Penguins get a bad rap.
There’s the arch villain in the Batman series of on-screen productions and comic books. And then there’s the inscrutable, pint-sized scoundrel in Wallace and Gromit’s “The Wrong Trousers.”
The latest penguin to be vilified is an algorithm by Google that may have forever changed the search engine optimization (SEO) game.
Immediately following the launch of Penguin last spring, some sites reported seeing a drop in traffic of between 30 percent and 70 percent, according to SEO MOZ, a blog devoted to SEO.
Not only does Penguin potentially negate much of the work businesses have done to rank highly in Google search results, it just might put the entire SEO industry out of business. That’s because Penguin dings websites that use some of the most popular methods for achieving high rankings on search engines.
That was the thesis of a Forbes article by Ken Krogue titled: The Death of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR And Real Content.
Krogue quoted Adam Torkildson, one of the top SEO consultants, as saying: “Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in two years.”
Before Penguin there was Panda, another algorithm designed to change how websites were ranked. Now, unconfirmed reports have Google about to launch yet another change that affects SEO. This new effort will reportedly punish “zombie” sites that are not updated regularly, pushing them down in the search results.
What’s behind all of these changes?
In the wake of Krogue’s article, SEO professionals vigorously defended their industry in long and informative comments and counterpoints in the online comments section of the article.
While it’s true that on-page and technical SEO won’t go away entirely (designing your site so it is consistent with best practices is still important), I agree with Krogue that Google definitely is shifting the focus of how websites are ranked.
In the old world of SEO, weight given to links from other sites led to what are known as “black hat” techniques such as “link bombing” and other ways of gaming the system. Not that these practices were necessarily nefarious. The Google algorithms inadvertently encouraged these tactics since that’s the data the rankings were based upon.
The purpose of the new Google approach is to put the focus back on the user experience. Simply put, websites that provide great content will rank highly, and deservedly so. This is what SHOULD count and what should result in high SEO rankings.
By great content, I mean well-written blogs, white papers, e-books, podcasts, bylined articles, as well as visually appealing videos, infographics and graphic design. This concept of attracting or drawing in traffic through valuable postings that are mindful of keywords (but not using them in an unnatural, forced way) is also known as content marketing or inbound marketing. The best content is not a sales pitch or self-serving. Most importantly, it’s not about yourself.
When done right, this creates a virtuous circle as good content results in more visitors, longer stays and more legitimate links back to your site – all of which improve your rankings.
Essentially, SEO and content marketing are becoming one in the same.
Social media is another important variable in the new Google equation and it’s weighted heavily by Penguin because it assumes if something is shared on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and other platforms, it must have value. And if you’re considering trying to fake social media hits, don’t even think about it. Apparently Google can tell.
This trend toward content as the most important aspect of a website ranking has been gathering steam for a while now and it really makes sense.
Personal finance startup Mint.com launched six years ago with the intention of becoming a market leader in online personal finance. In order to stand out from its more established peers, Mint made its blog, MintLife, an integral part of its company operation, hiring an entire editorial team and becoming regular fixtures in the social media realm.
Mashable reports that after just a few months, the company began noticing real lead generation online. Clearly, Mint stood out from its competitors because they educated their prospects and positioned themselves as a thought-leader in their industry.
This approach is consistent with the principles of thought leadership that the public relations industry has long espoused. But the online world takes it a step further and means that business websites can become robust news and information resources in their own right.
So, while there might be few bad penguins out there, I would say Google’s Penguin is on the side of truth, justice and the American way.
Schmid is president and CEO of Cook + Schmid, a San Diego-based marketing and public relations company. Read his blog at cookandschmid.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jschmidPR.