There was a splash in the SEO world a few weeks ago when Google announced the dissolution or integration (depending on how you look at it) of Google Places. By incorporating Google+ into Google Maps and its business listings, users now have Google+ Local instead of Google Places. On the surface, it looks like Google is just continuing the expansion of its social media platform —like it or not, business owners have been forced onto Google+ to manage their Local pages. Why bother implementing this disorienting change? Will it bring real value to both users and business owners?
The quick answer is: yes. By looking at the old Places pages, you can tell Google had intended them to be more social than they really were. Google quit aggregating data from Yelp and other sources to push their own reviewing system. Later, they increased interaction by allowing businesses to post exclusive deals and coupons. But due to the limitations of the Places pages, this social type of usage never really took off. Most Places pages were more like stubs of information rather than go-to hubs of interaction.
Local pages changes all that. They’re like company Facebook pages, but arguably more robust because of integration with Google Maps, Zagat reviews, and Google+ (you can see how your circles interact with the business). Furthermore, Local pages will be indexed by search engines (Places pages were not). These two factors combine to provide great benefits for business owners.
As noted above, Local pages are robust offerings that encourage interaction between users and a business. A strong Local page is one that provides all the pertinent business information and has high user engagement (such as posting responses to reviews, starting hangouts, sharing updates, coupons, etc.). By keeping your Local page fresh and interacting with your customers, you can increase the page’s ranking in local search results.
Verify your listing, fill out your page, and start engaging your customers. When robust content and a high-ranking combine, your Local page could be the first and last place they visit before deciding to convert.
Google has recently launched its biggest algorithm update since the Panda update from last year. It’s called Penguin and it’s another way Google is actively fighting search spam.
While Panda primarily targeted shallow content, Penguin is specifically an anti-spam update that is punishing sites for techniques like keyword stuffing (using the exact same keyword an excessive amount of times on a page) and cloaking (showing a version of a webpage to a crawler that is different from what a human user sees). It’s easy to see if your site has been affected by Penguin. Just look at your Google Analytics page. Watch the data for April 24, when Penguin went live. Affected sites will see a sharp, immediate drop in traffic — indicating a Penguin penalization.
There has been some buzz about Google launching an update to penalize sites that have been “over-optimized.” Penguin looks to be just that, however the term “over-optimization” is a bit of misnomer. Sites that have followed a balanced, white-hat SEO plan will be negatively affected by Penguin. Sites that have excessively optimized via keyword stuffing need to watch out for Penguin.
It is possible you may have been keyword stuffing by accident with no intent to spam or otherwise game the system. Take the following URL as an example:
www.example.com/widgets product page/blue widgets/size10widgets.aspx
It seems like a perfectly normal e-commerce site ticking off product category progression, right? However, Penguin may see it as stuffed with the keyword “widget.” A preferable URL would be:
www.example.com/widgets product page/blue/size10.aspx
Another stuffing technique Penguin is looking for is internal links on your site that point to the same webpage using the same anchor text every time. When writing the copy for you pages, you’ll want to use synonyms for your primary keywords for the best optimization. This not only helps people using different search terms find your content, but it helps you avoid keyword stuffing as well. By balancing your SEO plan and producing quality content, you will be able to rank higher and avoid any Penguin penalties.
Earlier this year, Google announced that its algorithms would be tweaked to devalue “over-optimized” websites. Even earlier still in 2011, Google launched its Panda update – which specifically targeted websites with low-quality content (think: duplicated and/or spam content). Google readily admits it’s doing everything in its power to promote high-quality content that values the user-experience. To those ends, it has been ramping up efforts to remove blog networks from its index.
There are many different blog networks that have unique rules, genres, and policies. However, they all serve the same purpose — building links. When you post an article to a blog network, that article will appear on blogs from around the web that are affiliated with the network. By including links back to your site within the article, you can quickly get hundreds of in-bound links after you submit the article to the blog network. This has several inherent problems.
Firstly, you need to pay a membership fee to join a blog network. That means you are paying for links — which goes directly against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Secondly, when hundreds or thousands of blogs post the same article, it creates a major duplicate content issue. Thirdly, the very existence of blog networks has prompted people to create loads of low-quality content just so they could submit to the blog network and quickly get a lot of links. In reality, Google’s crackdown on blog networks should come as no surprise.
Note that blog directories — which provide lists of relevant blogs for searchers — should not be confused with blog networks. High-quality, relevant blog directories can still be a good way to legitimately boost your blog readership. Ultimately, if you keep producing original, quality content for your website, you’ll do just fine.