How to Google-proof Your Website in Six Steps
Are you frightened of Pandas and Penguins? If your business and website was severely affected by Google's algorithm changes in 2012, you might be. I have talked to numerous clients who have lamented how much their traffic dwindled as a direct result of those changes. Many have told me how they're scared to do anything with their website for fear of future issues, and not a few have refused to ever speak to an "SEO Expert" again.
Fortunately, there are definitely steps that a business can take to not only improve their ranking within Google search, but also avoid potential issues with the next major algorithm change that Google will inevitably release.
1. Follow The Rules
Perhaps this goes without saying, but any attempt by a business to "outsmart" Google should be considered ridiculous. Do not do anything with your website that you even think, maybe, just might, be contrary to what Google wants you to do. A good rule of thumb for the average business owner might be, if you're thinking about Search Engines instead of Customers with whatever it is you're doing, do your homework first. There certainly are optimization techniques that can and should be implemented, that are perfectly acceptable. For that, you're going to want to talk to a reputable internet marketing agency (I will blog about how to identify a great SEO company another time).
If you're interested in learning for yourself, start by reading some of our Search Engine Optimization articles here, and then head over to SearchEngineLand.com, where Danny Sullivan has put together an amazing team of writers. SearchEngineWatch.com is another resource for information that I would recommend without question.
2. Do Not Buy Links
Some time ago, Google thought it would be a good idea to monitor how many times other websites chose to create a link to your website. These are called backlinks, and the rationale was that if a website was willing to link to you, they must like or support you in some way, so Google considered that a vote of confidence. The more links you had, the better your site must be, right?
But of course, like anything else, some people saw that as an opportunity to be exploited. Businesses sprang up overnight that offered websites hundreds and thousands of links. They might identify, for instance, discussion forum software in foreign countries like Russia where a simple script would allow the automated creation of hundreds of user profiles, all including some text and one or more links. For a few bucks, you could suddenly have thousands of links back to your site that Google would count and reward you for.
Well, obviously, when Google saw what was going on they put the kibosh on it. Whether you like Google or not, the fact is, most of what they do is designed to create a better set of search results for Google users. Google figured out how to eliminate websites that allowed those kinds of links, and thereby eliminate millions of links to other websites, which is why, literally overnight, many businesses plummeted in Google search results.
Strangely, there are still many businesses like that out there, so you need to be careful not to fall into this same trap. There are certainly some directories and submission processes that can be of great value, but business website owners would do well to remember the axiom, "If it looks to good to be true, it probably is." If an email or website offers you hundreds of backlinks and promises dramatic improvement in your Google ranking for a mere $19.95, pass.
3. No Duplicate Content
Like the last "rule", this is more of a guideline, really, since once I explain what I mean I'm going to proceed to give you a perfectly good instance of when this isn't true and you can use duplicate content.
Duplicate content is when you have the exact same text as another website. Whether you're using an article that someone else wrote, or trying to create a bunch of websites that all sell the same product, just using different domain names, it's the same problem. Google will eventually index all of those websites, word for word, and Google is smart enough to identify the same recurring patterns in text.
Now, go back to what I said a moment ago about how Google wants to create a better set of search results for Google users. Assuming that's true, if a Google user performs a search, and the first page is dominated by the same company, offering the same product, who just happens to have ten different websites, how is that good for the user? People want choices, and Google knows that. So, if Google finds a business operating that kind of scheme, the duplicate sites will not be listed, and the business risks getting ALL of its websites blacklisted.
I was speaking with a business owner the other day and most of our conversation revolved around him talking about how evil Google is. He literally said that: Google is evil. He then used this issue as his example, that a business can exploit the system to get ten listings on the first page of a search result using ten websites that are virtually the same.He's certainly welcome to his opinion, but in my view, it's not Google's fault that some people want to look for ways to exploit systems. Instead, Google should be praised for continuously working to improve their service (that's free to use) and to eliminate potential exploitive behavior.
So, when is it OK to use duplicate content? When you're curating content that you believe your readers and potential customers may be interested in. You're doing them a service by pulling in one or more articles, or a video or two, that they might not have otherwise seen. In order to curate effectively, and not be seen as simply copying other people's work, you still need to put some time and effort into the process. Your own thoughts and opinions need to be added to whatever you're curating. Why did you choose these articles? What did you want your readers to take from them? And of course, the original author and source needs to be given full credit.
4. Google+ Connectivity
Connecting your Google+ account is a critical step for any business owner that wants to be ranked well and considered a leader in their industry. If you haven't already set up a Google+ profile for yourself and your business, do that now. Once you have that set up, make sure that all new articles have your name and/or image linked to your Google+ account. Then, make sure that your Google+ account lists your blog within the contributor section of links.
Why bother? Because Google is championing the new Social SEO, where social signals are used to help determine search engine rankings for content. In theory, content that has more +1's and shares and comments might be considered more authoritative than similar content with less social attention. More importantly, Google is making a connection between content and its author. Search results now display an author's image and name, if Google knows it, and we know that Google is, or will soon be, ranking content based on the author. If you're someone who has produced a lot of content on a given subject, and Google knows that, you're more likely to be ranked higher for a search result on a similar topic.
The point here is that in the coming months, Google will be favoring content producers who have taken the time to create a Google+ account and connect it. If you don't want to find your website slipping in rankings again, you need to heed this advice immediately and seek help if you need it to get this step completed.
5. Create Great Content
Sites that try to rank really well within competitive search results who aren't creating great content are wasting their time and money. A good search engine marketing campaign should begin with a plan to regularly create great content. Why? Because that's what your site visitors want, so that's what Google wants you to do.
This goes back to one of my original points, about how your customers need to be your focus, not search engines. Write fantastic articles and interesting blog posts and compelling page copy so that your readers will be engaged, entertained and educated. Write posts that your readers can't wait to share and comment on. Share information that helps your readers understand their own issues better, and how you might address them. Create great content that helps you convert readers into customers. If you focus on that, search engine traffic will come naturally.
6. Use Keywords Naturally
Finally, I want to touch on the topic of keywords. Keywords are the phrases that you think other people might use in a search engine to find a business like yours. You need to incorporate those targeted phrases into your content so that the text can be indexed by search engines and rank your website accordingly.
That said, any effort to insert far more instances of a keyword than what you would normally say in a conversation is something to be avoided. First, as I just explained, the focus of your content needs to be on your customers, not search engines. Second, when you start looking for every conceivable instance to use a keyword, it's far more likely that you're going to cross a line and do something that, eventually, Google will take note of and include in a future algorithm change.
One technique you can use is to read your page out loud. If you're creating a landing page or an article that talks about a topic, a topic that you want to target in search engines, that's great. Once you're done writing, read it out loud. Did you find yourself repeating the same phrase over and over again? Did every other sentence start with your keyword? If so, than you need to go back and make some changes. Use variations of your keyword and other similar words. This will help your writing sound more natural, and it ail also have the added benefit of helping your ranking in those other words as well.
Content Marketing is about using great content to attract and engage readers through search engines and email and social media. If you establish and follow a plan for strategic content creation, and give consideration to a few basic SEO techniques, you'll be on your way to building a phenomenal website that brings in a steady flow of readers and sales leads. If you'd like to learn more about content marketing and avoiding future issues with Google, please subscribe to our newsletter.
By Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner
Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner, Blogger and Author in St. Louis, and the Chief Marketing Officer at SiteSell. He has been working with websites and the Internet since the early '90's, and is active on all of the major social networks. Mike teaches a holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blog content, social media and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales.
Mike is the author of, "The Unofficial Book On HootSuite: The #1 Tool for Social Media Management", "The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.", and "Blog Promotionology, The Art & Science of Blog Promotion."