Google pushed out a set of updates to its search ranking algorithm in the first couple months of the year. These changes affected websites and webmasters in waves, with the first update hitting one set of the so-called content mills, and the second wave hitting those who got missed the first time around. After much consternation, things are settling down with some websites and networks scrabbling to control damage, and with everyone else trying to figure out the new SERP rules.
Google mentioned that only a small percentage of rankings were affected with each update. That’s small comfort to those website owners that go hammered. On the other hand, many web developers found themselves only minimally affected. The key questions moving forward, is what to do to help your websites rank higher and what to not do to keep from hurting your website’s search rankings.
Google Search Results Quality
Everyone always says that content is king and that quality is the way to a top Google search ranking, but everyone knows that isn’t really true. The "if you build it, they will link" theory of search engine rankings is based upon the naïve assumption that everyone who publishes webpages and online content link based solely on how much they value the pages and information that they are linking to. That may have been true a decade ago, but it hasn’t been true in years.
These days, website owners routinely link based upon self-interest. Content mills, for example, add the nofollow tag to any link pointing offsite. One example, eHow.com, has links to "references" at the bottom of every article it publishes. It is these references that, supposedly, validate the information provided and prove that the data within is quality information. However, every one of those links is nofollowed. If the content being linked is useful enough to be the validating reference, how can it possibly be unworthy of a full follow link?
The answer, of course, is that no one in the world uses the nofollow tag the way it is intended. Rather, websites and SEO experts use the no follow tag to enhance the links that they want to power up for their own benefit and to downgrade all other links regardless of value.
The other reason that Google search results are broken is that they over-emphasize the title tag, ranking websites of lower quality higher than better quality websites because the lower quality site matches the wording entered into the query box slightly better than the better quality article.
Content Mills Punished
It seems that neither Google, nor any of the search experts out there, seem to think that Google has changed its link counting ways or its text pattern matching algorithm. Instead, the focus is on the concept that there is a "penalty" for low-quality content that extends to the entire website.
The idea is that if there are 200 low-quality pages (that is, low-ranking pages) and 100 higher-quality (higher-ranking) pages, then the 100 good pages are dragged down by a penalty from the low pages. That is why content mills (and other websites) are now frantically pulling their "junk" content down in hopes that their rankings will improve for their better quality content. Demand Studios, publisher of eHow, for example, is decommissioning all of their unmoderated user-generated content in hopes that their better, editor approved, content will regain some of its luster in Google’s eyes.
Of course, this may all be moot as recent actions by various flower selling websites demonstrated recently. It seems that all of the major online florists were buying links in the run up to Mother’s Day to ensure that they would rank high (or not lose their high rankings) for the big flower buying holiday.
Google’s response was essentially that it is fine to break the Google Webmaster Guidelines as long as it doesn’t affect the final rankings. The stupidity of this concept is staggering considering there is no way for Google, or anyone else, to know whether or not the forbidden link buying campaigns affect EVERY search made. The link buying may not have affected the rankings for "Mother’s Day flowers" but could have made a big difference for "mothers day flower specials cleveland".
If you want to make money writing online, you can naively write quality content and hope for the best, or you can write quality content and then get out there an build some links. You’ll never outspend 1-800 flowers on a link-buying campaign for Valentine’s Day, but your top-notch article on how to pick good roses at the flower store might just make it into the Top 10 Google search results if you build out some links, and then hope for the best.