Apr 25, 2012

Google Webspam Update Means Opportunities for Great Content

Google has started rolling out some of the algorithmic changes geared toward reducing the amount of webspam encountered by internet searchers.  Though this algo change will only affect about 3% of searches, and though the vast majority of press releases submitted to PR Newswire do not run afoul of the rules, there are still some key take-aways for PR from this change in search.

In a nutshell, what this means to the content creators and press release writers out there is that there is one set of rules for developing content. Worrying about keyword density and exact match anchor text links and packing page metadata with keyword have gone by the wayside into the dustbin of SEO history.  Instead, Google is advocating an approach that is heavily focused on providing value to your audience.  Google offers a succinct view on their Inside Search blog today (Another Step to Reward High Quality Sites):

“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.”

Professional communicators should be rubbing their hands in absolute glee. This is awesome news for the content creators amongst us, and the guidelines for success in search engines should look pretty familiar:

  • Listen to your audience. Know what’s on their minds and what challenges they are encountering.
  • Speak the language of your audience.  Kill the jargon.
  • Make being interesting and useful key goals for the content you develop. Does the content offer something that the reader can really use?

Watch for red flags and be demanding

If you’re the listener in chief for your brand or organization, it’s imperative that you share with your organization the intel you glean from social networks, web analytics and search results.  If the marketplace is clamoring for information and your organization is studiously silent on the subject, it’s time for a candid chat with the PR team, because chances are good that the silent treatment will eventually stop working. Likewise, if you wind up trying to use content to gloss over a bad product, it’s time to have a candid chat with the product team, using data and conversations from social channels to back up your point.  There’s only so much lipstick you can put on a pig, and let’s be realistic here – even if you do manage to wrassle a hog and keep it still long enough to actually apply the lipstick, the chances of the makeup lasting are nil.  This analogy, awkward as it is, holds true when it comes to trying to use content to mask larger, underlying business problems.   The glossy sheen of the content will soon wear thin.  This is nothing new.  The advent of social media has created an era of transparency unseen previously, and has brought the customer into many internal processes. With this change, Google is upping the same ante.

More changes are coming from Google.  The update announced today is not the “over-optimization” penalty.  However, the signals are clear.  Google is starting to do the same thing the millions of people populating social networks around the world have been doing for a while now: surfacing the most interesting content, which in effect rewards the creators of interesting and valuable information with increased visibility.

Related reading, if you’re interested:

SearchEngineLand: Google Launches Update Targeting Webspam In Search Results

SEO Round Table:  It’s Live: Google Over Optimization Algorithm (3% Of Searches Affected)

Beyond PR: What Google’s Over-Optimization Penalties Mean for PR

Modern PR: The Art & Science of Integrated Media Influence (white paper) – ideas, examples and advice for developing content (and the framework that supports its creation) that will have lasting traction with your audiences.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Image courtesyof Flickr user Sean MacEntee.

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