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Inbound marketing in a post-penguin world

31 May, 2012

Do the words over-optimization, link-warnings, penguin and panda make you feel nautious? During the past 12 months, have you been scrambling around after each Google update as you try to ensure your sites do not become de-indexed or fall off the first page SERPs (also known as Search Engine Results Page)? If so, you are not on your own as Google has severely stepped up its algorithms to put the user first, and our SEO, well… far behind.

Since February 2011, Google has been on the offensive and penalizing sites that overly-optimize to rank on the first page of the SERPs. Although not entirely due to the NY Times article that exposed JCPenney, the focus on better content for the user has increased since the article was published. What JCPenney did was purchase thousands of low quality links that helped them rank high in SERPs for general terms and thus, increased both traffic and sales. These tactics provided a short-term impact for sites to rank high in Google – You can read the list of changes during the last 12 months (courtesy of SEOmoz).

Google’s update and SEO tricks that no longer work

In short, SEO’s have had to deal with a total of 17 updates in the last year. However, these updates have not only affected black-hat SEO tactics but on the opposite end of the scale, as the updates also penalize extensive white-hat SEO – Meaning SEO’s have had to change the way we may work. Here is an outline of what has been affected with the updates and what activity will be penalized by Google:

  • Article marketing
  • Over optimization and keyword stuffing
  • Below the fold content/high bounce rates
  • Link spam/ link farms
  • Excessive exact match anchor text
  • Use of blog and content networks

Any attempts of SEO spam and to cheat the Google algorithms will be penalized. Hurtigruten has been slow to adopt a global SEO strategy and so far, we have been fortunate to not be affected by the Google updates. However, this is not an anti-black hat or pro-white hat post and the reason why we have not been affected by the Panda/ Penguin updates is largely due to pure luck!

An area that has impacted Hurtigruten more than we had anticipated was the update in October 2011  to make search more secure. Although the impact was not immediate, we have seen an increase in (not provided) keywords in Google Analytics since the Venice update.

Venice keyword update

The update has affected more than 35,000 visits, which is 5% of total search traffic. However, it’s safe to assume that the traffic came from brand related search terms as the top 15 keywords in 2011 were all brand related.

Avoid the Google penalty and focus on user experience

Many of the sites that have been hit are subject to black hat tactics. If you have always maintained a long-term vision for your SEO, then chances are your sites have been largely unaffected. Inbound marketing now has senior management focus at Hurtigruten. Some of the ways to avoid being hit by Google are as follows:

Keep your content fresh

Combine SEO with social

Improve the user experience

  • Deep linking the top landing pages and improving navigation to reduce bounce rates
  • Get the basics right with page titles, meta descriptions and headers

Hurtigruten have a long way to go if we want to compete with the best cruises in the world in the SERPs. We now have a healthy view on SEO and are in the process of an SEO audit. Being in the travel industry, we are always going to be content rich and as Google continues to focus on the user experience, this may give us a slight advantage. However, as Google continues to update it’s algorithyms (including the new knowledge graph), I’m not sure how long this slight advantage will last.

How have your sites reacted since the launch of Panda in 2011? What are you working on to avoid being penalised by Google? Comments and suggestions are welcome below.

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