Old-Fashioned Organic SEO Wins the Day After Google Penguin Update

penguin small group- by antarctica bound on flickrThe latest Google search algorithm update (nicknamed Penguin) has moved strongly towards the long held principles of “organic seo.” Our company started building websites in 1996. We have always aimed for best practices: in the code (lean and clean), in the content (direct, honest, informative), in the design (clean user interface, ease of use), and in optimizing for search results. After all, who cares about your site if no one can find it?

In general, each of these major updates is to help Google answer real questions from its users. You know, when we search, we want to see a real business or a real answer, not some spam site trying to sell us crap or embed a virus on our computer!

Included in the new guidelines are not only the carrot recommendations (DO) but increasingly Google is using the stick on those sites it perceives to be gaming the system (DON’T). If you do not make a habit of looking at your site analytics, you can easily check your Page Rank now and then. Page Rank is a logarithmic scale used by Google to rank the quality and validity of websites. It ranges from 0-10; each number jumps by a factor of ten. That means it is much harder to jump one level from 4 to 5 than it is to move from 1 to 2.

Most sites start at a 0-2 (Google loves WordPress!) and very few ever make it to a 10. Even Apple.com & NYTimes.com currently get a PR 9. Since it is an order of magnitude in difficulty jumping to the next level, losing 2-3 levels in a Google update can be painful. Here is a free online tool to check your Page Rank. Remember it is only one measure, but it is a simple one you can track. Keep reading! I have more free site analyzer tools at the end!

Current Google Search Optimization Recommendations

Having duplicate content on the web.
Some content management systems allow you to have multiple websites with unique URLs that are all served from the same database (e.g. Drupal). This confuses Google because it doesn’t know which one to rank first. If it detects that these dupe sites are pretty much direct copies, you will get a big penalty in their rankings. They consider that now a type of web spam.

The exception is if you have the same site at different top level domains, say a .com site and a site in Germany (.de) etc as they recognize the desire to serve the same message to different languages. You can have as many (keyword-dense!) domains as you like, but better to have a 301 redirect on all but the main URL, whereby the others point to the main URL.

Using a keyword more than 1-2% on a page, including metadata
The keyword or phrase should ideally be in the h1 or the title of the page, then in the first paragraph, then scattered throughout but not too much. If you read your content and it feels pushy or over-bearing to you, Google will probably agree. (See the tools at the end to easily measure keyword density on your pages.)

Really big or long pages
If you have really long pages, this might be a challenge. Google may consider it “too big.” It looks at the size of the page, measured in kilobytes. It’s no coincidence that this also affects your human visitors. Large-sized pages take longer to load and that affects your visitors. Large pages can be split in tow or three and this allows you to optimize for several more targeted topics and keywords and helps prevent your visitors from having to scroll a mile to find what they want. Learn more about what contributes to large page size here.

Optimizing too many pages for the same keywords.
Google says, why are all these pages about the same thing? So it actually becomes more useful to pick a unique keyword or phrase for each page, and play to that nuance as best you can. Use the AdWords Keyword Tool to assist, even if you are not buying AdWords.

Too new or Too old
A web site that has little history (and likely less content) will not earn a high page rank for (I hope) obvious reasons. You just have not earned your cred yet. Google in some respects really likes to see relevant, older content – it is a measure that you have been around doing dood stuff. But if nothing has changed for years, the tables begin to turn. Is anyone still home or has the site become abandoned? It is another reason I love WordPress. By adding fresh new content all the time without deleting or over-writing old content, you build not only an archive of your business’s activities over time (which helps you) but you also build increasing cred with Google. (Assuming you are not breaking any of these other rules.)

Link Schemes
Setting up other sites that only link back to you or using excessive cross linking on your own site. This used to be a classic SEO “trick” and not best practice, but easy and fast to do because of the amazing ability of blogs. We now call them “splogs” or spam blogs. They don’t send email spam; they create inbound link spam.

Hidden Text or Links
Don’t use hidden text or links that are the same color as the page so they appear invisible. Google can now detect that! Who wants to be sneaky like that anyway….

Here is Your Do List for Organic SEO

Inbound Links
On the plus side, still THE best thing you can do is to have high quality inbound links. What makes a link high quality? These are links on someone else’s site that point to one of your specific pages. Aim for these:

  • it is coming from a site that has a higher page rank. Google says, if this good site is linking to you, kudos to you!
  • the words that are the front side of the link, the regular English, have your name or one of your keywords for that page in the text.
  • the URL being linked to from your site, also has the right mix of keywords in it.
  • the link code also has a relevant title tag included. You can’t force people to add that but you can create a page and badges that encourage people to link you and give them all the code to copy and paste. Here is an example: Badges for Podcamp Hawaii fans
  • you can accomplish this somewhat by adding a comment on a high value site and including your URL (even to a specific inside page) when you fill out the form. However, because this can be manually manipulated, it is not as valuable as the link to you in the body of the article. And some blog owners code their site to use the “nofollow” tag, which tells Google to ignore any links in comments.But heh, be a friend and leave a blogger a comment! It’s not always about SEO.

Publish date of the page. Newer is better.
One advantage to moving a lot of things to a blog would be that you have a lot more fresh content as far as Google is concerned. Updating existing pages is perhaps easier for you, but it doesn’t show that you are adding new stuff. When a page is published there is generally a publish date included in the meta data.

Go Social.
Google definitely values and tracks “shares” on the leading social networks, such as Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. Make sure every page of your site has the sharing links so readers can give their vote of approval to your pages and help you in you search results on those pages. WordPress maakes it easy to add these sharing plugins, one more reason to love it! (Hint: use them at the end of this post!)

Bounce Rate
Independent of all this is to look in your Analytics for the bounce rate: how many people leave the site without clicking through. If it is high, that is one area we could talk about some different strategies for the main pages people land on. Which is the second thing – creating campaigns to target selected inside pages. If you buy AdWords or do other marketing, don’t always send people to the home page and make them look – send them directly to an inside page that has the information or products you want to share. Bounce rates vary widely depending on many factor, so start by looking at trends over time.

Free SEO and Google Analytics Tools For You

Check your visible keyword density on the page here.

Keyword Analyzer: See if you keyword shows up in the right places, plus check your page size

Simple view of the keywords on your page and their relative percentages

SMCHI-Setting Up Google Analytics WordPress Developed for our Social Media Club chapter by Rob Bertolf

SMCHI-Setting Up Webmaster Tools Developed for our Social Media Club chapter by Rob Bertolf

My current favorite: WordPress SEO plugin

Be sure and checkout our Bare Feet Biz Pro Blogs if you are looking to add or update a WordPress blog (Google’s favorite publishing platform) to your web operations. I also invite you to search this site for things like “google” and “seo” to find previous articles on the topic.

Photo Credit: Penguin Small Group by Antarctica Bound on Flickr

Would you like to take a class on putting this into action? Please drop me an email and I will keep you posted.