of Google's focus. Over and over the user's experience and usability of a site are touted.
Journalism students are often taught to know their audience. Likewise, web content providers should consider their audience, and determine what type of experience their audience expects; what would make their page far more compelling than the next one about the same subject?
Google engineer, Matt Cutts explains in his April 2012 post Another Step to Reward High-quality Sites on the Webmaster Central blog that,
"Good search engine optimization ... mean[s] ... thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media."
How to create compelling, creative sites with the user in mind
The best writers are the ones that can put themselves in their intended audience's shoes and provide the best web content and experience for that particular audience. But it is important to realize that content goes beyond the written word. Make no mistake about it, words can be compelling, especially when it is clear the author has first-hand knowledge, but the internet is not an old black and white static newspaper.
Be creative! Compelling content has to do with engaging your audience, keeping them on the page longer, maybe even causing them to share.
Example 2: Or suppose you turn to the internet to find a recipe for chocolate cake. Do you find the recipe that has a photo of the ingredients needed to bake the cake or the recipe that showcases the author's photo of a slice of the moist chocolate cake more engaging?
Example 1: Suppose you are a first-time mom who just can't figure out how to get her crying baby to burp. What would be more compelling... an article on how to burp a baby maybe with a stock photo of a baby and mom included, or an article on how to burp a baby with a video showing the technique? Perhaps you might even share the video with your mom's group.
Example 4: You are searching for fun birthday party ideas; you come across a website that is very slow to load and when it finally finishes is full of ads and clutter. You next visit a page with ten fun birthday party ideas, listed 1-10 with a pleasing amount of white space, photos, and a rapid load time. Which are you more likely to read and perhaps share?
Example 3: Perhaps you are trying to find a healthy way to make delicious homemade french fries. Is the recipe you find on the internet that is simply text, ingredients and instructions, more engaging, or the recipe that provides step-by-step photos, perhaps a video, nutrition facts, user ratings and comments?
Google SEO is all about the human audience
When the human audience is the focus of search engine optimization, both the website content provider and the user win. Content providers will be pleased to no longer have to try to stay on top of the latest black hat SEO trends, but rather focus their expertise into great content.
Users will be pleased to find authoritative, unique and compelling content that meets their information needs, highly-ranked and easy to find in Google results. Additionally, users will often find that the content is creative and engaging, and worth sharing. It's as simple as black and white.
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