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Google’s update fever means big changes to SEO

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After many years of very occasional updates, the last two years, and the last fortnight in particular, have been times of huge change at Google. The world’s leading search engine, that every Internet marketing department wants their websites at the top of, is working hard to rid itself of search engine spam and a range of ‘black hat’ techniques employed to cheat the listings. And Google’s update fever means big changes to SEO.

Google runs off of a complex algorithm to determine which websites are most relevant to any search enquiry. Search engine optimisation is all about understanding that algorithm and optimising websites to appeal to it, using either legitimate techniques (white hat) or some less legitimate ones (black hat).

This is nothing new; people have always sought to outsmart the search engines whilst the engines seek to outsmart the less scrupulous search engine marketing techniques without affecting quality content. By the start of 2011, it seemed like things had settled and Google had hit a good balance which consistently served up the best search listings in the world.

That wasn’t good enough for Google though, and they’ve been rolling out a multitude of updates to deal with some stand out issues that have been bothering them. Chief among these are the Panda updates focused on low quality ‘content farms’.

These websites literally farm content, such as article writing sites which anyone can contribute to. Little or no editorial control is applied so a huge amount of content is duplicated or of poor quality, but there’s so much of it the Google algorithm was tricked into finding the websites relevant. Panda has gone through 20 updates to date, two in the last two weeks, affecting up to a quarter of the websites listed on Google, to try and push content farms well down the results and it seems to be working. Many farm owners are reporting their SEO results have crashed, and their advertising revenue with it.

Those familiar with the brewing scandal around Tory politician and self professed web guru Grant Shapps may have some familiarity with this as well. The software allegedly produced by Shapps automated the creation of content to expand the page count of a website thereby improving its SEO, anyone still using the software or anything else like it will find Panda nipping away at them too.

A lot of this grows from website owners cheating high search positions to collect advertising revenue. Even though many of them use Google’s own Adwords system, meaning Panda will dent Google’s income as well, the search engine giant is clearly focused on quality in their premier search product. As if to prove it, this fortnight’s third update seeks to punish websites that put advertising before content ‘above the fold’, so clearly advertising is fine, but websites should be making money by providing quality content rather than tricking search engines, and web surfers, into consuming advertising they don’t want.

The final update is called EMD, standing for ‘Exact Match Domains’ and targets websites that use keywords in their domain name, such as www.sdgwebdesign.com! It’s only a minor tweak, with Google feeling they’ve applied too much importance to this in the past and that it is getting exploited by poor quality websites with great domain names. It’s only likely to affect a small fraction of websites and isn’t a penalty, just an adjustment more typical of algorithm updates.

So what does all this mean? That quality SEO is more important than ever, and get rich quick schemes at best have a limited shelf life. Google has made a big statement to Internet marketers and SEO experts unapologetically pushing through these updates which should mean better search results for the consumer, continuing kudos for Google as the best search on the planet and more value than ever on getting your website SEO carried out by a real professional.