Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have irreversibly changed the practice of SEO. Contrary to the most dire conclusions of some, these nasty-though-harmless-sounding pair of algorithmic updates named for monochromatic fauna have not “killed” SEO—but they have, rather, forced an evolution in thinking about web visibility.
At a high level, both updates are designed to clamp down on “artificially optimized” web pages (e.g., those with over-optimized content [written for search engines rather than humans], paid links, too many links from low-quality sources, too many links with the same anchor text, etc.) and reward pages with a more “natural” profile (relevant and high-quality links, fresh content, social signals, natural and well written content).
The effect of these changes is that it may be more difficult for commercial websites to rank highly for specific keyword phrases. Difficulty ranking does not mean, however, difficulty in being visible. Which is why SEO will evolve into the framework of web presence optimization (WPO).
WPO is about maximizing your brand’s visibility when people are searching for what you have to offer—no matter where they are searching. It’s broader than SEO because “being found” doesn’t necessarily mean that searchers find your website (at least not directly); they may find an article about your company, a product review, a guest post you’ve written for an industry blog, a tweet, a pin, your Facebook page, or something else; but the point is, they’ve found content that is about your brand and that (ultimately) leads back to your website.
WPO is fundamentally friendly to Google’s zoological algorithm collection, because it’s entirely “white hat.” It encompasses paid, owned and earned content, but there is no effort to deceive or to manipulate search results (which is fundamentally what the search engines are trying to penalize).
In a WPO strategy, different disciplines like public relations (PR), SEO, social media, content development, online advertising, analyst relations, and even trade show marketing are managed in a coordinated manner to maximize the total online visibility of a brand for key phrases. It uses high-level WPO metrics to guide overall strategy and continually improve results, while benchmarking activities against top competitors.
WPO Tactics for Panda and Penguin
Here are five WPO tactics that help improve online brand visibility in the Panda and Penguin era:
Blogging. An informative and consistently updated company blog serves as the core of a social media strategy, provides a natural outlet for keyword-rich fresh content, attracts links from diverse but relevant sources, and will likely rank well on its own as well as contributing “link juice” to your top-level domain. Blogging well is hard work; it requires originality, persistence and discipline. The content has to be seen as helpful, compelling and share-worthy, not just rehashed news releases or marketing brochures. But done well, a blog fosters social engagement, improves organic search results and generates leads.
Guest blogging. Writing thought-provoking or informative content for other industry blogs is one of the few ways to directly generate specific keyword links back to your own site that remains acceptable to Google. Beyond the SEO benefit, gust posting also increases brand recognition, helps you reach a new audience, and enhances your brand image and credibility in the market.
Industry marketing. Being active in your industry raises your brand’s online (and often offline) visibility as well as well as creating valuable backlinks for SEO, and includes activities ranging from analyst relations to association memberships to sponsoring and exhibiting at trade shows.
Public Relations. PR isn’t just “press releases” (and anyway, you should actually be writing optimized news releases, worthy of the attention of prospective buyers as well as journalists); it also includes citations and quotes in industry news stories, bylined articles, formal product reviews, customer stories, and speaking opportunities. Such content can and should also be shared socially, reprinted (where allowed and with permission), and repurposed in other formats such as white papers, blog posts, and online presentations.
Backlink categorization. Understanding your website’s backlink profile helps guide your overall WPO strategy and allocation of dollars and efforts. Are you maintaining momentum in press coverage? Gaining traction in social media engagement? Lagging in industry marketing efforts? Even more important, understanding the backlink profiles of competitors enables you to benchmark your performance and look for new opportunities–or just validate your current strategic direction. Success in the Panda/Penguin world isn’t about raw quantity of backlinks, but about diversity (links from a variety of top-level domains, not just lots of links from a single domain), quality, and relevance.
General SEO Tips for Panda and Penguin
Here are three more SEO best practices for maintaining and improving rankings as search engine algorithms continue to evolve.
Avoid duplicate content. Having the same content on two or more pages of your website causes those pages to “compete” with each other in search, with the result that both (or all) pages lose. If you must have duplicate content on your site for structural or navigation reasons, use the rel=canonical tag to tell the search engines which page is the “original” or most useful to searchers.
Be careful with anchor text links. In the old days (e.g. prior to 2012), exact match anchor text ruled, and the more exact match anchor links you had pointing at a page the better. For example, if you wanted to rank for on-page SEO tips, you worked at getting as many links s possible which used that exact phrase. But now, if Google sees too many exact-match keyword links pointed as a page, it may actually penalize the page with lower ranking—for having an “unnatural” link profile. Google won’t specify what qualifies as “too many” of such links, but the point is to diversify anchor text in order to reduce the appearance of artificiality.
Set up Google+ authorship. You can set up Google+ authorship on single and multi-author blogs, and establish authority and validity with Google. Benefits include more visual results that stand out in search, and (potentially at least) higher search rankings.
Pandas and penguins aren’t generally viewed as terrifying creatures in the natural world, and they don’t have to be frightening online either. With a few SEO best practices and implementation of a WPO strategy, you can tame these Google beasts and maximize online visibility for your brand.