If you’ve been paying attention to internet marketing news in the past month, you may have noticed something unusual: Google made a major change to how it determines search results, and it announced this change. This is big. Google rarely, if ever, gives clear indications of how it ranks its results. And this change is more than a drop in the bucket: roughly 12 percent of web searches saw major shifts, and several websites tumbled in their listings literally overnight!
It’s no secret that Google and Bing frequently change the way they determine the ranking of websites in their search engine results. Usually, these changes are little (and frequent) tweaks that try to improve the usefulness of their results for the web surfer. However, the February 25, 2011, issue of the New York Times reported that Google significantly altered its algorithm to drastically lower the results of low quality websites. (A search engine algorithm is the formula used to determine the ranking of websites in the search results. It figures out which website comes first, second, third, and so on.)
Algorithm changes affect business websites
One of the most notable casualties in this change is J.C. Penney. J.C. Penney’s SEO firm engaged in the shady activity of creating hundreds of websites with little or no useful content just to provide links back to the J.C. Penney website. The result was the J.C. Penney website topping the list for many generic searches on categories of products sold by the company. J.C. Penney has since lost a bit of ground in its search result placement because of the algorithm change.
While this was a successful strategy for J.C. Penney in the short term, it created hundreds of useless websites that littered Google’s search results. This is a problem for Google because real live people click on these websites in search results, and as web surfers find these useless websites over and over, they may stop using Google as their search engine of choice. (Overstock.com is another website recently penalized for similar, but not identical, tactics.)
Other websites affected by Google’s algorithm change appear to be sites that are repositories for all sorts of general topics. These may be sites that have articles on seemingly limitless subjects that people are permitted to republish royalty-free, and they also include websites that have how-to articles for just about any topic. The reason these websites have tumbled from the first page to the tenth page or deeper is because many people have not found much help or value in the content. This may be true as many of the articles are quickly written just to get a name out there or to be on a website that sells ad space.
What this means for your website
Google has consistently said that websites that are relevant and useful to real people and that provide original and compelling content should perform well in search engine results. What this simply means is that rather than getting caught up in finding all the links you can or choosing the perfect keywords, you should focus on your customers. Make a website that meets their needs, that persuades them to take action, and that is filled with original and useful content. And since most small businesses and nonprofits don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay SEO firms monthly to engage in shady techniques, this is indeed good news!
If you keep perspective that search engines are just one method for you to reach potential customers, and you focus on meeting customers’ needs, you won’t have to worry each time Google or Bing make a major change. You’ll have the type of website they’re already looking for!