In my life as a freelance copywriter I learn a good many things, much of it is basically useless trivia but some of it is absolutely essential to my 21st Century life. Most of what I have been writing revolves around discussing, explaining or expressing an opinion on something to do with internet marketing. Dull, I know, but a guy’s gotta eat right? Anyway, in the course of my researches into the ins and outs of things like search marketing and click through rates I often run across something that is relevant to my efforts as a blogger.
Penguin Comes to Town
Several months ago Google altered its search algorithm and this became the hot button issue in the online marketing world. Essentially this update to the equation that Google uses to decide who makes the first page of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) called Penguin was aimed at removing the junk from the SERPs by finding pages that were pointless compilations of keyword stuffed gibberish or which were linked to pages of keyword stuffed gibberish called link schemes.
As is the case in grammar, keywords are the words within the content of a web page that are central to its topic and which the spiderbots use to index the page. The thinking once ran along the lines of if six keywords is good then sixty keywords is fantastic. Link schemes are an insidious form of spam that either creates link farm content with many, many links pointing to it or, usually in combination with these pages, sends out trillions of spam comments to blogs. Either way, the object is to build ‘link juice’ for other junk pages. They are the cyber equivalent of highway advertising billboards that are erected along roads that nobody wants to travel.
The online marketing world was abuzz with apocalyptic predictions of the end of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the industry changed its buzz word to ‘Content Marketing’ (wild bunch, internet marketers). While this is generally good for me because someone has to write all of that content the Penguin Update also gave me useful insight into what NOT to do with my own blog if I wanted to rank well in the SERPs (which I do).
The Two Don’ts
What I learned not to do revolves around two different aspects of running a blog. Penguin targeted low quality sites which were filled with unnatural content. That is to say, content that isn’t written in a natural way but really just slapped together to contain a set keyword density. Pages like this, usually illegible, are designed to scam advertisers who’s Pay Per Impression (PPM) ends up on the page and they had grown in number until they had begun to choke the SERPs with useless results. The move against keyword stuffed pages like this has also been good for me as it has made it easier for my naturally written content to rise in the SERPs. So the first DON’T that I learned was don’t over use keywords in my blog posts in an effort to get an edge in the SERPs. Do write naturally.
The second DON’T that I learned was don’t accept everybody’s links. Just because you think that they are a good guy doesn’t mean that they don’t have cyber cooties. I learned this the hard way when this website suddenly disappeared from the SERPs and my visitors dried up to a trickle of faithful followers (I know who you are).
“Why has this happened to me?” I asked. “Has my incisive social commentary suddenly become droll?” Thankfully the gods of cyberspace enlightened me in a binary epiphany and I checked the links on my website. “Eureka!” I ran through the suburban streets of Essendon naked in emulation of Archimedes (okay, I said “Woo Hoo!). The trouble was a link that was (formerly) in my blog roll to a friend’s website. This fellow cybernaut was approving spam comments posted by the link farms as real engagement and Google had pegged him as a link scheme page too. I know that he’s not a spammer but spiderbots can’t read.
The upshot was that after I removed his infectious link my page rank returned to a respectable 3 out of 10 (Wikipedia is only an 8) almost overnight. The take away is that bloggers need to be careful about which comments they approve and they have to be discerning about who’s pages they list in their blog roll or link to in posts. Fortunately the difference between a good link and a bad link are easy to spot.
Not All Links are Created Equal
Including links in your blog is still very important to the general SEO. Links tell the crawlers that you are engaged with other pages on the web and it judges you partly by the quality of those pages. Search engines attribute levels of authority to websites and pages like Wikipedia have a high credibility rating and so linking from an anchor text in a blog post to a Wikipedia page tells the crawler that you have taken the time to link to your source and so it gives you a little link juice. Many websites have a good authority rating with Google (like this one) and linking to them can establish your place on the net for the search engines and improve your place in the SERPs.
Another kind of link that is especially good for your blog are links that point to you. This means that when someone puts your page on their blog roll or gives you a track back or a ping back you are getting a little bit more kudos with the spiderbots, unless those pages are link schemes, or look like link farms to the search engines. This is why it is vital to vet the comments on your blog now and to be selective about giving ping backs and other cyber validation to potential Black Hat SEO websites.
For most bloggers, especially many of the ones that read this blog, most of this is never going to matter very much. The first key takeaway is that concentrating on good, high quality content that is naturally written and includes images or video content that matches the copy will be ranked well. For most of the blogs that I follow personally this really means that they should just keep doing what they are doing already and try and do it better every time.
The second takeaway is that for the most part comments aren’t worth the trouble that they can cause most of the time. The average engagement level for blogs is around two comments for every hundred visitors (my own rate is just below this) so no matter how gratifying they are they don’t generally contribute much to the quality or the content of the blog- there are exceptions. I have decided to continue to accept comments here in the interests of offering a fair right of reply but I trash anything that is unreadable or even looks like spam.
It is also important to check out any websites before you post a link to them on your own blog. The e-mail that they send you may sound like they are genuine when all that they are doing is using a more sophisticated form of spam to attract traffic to their shitty websites. One school of thought among SEO professionals is that you shouldn’t swap links with anyone who has a lower page rank than you do and as medieval as it sounds it may just be the right strategy.
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