Penguin, Panda, and now EMD updates from Google make SEO a moving target. Photo by jennchick.

Penguins look harmless…until they attack your search engine rankings.

Why SEO is a process, not an event.

The search engine optimization world is abuzz with news of Google’s latest algorithm update. The search giant tweaks the math behind its search results on a daily basis, but every so often the company makes an algorithm change so profound that thousands of previously ranked sites suddenly disappear from search results altogether. These big updates get code names like Panda (2011) and Penguin (2012).

Search results are Google’s “product.” And these algorithm updates are meant to improve the quality of the product. Google’s goal is to cleanse search results to eliminate scam sites, sites with scraped (stolen) content, and return the most relevant, high-quality queries to whatever keyword you’ve typed in. Unfortunately–for anyone who owns or manages a website–relevance is in the eye of the beholder. A site that Google found relevant yesterday–relevant enough to rank on Page 1 of search results, for example–may be “sandboxed” today and de-indexed altogether, if it runs afoul of today’s version of Google’s top-secret search algorithm.

The latest update, announced by Google’s Matt Cutts, targets websites that achieved a high search ranking with help from an “exact match domain” or EMD. What’s an EMD? Well, for example, if your website sold Penguin Chow, and you managed to snag the domain www.penguinchow.com, you have an exact match domain name. This used to be standard advice from Google–choose a domain name that included your top keywords. Suddenly being penalized this month for something that was an industry-standard practice last month has hit a lot of webmasters very hard indeed, as Google’s support forums attest.

Google claims that its latest update is meant to target domain owners that bought a high-value EMD and then populated the site with low-quality unrelated content in an attempt to “steal” organic search traffic. For example, if you bought “penguinchow.com” and Google’s web crawlers found that your site contained nothing but Adwords ads for “male enhancement” products, this latest EMD update was meant to shut you down and remove you from search results.

Unfortunately, like all Google algorithm updates, plenty of legitimate, high-quality sites that used to rank in the first couple of pages of search results are now nowhere to be found. The comment sections of SEO blogs are full of complaints like this one, from a contributor named Stephen Frost:

Likewise, I own a site where quality pages with word counts around 1500 to 2000 or more words, getting a large amount of natural FB ‘likes’, linked to a popular YouTube account with links back to the relevant pages and the videos embedded on said pages. Yet also the site has as far as I can tell disappeared from Google…I only use ethical SEO, on page etc, and have steered clear of black hat like the plague for numerous reasons. I will get the site up and running effectively again, it just kind of sucks for this to happen after months of work.

A commenter named Andrew Perez added,

This is crap.. Just what exactly does Google want from honest webmasters? What exactly do they consider low quality? My site was and EMD and was very informative with great content!! Now it’s gone! I can’t stand Google and their stupid updates. Their search results are getting crappier every year.. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before Bing becomes the new authority…

My SEO philosophy has always been to start with the content. Create high-quality content that is relevant to your top search terms, post it on a site that is technically clean and easy for search bots to access, and update the site frequently with more great content. High-quality content is more likely to be shared and linked to in a natural, non-spammy way. But that is not enough to guarantee a high organic search ranking. You still have to pay attention to Google’s latest algorithm updates and constantly-evolving SEO best practices.

As long as Google keeps updating its search algorithms, we webmasters will have to keep tweaking our SEO efforts to keep up. And that’s why SEO is not a one-time event. It’s a ongoing evolutionary process.

 

 

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