Uncertainty is a fact of search marketing life: You have to live with constant updates and tweaks to the very formula your entire business relies upon. And that formula is based on one of the world’s best-kept business secrets: Google’s search engine algorithm.

But it’s also true that, in general, if you follow SEO best practices, those changes aren’t going to hurt you — they’re going to help you. And there remain a list of certainties that, combined with hard work, will get you solid search engine results.

What is Google Panda
Witness the latest chaos around Google’s newest algorithm change, sometimes called the farmer update since it’s thought to target content farms (large providers of mass, low-quality content). It’s more commonly referred to as Google Panda, which was Google’s own internal name for it, per Michael Mothner at Inc.com.

Exactly what changed is still sort of vague. “Google did not reveal anything markedly new concerning the factors that it likes to see in web pages,” Mothner writes.

Google itself said that the change so far affects only the U.S. but “noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries,” and is “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Catastrophe
Just as with earlier updates like Google Mayday and Google Caffeine, the point of Google Panda is to create a catastrophe for a certain segment of search engineers who cut corners (as with JC Penney’s recent SEO fiasco).

Jeremy Scott at ReelSEO.com rattles off the usual suspects, “thin content, poor ad-to-content ratio, content that was directly copied from another site, poorly written content, content that is generally not ‘useful’.”

This isn’t meant to sound harsh, and surely many quality sites were inadvertently impacted with this last Google upate, as with every other. But a lot more bad sites were punished, which is the purpose. And that’s the larger lesson.

Confirmation
For those who continue to focus on quality site content and marketing fundamentals, the update seems to have been largely a confirmation of all those ethics. Or, “what was suggested websites and the people that own them take seriously back in February 2010 has become a reality in February 2011,” as Jazzou.com’s Scott Moir puts it.

These fundamentals are, basically:

  • Focus on your niche.
  • Write clear, original content that actually informs your visitors. If you can’t, hire someone who can.
  • Work to get organic links, not mass packages of links, which give you a short-term boost at best.
  • Get into social media. Establish Twitter and Facebook identities and use them to network links to your.
  • Update, update, update. As often as you can.
  • Start thinking seriously about mobile.

This is all a lot of work, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. And if you’ve chosen the right niche, this “work” is a lot more like a labor of love than punching a timeclock. And that’s one thing about SEO that’s no secret at all.


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