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What Do Google’s Algorithm Updates Mean for Content Marketers?

The relationship between Google and content marketers is one that has been in a constant state of flux over the last several years.

Mostly, this is due to the frequent updates that the search engine giant makes to its ranking algorithm – updates which can completely change how content marketers approach online marketing.

‘Panda’, ‘penguin’ and ‘hummingbird’ are no longer just animal names in the online marketing world; instead, they refer to three specific updates Google has made to its ranking algorithm – that is, the rules Google uses to determine which websites will rank higher in the search results.

This is all part of Google’s aim to create a more intuitive search experience for users.

Unfortunately for SEOs (search engine optimizers) and content marketers, each of these updates includes tweaks which require considerable and immediate changes to the way online marketing is approached.

If these tweaks aren’t adapted to by SEOs and content marketers, it not only becomes significantly more difficult for a website to rank highly in the search results pages, it can result in you receiving a Google penalty.

Google actively penalises websites that turn a blind eye to the terms of these updates, which is seriously bad news for online marketers.

Being hit with a penalty by Google can mean a significant drop in your website’s rankings that takes months of hard work to recover from. The effort required to recover could be used more efficiently elsewhere.

It’s important to know about each of these updates in detail to make sure you’re aware of Google’s exact approach to website rankings, rather than having little to no idea of the concepts behind this master search engine’s inner-workings.

If you aren’t already approaching content marketing with Google’s animalistic algorithms in mind, you definitely should be – simply because it could be detrimental if you don’t.

To avoid being penalised by Google and to gain an insight into how you can start approaching your content marketing in a much more algorithm-friendly way, let’s look at each of these three updates in relation to the content marketing field.

Panda

When?

February 2011

Why?

The purpose of Panda was to return higher quality sites closer to the top of the search results, and to drop low-quality websites with “thin” content.

Impact

Almost immediately after the release of Panda, media website CNET reported a significant surge in the rankings of news and social media websites, and a notable drop in rankings for websites which used heavy amounts of advertising. Almost 12% of search results were affected.

Content Solution

Google’s first recommendation on content after Panda’s rollout was to remove, rewrite, or even block from indexing any poor quality or duplicated content on websites.

However, Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, then went on to warn content marketers that simply rewriting duplicate content may not be enough to avoid Panda’s wrath.

He said that rewrites would have to be of such high quality that they bring “additional value” to a webpage. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much to gain in the way of recovery. Cutts went on to say that non-specific, non-useful content should not be expected to rank well, as it “brings nothing new to the table”.

Google’s Amit Singhal then posted a blog which listed questions he suggested content marketers ask themselves in order to test the quality of their webpages in the eyes of Panda, to “provide some guidance on how we’ve [Google] been looking at the issue”.

He pointed out that even having just a couple of pages of low-quality content on certain areas of a website can actually impact the whole website’s ranking in the search results.

It was therefore up to content marketers to remove these pages or completely rewrite them to provide genuinely useful information to web users, to protect and help their websites’ rankings.

Lesson learned

Make sure that any and all content is written for a purpose other than to simply fill a page with keywords for Google to look at. Remember that human readers will be looking at your content and have landed on your page in the hopes of finding information that’s useful to them.

Research your audience, find out what they want, and give it to them in a digestible and genuinely well-written way, or else your entire website’s integrity could suffer.

Penguin

When?

April 2012

Why?

The update aimed to lower the rankings of websites violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, namely those which use unethical – or “black-hat” – SEO techniques to illegitimately increase the number of links directed to a certain page.

Impact

The Penguin update caught out a lot of excessive spammers who were using unethical linking techniques to increase their websites’ rankings.

Google reported after its release that Penguin affected an estimated 3.1% of English search queries, with websites mainly losing out in the search rankings for links using keywords which pointed to websites with a very high density for that particular keyword.

Content Solution

There are various ways you can use content and links more intuitively to avoid your website being caught out by the Penguin algorithm. A few of the most noted methods are listed below:

  • Build brand-name links: Whenever you’re creating a link, try to link from your brand name. Choose text within the sentence that gives the link the most context and relevance, or simply post the URL. Avoid using exact match anchor text when possible, because in the face of Penguin, this could be misconstrued as a spammy link.
  • Gain links from good content: Aim to create ‘linkable assets’ when you create content. In other words, make sure that what you’re creating is something that web users will actually link to and share. Make it a useful resource, whether it’s a PDF, slide presentation, white paper, video, infographic, press release, guide, tool, or case study. If something is useful then it is naturally link-worthy and you’ll reap the rewards.
  • Put quality before quantity: Ten links from high-quality sites are worth much more to your website than a thousand from less reputable sources. The best way to achieve this is with guest-blogging. While it’s more than likely you’re already guest blogging in some form or another, take a look at this article on guest blogging to find out more about how you can approach this craft in a way that earns you the right links.

Lesson Learned

When you’re growing your website’s visibility online by placing links to your website, always prioritize the quality of the websites linking to and from your own, and make sure that you put due care and consideration into your choice of text.

Also, remember that going after ‘quick wins’ in the form of purchased links or links from websites irrelevant to your industry is counter-productive, and that with Penguin, this isn’t just a waste of time, but detrimental to your marketing efforts and your website’s ranking in the search results.

Hummingbird

When?

August 2013

Why?

Hummingbird was released as part of Google’s efforts to provide users with search results which match the meaning of their queries more efficiently, leveraging natural language and generally making search a more useful, user-friendly experience.

This is done by paying more attention to how each word within a query relates semantically to the others, to ensure that the entire query – the whole sentence and its meaning – is taken into account.

Impact

Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird didn’t have a sudden, significant impact on search results. The update was intended to improve the quality of the search results presented to users by essentially making Google more intelligent.

So you likely only noticed a drop in rankings for your website as a result of Hummingbird if your content is boring, dull, low-quality, poorly-written, and generally not useful.

If you’ve always provided your audience with high quality content, Hummingbird shouldn’t affect your website in any kind of negative way.

Instead, the algorithm presents the opportunity for good content marketers to become more diverse with the keywords targeted, and offer more contextual, relevant information to an audience.

Content Solution

With Google focusing more on the entirety of a search query, it’s more than likely that content which directly answers a question, or provides a solution to a well-acknowledged need, will rank higher than pages which don’t make use of longer, more complex keywords or questions.

Hummingbird is an opportunity for web users to yield better quality results by being more specific and targeted with their search terms, so you need to be confident that your content is intelligent enough to accommodate this need.

You should also consider investing more of your content marketing efforts into the social side of things. Online marketers were uncertain for years whether or not social media activity played a part in where a website ranks in the search engine results pages.

With Hummingbird, Google is able to better process the influence that social media has on website rankings, as these provide more semantics for search.

Social networking shares, likes and links are considered a “vote” of approval from other web users, and many social votes together from authoritative sources (for example, someone on Twitter with a verified account) could impact the relevance of your content for certain searches.

Lesson Learned

They don’t say, “context is everything,” for nothing. The release of Hummingbird aptly demonstrates Google’s strong, unwavering commitment to providing web users with purposeful, contextual content, and on a much deeper level than Panda or Penguin ever could.

The main take-home lesson is to make sure that you are thinking about your human readers’ and target market’s needs for each piece of content you create, so that you can provide web users with the answers they’re looking for.

So, What’s Next?

Growth and change are important in the online marketing field – that much is clear.

So, while Google’s algorithm developments may at first seem inconvenient due to the inherent changes they demand in the way SEO and content marketing is approached, just remember that it’s all part of the search engine’s long-term goal of making the search results as relevant as possible for web users.

As content marketers, we all know that Google is a somewhat untameable beast and its actions characteristically unpredictable. But, if we can expect anything, it’s safe to say that Google’s new algorithms and updates are likely to be focused on creating an uncompromised and quality-based search experience for users.

Google’s content-based priorities are therefore likely to continue to be focused on encouraging:

  • Content variety – diversity in the types of content used across a particular website. So, for example, creating and offering users visual infographics as well as actual copy to read.
  • Demonstration of knowledge – less content designed “for Google” and SEO purposes, and more content that is quality-based and offers genuinely useful information to users.
  • Organic approach – the use of more natural techniques to increase content visibility across the web, and the increased penalisation of unethical SEO techniques.

What ideas do you have of where Google’s relationship with content marketing could be going? Leave your comment below!

About Kim Whitley

Kim Whitley is a content marketer and writer for Make It Cheaper. Connect with her on Google+, or follow her on Twitter for regular updates on her biggest passions: the marketing industry, the business world, and the environment.

32 comments

  1. Harold Masters says:

    Thanks for a very helpful post. It appears that we are really on the same team with Google; to be sure our readers get top quality information from our writings that solve their problems, meet their needs and improve the quality of their lives.
    Harold

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Harold,

      Thank you for reading, I’m glad you found the post helpful! I wholeheartedly agree – the relationship between online marketers and Google is very much a partnership. It’ll all about working together to provide users with what they’re looking for. 🙂

  2. Mark says:

    Thanks for being spot on with your advice!

    Although this is my very first visit to your excellent blog, I can’t think of a more relevant topic to be commenting on.

    I think my biggest take away is not to focus on Google’s periodic updates!

    But instead make sure that my focus is on consistently creating and sharing the most useful, original and helpful content to my target audience,that I possibly can!

    And the rest of it will fall into place! Since there’s no way I can control Google or any other major search engine!

    But I most certainly can control both the frequency and quality of the content I publish!

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thank you for reading! I’m so glad you found the advice in the article useful. You’ve hit the nail on the head, there: as long as your focus is to provide your audience with the genuinely useful information they’re looking for, and you make the effort to do so on a frequent basis, Google will be pleased with your efforts to educate and inform web users. 🙂

  3. Valuable, clear and concise. The effects of these dates don’t expire in my experience. I was hit with an outbound link penalty no doubt from one of these, just spring this year. Because my webmaster was not familiar with the details of the penalty, I hired someone whose name came up several times in searching out someone who both knew what they were doing and could solve it in a short time for a reasonable cost. It took just 2 or 3 weeks and I’m in good standing with Google again. My Google page rank has still not recovered but I’m ok with that because at the same time, Alexa rank is improving. Thanks Kim.

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Patricia,

      Thank you so much for reading the blog, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m sorry to hear you were hit with a Google penalty – but it’s great that it only took 2-3 weeks for the issue to be resolved, at least for the most part. Best of luck with your website!

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Danielle,

      Felicity here, Firepole’s Managing Blog Editor. Just wanted to take a quick second to say thanks for reading the post, and for your feedback! Kim and I truly appreciate it. 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    Thanks, Kim. This is such a helpful and as Penny put it, “user-friendly” post on Google’s algorithms. My ranking has gone down since Penguin 3.0 and at first I thought it was because of some duplicate content on my site. Now, I know better. I know that’s bad also, but now I’ll have to check for broken links or links that might have slipped in through comments.

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Karen,

      Felicity here, Firepole’s Managing Blog Editor. I’m sorry to hear that your site was hit with Penguin 3.0! It’s sometimes hard when dealing with Google to know where to begin. That’s why I was delighted when Kim offered to share some of her wisdom with our Firepole readers!

    2. Kim says:

      Thank you for reading, Karen, and I’m so glad you found the post helpful! It’s certainly very handy to have reference-point blogs to use as a resource when you’re undergoing online marketing and maintaining a website, and I’m glad to see that the information I’ve provided has been useful in this respect. Best of luck with your website. 🙂

  5. Penny Hawes says:

    Thanks, Kim. A user-friendly post on a subject near and dear to those of us building our businesses online. With so many changes to keep up with, it’s great to have you condensing and clarifying the ever-changing Google zoo.

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Penny,

      Felicity here, Firepole’s Managing Blog Editor. Thanks so much for leaving your wonderful feedback – Kim and I really appreciate it!

    2. Kim says:

      Hi Penny,

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words! It’s great to see that writing this blog has achieved the desired outcome: to offer tangible and useful insight into Google’s algorithms to online marketers and businesses. 🙂

  6. One way I think about this is to take “the New York Times test” to content. Would the content pass muster at a major magazine or newspaper? That gives a sense of how effective it will be in terms of quality.

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Bruce,

      Felicity here, Firepole’s Managing Blog Editor. I really like your idea of putting blog posts through “the New York Times test.” I’ll give it a try on the next few blog post pitches I receive. 🙂

  7. Zarayna says:

    Hello Kim,
    Just a very brief note to thank you for clarifying those mysterious animal names that I have been skimming over whilst wondering if I was hallucinating. As you might guess, I am just at the stage of investigating what might confront me if I start a blog so I am truly grateful for useful information. (You demonstrated the principles by your content and clarity – classy act!).
    Kindest regards.

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Zarayna,

      Nope, no hallucinations here. Thanks very much for letting Kim and I know that you found this article helpful. 🙂

    2. Kim says:

      Hi Zarayna,

      Thank you so much for reading, and for your very kind words!

      I’m really glad you found the post useful. It was my intention for this (pretty complex!) information to be outlined in an easily digestible way, and be helpful to seasoned marketers and online marketing newbies alike – so it’s great to see that you’ll be able to use it if you do decide to start your blog (which I heartily hope you do!) 🙂

  8. I’ve wanted a clear explanation of penguin, panda and hummingbird and now I have it. Thank you. My thought is I would just keep doing what I’m doing which is writing for my clients and avatar to give them good content and assistance.

    1. Felicity Fields ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Cathy,

      When Kim first pitched the idea of this post, I thought “Man. I’d love to read that article!” I’m glad that you found it as helpful as I did. 🙂

    2. Kim says:

      Hi Cathy – so glad you enjoyed the post and found it useful! I wholeheartedly agree with that strategy. As long as the content you create is designed to genuinely help your audience and provide them with the information they’re looking for, your intentions are golden.

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