SEO round-up: Link building, Penguin, Matt Cutts, Authorship

For about the last month and half, the SEO world has been abuzz with news of impending algorithm updates; post-mortems of the big Penguin 2.0 update and regular commentary and ‘warnings’ from Matt Cutts, the public face of Google at least as far as SEO is concerned. With SEO being such an important component of companies’ online marketing, it is prudent for digital marketers to take stock and evaluate the implications of recent developments and predictions.

SEO misconceptions/ mistakes
First and foremost, Matt Cutts released a video last month that talked about the most common misconceptions/ myths/mistakes that SEO professionals make. One of them was how webmasters often mistake data refreshes with algorithm updates. However, I felt the two other points he mentions are worth greater discussion.

Algorithm updates are a tactic to boost advertising revenues
Cutts says that SEO professionals have this mistaken notion that the various algorithm updates are undertaken by Google to boost their revenues. He argues that Google’s approach has always been to improve the quality of search results so that searchers will search more which will in turn result in greater revenues. The “searchers will search more” argument is something I find a bit hard to digest. Search is need-based; a user searches because he wants to find relevant information and move on. I hardly know of anyone who searches more because the quality of search results was good– we aren’t talking of enjoyable pass times or hobbies, are we? Granted that Google wants to show better results than the competition to retain its leadership in search, but Google’s response to questions on search quality seldom point to the competition and almost always point to the “users searching more” logic.

Besides, there are a couple of other reasons why SEO marketers question Google’s intentions:
a) the timing of the big algorithm updates that have caused great upheavals in recent times: From the global roll-out of Panda (April 2011) to the two big Penguin updates, these algorithm updates have happened in the 2nd quarter of the financial years 2011, 2012 and 2013. Does Google’s search quality team peak in Q2? Is it mere coincidence that the months of April and May seem particularly suitable for major updates? Or is there a lot more to it? (in the past, major updates used to happen in the peak online shopping period of Oct-Dec).

b) the continuing presence of spammy or thin-content websites in search results: Search and you shall find spammy sites! Following an algorithm update, if the search results indeed threw up excellent sites that one can gauge from the content and user friendliness to be genuine/authentic sites, then there would be considerably fewer conspiracy theories and insinuations on Google’s intentions.

SEOs thinking too much about link building and search engines
True, Mr.Cutts. Companies and webmasters relying on organic search engine traffic obviously have to understand what will help them maximise SEO traffic. It is only natural for marketers to try and understand the medium that they are using for their marketing and how best to use that medium for their benefit. It sounds very well to say that webmasters should focus on building great content and usefulness to users and you will reap the rewards from Google. I wish such kind of convergence of objectives does happen, but the reality is that we are far from it as innumerable sites at the top of search results show. Moreover, as long as you continue to harp on the benefits and risks of passing ‘PageRank’, I believe webmasters will continue to think a lot about links and what links will make a difference to help them surge forward.

Attention on paid content/ advertorial-type content
Several reports in popular search engine-focused websites and blogs as well as blog posts from Matt Cutts and Google talk about Google coming down heavily on paid-content/ advertorial-type content. Here again, the definition of paid-content seems to revolve around content that might pass PageRank ie. link through to the destination page. The truth is, paid-content comes in several forms and does not have to be tied to a link. How does the recent warnings on paid-content play out particularly considering the growing thinking that there will be a lot less reliance on keywords and links but more on recognition of “entities” and “their associations”? There does seem to be some contradictions in what Google is claiming to be doing. Online marketers, particularly for companies in the B2B space or B2B publishers, will need to understand the implications of this in greater detail as these are companies that spend a lot of their digital marketing budgets in creating and distributing content such as white papers, case studies, etc. that get them exposure at a price!

Growth of the authorship tag as a SEO ranking factor
The rationale for this is sound– the “known” web will get greater visibility and priority than the ‘anonymous’ web. However, I feel its universal applicability across different types of websites and businesses will not only be a challenge but also seem quite impractical. One barrier to that, among several others, is the likely resistance to mixing ‘personal/ private personas’ with an individual’s ‘business/commercial persona’. The skeptic in me also questions whether the repeated calls and statements regarding the greater importance of authorship tags as a SEO ranking factor is just one more way for Google to promote its Google+ social network and increase its adoption?

- By Manoj Aravindakshan
Manoj Aravindakshan is a Singapore-based online marketing consultant and Managing Director of On Target Marketing Solutions, the Mumbai digital marketing company with significant focus on its SEO service. Connect with him on LinkedIn / follow him on Google+. An avid cricket buff with a nose for satire/sarcasm, he shares his personal musings here.

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