If you’re a webmaster and have been impacted (penalized, lost traffic or have been caught in an algorithmic filter) from Google, the conclusion is obvious that Google isn’t trying to win a popularity contests with their user base lately.
First, it was the dawn of the web shattering Panda update (a content classifier designed to remove low quality web pages, websites that copied from other websites or weak internal pages with minimal value) from their index, second, the backlink witch hunt / Penguin update (designed to demote websites from ranking highly which have off-topic or inbound links from low quality websites) and now the EMD update (the exact match domain update) which demotes websites which have exact match domains from easily ranking for their core keywords.
What’s an EMD?
While most savvy SEO’s or online marketing types understand the lingo, for those unfamiliar with the terminology, exact match domains are websites such as babycribs.com which in the past would rank rather easily for the key phrase “baby cribs”.
Exact match domains are typically highly sought from “Domaineers” (individuals who purchase, collect, monetize or sell domains) due to their ability to (1) rank highly in search engines with a fraction of the effort by the virtue of the domain name or (2) monetize those sites due to the commercial viability (since consumers easily commit the domain name to memory); that is, until the Google EMD update.
Before this update, there was a glaring loophole in search engines (Google in particular) which allowed exact match domains to rank uncontested with minimal SEO (sometimes within days of being created). So, instead of spending money on SEO, backlinks or promotion, businesses would often spend the money on acquiring a top level exact match domain.
The reason is simple, a website in the #1 position for an organic search phrase can garner 42-70% of the click through traffic for a keyword (compared to 2% in the number 10 position on the page); and since 7 out of 10 people typically click the organic results instead of paid (PPC) results, this is a major blow if dethroned from the #1 position or top 3 organic positions on the page.
Minor or Major Change?
On September 28th, avid SEO personality Barry Schwartz from SEO Round Table gleaned a tidbit of relevant info on the EMD update. Apparently, in a recent tweet by Matt Cutts (head of Google’s Web Spam Team) he states – “Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.”
Cutts later tweeted – “New exact-match domain (EMD) algo affects 0.6% of English-US queries to a noticeable degree. Unrelated to Panda/Penguin”.
Now your first thought, 0.6 that’s not so bad right? That all depends on the sheer volume of total English-US queries, and, if that number is theoretically 100,000,000,000 queries per day (100 billion), that represents 60 million potential queries affected daily by this change.
There’s nothing minor about this or any other algorithm, infrastructure or classifier change in a search engines’ index, more specifically, this is the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina to a small business or website not fortified by alternative traffic or citation sources.
While most webmasters may not own an EMD or rely strictly on the ranking power of an exact match domain alone; if you do own a full or partial hyphenated EMD and your website’s major keywords disappear, your revenue is and business model are inevitably impacted instantly.
As far as chain reactions go, once rankings dip, your cash flow could tank or you could inevitably go out of business, unless you have a plan B for traffic (particularly in this economy).
Based on the inquiries we have received for the past 6 months from companies in need of solutions to Google changes, most webmasters (business owners, individuals and affiliates alike), do not have a plan B and are puzzled, frustrated, agitated or struggling to determine what happened to their traffic, what they did or did not do and, most of all why now, when things were just fine before the latest monkey wrench tweak. Was it a competitor throwing a batch of bad links from negative SEO, or did they simply trip a filter and get hit with a penalty?
In either case, it’s dangerous for webmasters to blindly assume that once you attain a high ranking position for your primary keyword (exact match domain or otherwise) that your website won’t be churned off the page (from an update, filter or algorithm change).
Often, it’s not even your site being penalized; it’s the other sites that linked to yours that took the hit (and your website is no longer buoyant in the search results as a result). Keep in mind that when they purge their index many of the sites that were holding other sites up (by virtue of their citation/links) have been caught (essentially algorithmically neutered) from passing link flow to other websites.
Since citation leaves a footprint, if your website happened to receive sustenance from an algorithmically compromised website, then, like a chain of dominos, the link-flow dropped off. Essentially, you start from zero again and fall to the back of the line (rolled back 5-10 pages in the search results) or sometimes worse (not ranking at all for the keyword).
The point is, there are no guarantees when it comes to how search engines tally links, popularity, relevance and value, it’s merely their perception of what they think their users want. What Google forgets is, it’s those same users who own websites and have become dependent on that traffic for their business who are getting thrown under the bus and have no idea why.
This process has gone on for years and quite frankly, people are getting tired of running the gauntlet and trying to appease their new rules (starting with things like adding nofollow attributes to all outbound links) because Google couldn’t detect link intent i.e. “paid links” with their algorithm and wanted to impose using nofollow to webmasters to add nofollow attributes to all outbound links (using the fear of penalties) as a consequence.
Over time, Google just kept a plethora of updates coming (in the name or relevancy) from the Florida Update, the Big Daddy Update, the May Day Update, The Vince Update, the Panda Update, Penguin Update, etc., enough is enough already.
Is SEO Still Important?
Is SEO still important? Yes and No!
SEO is important if you have (1) implemented conversion optimization first, so that regardless of where your traffic emanates from, it will result in increased ROI (return on investment) via more subscriptions, social engagement (viral traffic) or sales and (2) If you have the budget and / or staff to afford implementing the often tedious work associated with SEO.
SEO is NOT important if want to spend more money on Television, Radio, Newspaper ads, Pay-Per-Click, have a strong offline marketing push. While Google’s claim for making these changes is relevancy, their motivation has transcended “building the best search engine” and has become something far more transparent (scrub compromise the organic search results and focus on paid search which provides approximately 98% of all profits for Google).
How Do You Get Ranked?
After perfecting your on page SEO, a large portion of the SEO process is based on developing sufficient website authority through exceeding the algorithmic tipping point for on page content (with the quality of that content now being equally as important as the volume and frequency).
Essentially, since articles don’t write themselves, you’ll need an in-house subject matter expert or a knowledgeable writer or team of writers if you intend on developing the authority site model. Instead of building and relying on backlinks, create content that is worthy to garner its own links or leverage the on page authority and trust your website has to catapult past less authoritative websites in your way.
Keep in mind, developing authority is a lengthy process that requires commitment and dedication to quality and consistency (always providing users’ value instead of rehashing vague fodder). Also remember that nothing happens overnight with SEO (most sustainable results can take months), in short, it’s all about planting and sowing the results over time.
If your content is stellar, people will share it (if you give them a nudge) and the social sharing has tremendous weight in the new algorithm (to expedite authority for the page and hence the site).
If you plan on using the three strategies outlined above, then SEO is important. Otherwise, you may have to seek alternative traffic sources to offset dependency on Google’s organic traffic as a life vein for your business.
SEO Bizarro World
Is the epic battle of giants affecting your business?
Image courtesy of (comic coverage).
In this Bizarro world where Google wants to be more social and Facebook is talking about creating their own search engine, be worried, be very worried since core competencies exist for a reason.
The rise and fall of search results for webmasters may result in a requiem for search engines, since consumers can easily “jump ship” and find the next big thing and find new ways to get what they want.
Let’s just say that backlash is an understatement and when the search bubble bursts (and it will), I wouldn’t want to be in aisle 5 (if you catch my drift). I’m sure Myspace, Digg and other once popular websites never saw it coming as they were displaced by a fickle (or bored) user base or lots of savvy emerging competitors who introduced something equally viable to woo their users away. The end result, their traffic sources (repeat visitors) dried up (like dust in the wind).
While search does not exclusively belong to Google, quality matters and the importance and credibility of organic results is what delivers the most traffic from repeat visitors.
If the quality and relevancy suffers, the site loses its value. In my opinion, that is how I view Google’s search results, quite simply, they have filtered so many things that good sites along with the bad have been suppressed (which translates to a poor user experience). I find myself having to refine my searches more and more, since the results on the first page are NOT what I am looking for and often are so far off topic I am amazed how it surfaced.
Don’t Let Bad Search Happen to You!
So, not to go all “fist of goodness” on you here (props to direct TV vs. cable ads) but, this is one thing for both Google and users alike to keep in mind.
When people lose confidence in search engines, the less people search, the less people search, the less valuable the paid ads become, the less valuable the paid ads become the more a search engine tries to justify its position to those paying for ads, the more a search engine tries to justify its position for those paying for ads, the more changes, penalties or adjustments are enforced through “the index vs. the content in the index” which affects its organic user base, the more changes, penalties or adjustments are made that affect the organic user base, the less users will depend on search engines.
Don’t let bad search happen to you, don’t rely strictly on search engines…