Fighting your way into the top Google search results isn’t easy. While SEO strategists try to find the path of least resistance to high rankings, this is exactly the kind of behavior that Google is trying to discourage.
Search engines intentionally make it difficult to haul your website to the first page of results. This makes our job as SEO professionals even harder, but it satisfies Google’s mission statement in delivering high-quality, relevant content to its users.
The first page of results is reserved for premium quality content. By premium quality, I am referring to top-dollar sites with information that is nearly guaranteed to match the user’s search query. Here you’ll find nationally recognized brands, big-name domains like Wikipedia, and industry-leading organizations. If it were easy to overtake these sites, then Google users would find a mess of cluttered information.
Of course, you may not be competing on a national level. Instead you may be trying to rank for more localized search results. Instead of trying to get traffic for keyword phrases like “clothing stores,” your efforts may better be spent on “clothing stores in Atlanta.” Just remember, there is still going to be immense competition in the local market and old-fashioned link building simply won’t provide a big enough payoff.
Because of recent updates to Google’s search algorithm, it is even more difficult to artificially manipulate your website’s search performance. A host of alliterative Google updates include:
Panda: Updated nearly 30 times since February 2011, this addition (now Panda 4.1) identifies “low quality content,” affecting a huge number of search queries. This update apparently gives small and medium sites the chance to rank higher if they generate highly useful content or information.
Penguin: Launched in 2012 and updated as recently as December 2014, this is known as the “Webspam Update.” This addition to the algorithm filters out sites that use paid links, keyword stuffing, link exchanging, and low-quality directories.
Pigeon: Launched in July 2014, this update revamps how Google handles local search queries. It uses “interpretive search signals” to help users find content or businesses relevant to their search query.
Phantom: The biggest and baddest update of 2015 – little information is still known about Phantom and how it works. At its core, this update is meant to factor out websites that spoil the user experience by identifying “quality indicators.” Poor design, self-starting video advertisements, user-generated content, and duplicate information are seen as detrimental to the user experience and will therefore cause a hit in the rankings.
So what does all of this mean? Why is Google continually changing how we find things on the Internet? In really boils down to one word: quality. If you want to rank, you need to offer content that is helpful to humans, not Google’s search algorithm.
A History of Link Building
For years, link building was a major crux of SEO and one of the easiest ways to boost a site’s ranking. One of the ways Google measures the importance of a webpage is by assessing the online associations it has. Until major updates like Panda, it was difficult for Google’s search algorithm to tell if these links were coming from relevant, high-quality sources.
This meant that gaining links was as easy as slapping your site’s URL onto as many web pages as possible. Directories (and lots of them) were paramount in getting the inbound links you needed. No worries if your client was a local hardware store – you could get links on fashion blogs, electronics directories, or even the comments section of a news article. For a long time, it didn’t matter where links came from; you just knew that more was better.
The result of unfettered link building was somewhat disastrous. Google’s users wouldn’t find the information they needed and sites with thousands of low-quality links thrived. As a result, Google began advancing its search algorithm to take relevancy and quality of inbound links into account.
While the SEO community laments the good ol’ days of easy link building, the new era of Google search results is undoubtedly better for the user experience. Yes, link building has gotten significantly harder, but this is actually a good thing if you look at the big picture.
Now, Transitioning to Link Earning...
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