According to a Forrester Research report released last month on how consumers found websites in 2012, potential buyers of your products and services are far more likely to find you online as a result of a “natural, organic” search than they are social networks, links from other sites or even pay-per-click. But understanding your customers’ website discovery behaviors isn’t even half the battle, especially given Google’s continuing efforts to refine users’ search results as much as possible over the last few years.
As the most powerful and popular search engine in the world, Google continues to write the playbook where website rankings are concerned. Not too long ago, all that it took for many businesses’ websites to fall into formation and pop up on those coveted first few pages was a whole lot of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)-friendly keywords, just enough so that Google’s web crawlers would take notice.
Well, those days are quickly coming to an end. In fact, they’ve been numbered since 2011.
That’s when, in an effort to root out low-quality websites and squash those that were created for the sole purpose of “gaming the system,” Google began introducing a number of new algorithms designed to level the playing field. But don’t let their cute and cuddly names, like Panda and Penguin, fool you. These new algorithms have teeth and are taking a bite out of the rankings of many businesses’ websites, especially those that haven’t always operated on the up and up.
Today, websites that once relied on questionable SEO practices—such as keyword stuffing, linking schemes, article spinning and the over optimization of content, among others—to ensure a high Google ranking are experiencing firsthand the old adage that what goes up must come down. Bad news for them.
On the flip side, businesses with authentic websites that are helpful and informative are finally seeing all their hard and honest work pay off, and their rankings are climbing in many cases, and that’s good news.
So what does all of this mean to you as a business opportunity, franchise, licensee opportunity, distributorship or other small business owner? It’s simple really. If you have a website and want to be credible and remain visible online, if you want your potential customers to find you more readily, then quality is everything. In fact, it means more than ever before.
Okay, that’s great, but what exactly constitutes "quality" by Google’s standards?
Here are some simple guidelines they say you should keep in mind:
1. Design pages with helpful, informative and ORIGINAL content that your users want and need, as opposed to catering to the search engines
2. Don’t deceive your users…keep it real!
3. Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number, and check for broken links on a regular basis
4. Avoid tricks and techniques designed to improve search engine rankings, including:
• Automatically generated content—content that’s been generated programmatically using paragraphs of nonsensical random text, but which may contain search keywords
• Participating in link schemes—any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, including any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site
• Cloaking—refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines than what is reasonably expected
• Sneaky redirects—sending a visitor to a different URL than the one they initially requested with the intent to deceive and show the user a different page than a search engine crawler sees
• Hidden text or links
• Doorway pages—typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase
• Scraped content—using content taken (“scraped”) from other, more reputable sites on the assumption that increasing the volume of pages on your site is a good long-term strategy regardless of the relevance or uniqueness of that content
• Affiliate programs that don’t add sufficient unique content
• Overuse of irrelevant keywords—"keyword stuffing" refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results
• Creating pages with malicious intent—distributing content or software on any website that behaves in a way other than what a user expected
• Abusing rich snippets markup—rich snippets are designed to summarize the content of a page in a way that makes it even easier for users to understand what the page is about in the search results, so the information needs to be helpful and not about overkill
• Sending automated queries to Google
5. Monitor your site for hacking and remove hacked content as soon as possible
6. Prevent and remove user-generated spam on your site
And what if your current website doesn’t meet these standards? Google invites you to modify it so that it does and then submit it for reconsideration at http://www.google.com/submityourcontent.
For more in-depth information on what does or does not constitute a high-quality website worthy of a decent search engine ranking, we invite you to explore Google’s Webmaster Guidelines even further now!