The Status of Search Engine Optimization: April 2011 Edition

As you may or may not know, I have been practicing search engine optimization since 1996. I have seen quite a few changes in the industry. There have been a lot of major changes, like when Google first showed up on the scene, using links as an SEO factor (we had previously been concentrating only on on-page factors such as meta tags), and we have had minor updates that have really only been “blips” on the radar. So, right now, in April 2011, what is the status of Search Engine Optimization?

Over the years, we have had a lot of updates and changes in the Search Engine Optimization industry. We all know that Google is a major player, so most of what Search Engine Optimization experts such as myself concentrate 70 percent of the time on Google’s organic search engine rankings and looking at factors that effect Google rankings. And then there’s about 30 percent of the time spent looking at factors that may effect rankings on Bing.com (which show up on Yahoo.com). That’s related to the search engine market share of Google versus Bing.com.

Search Engine Optimization
So, what should you focus on right now, today, in April 2011? What has changed? Really, nothing has changed in a major way. It’s still business as usual. Build a quality web site, with lots of good informational content about your subject, publicize the content (properly) on other web sites, get links from other web sites to ALL of your content, and you will be just fine. Create a site that is good for your users and something that they like, and the search engines will reward you for it.

In other words, quit chasing the Google algorithm and worrying about all of the “minor” SEO tweaks that you could be doing and worry more about the fact that you’re not creating great content on your web site. That said, there are “best practices” that you still need to adhere to:

- Search engine friendly web design
- Unique content
- Make sure your on-page factors are in check (i.e., proper title tags, meta tags, heading tags, alt tags, etc.)
- Add good content to your site on a regular basis
- Do proper publicity for your content (use social sites, link building, and press releases when appropriate).

Google Panda Update
As you have probably heard, Google has updated their algorithm yet again, with this latest round of updates called the “Google Panda” update. I can honestly say that my major “sites” and the majority of the web sites that I do SEO for have not seen major rankings decreases because of the Google Panda update. But again, I believe that is mainly because of the five factors I just named above (Search engine friendly web design, unique content, on-page factors, adding content, proper publicity).

There are, though, a lot of good resources (perhaps too many) online that are talking about the Google Panda update, and many of the factors that you should start looking at (a checklist, so to speak). I have taken some time to look at what people are saying, and have narrowed it down for you a bit. To save some time.

Webmasterworld has a great update thread here on Google Panda, that is worth reading. If you don’t have the time to go through over 15 pages of chatter, here are the major points:

“– User behavior: G gathers it from Chrome, Toolbar, etc. and factors it in. Eg. bounce rate (back to the SERP they came from) – was listed twice and has spawned many rumors so far.
– Reading levels: If you go to “Advanced search”, you can filter SERPS by “reading level”. Think about it, test it!
– Bad templates: Too many pages using one single template (WordPress like) could cause GBot nausea.
– Internal links devalued, only external really count
– Thin pages cause substantial bigger problems for a domain
– Duplicate content snippets on your page cause substantial bigger problems
– Too many external named links “widget keyword” instead of “more…” (eg) cause penalties
– Missing positive reviews from the usual review sites count as a minus the (low) quality of a link destination could backfire on the quality score of the link source
– missing certificates/page seals of organizations (BBB maybe?) could give a missing signal
– Content above the fold: implying that G renders the page and estimates the content quality early shown
– Text blocks with an (ancient) date of publication could catch a devaluation
– Spelling and grammar: errors might get you sacked
– Technical elegance gives extra points (loading speed, clean HTML)”

Seobook also chimed on Google Panda:

“Here’s a stab, based on our investigations, the conference scene, Google’s rhetoric, and pure conjecture thus far:

– A useful document will pass a human inspection
– A useful document is not ad heavy
– A useful document is well linked externally
– A useful document is not a copy of another document
– A useful document is typically created by a brand or an entity which has a distribution channel outside of the search channel
– A useful document does not have a 100% bounce rate followed by a click on a different search result for that same search query ;)”

So, what’s the bottom line? What do you do now if you want your web site to rank well in the search engines? Take a look at the points both the experts at Webmasterworld and SEO Book, Aaron Wall, are saying. But don’t forget about the main core Search Engine Optimization principles that I mentioned above. If you invest your time and energy towards creating a search engine friendly web site with great content added on a regular basis and you publicize that content properly, when these “updates” come along you will be “Panda-Proof”.