It happens all the time… your website finally secures a starring role on the first page of a Google SERP. And then…
Google “slaps” your website, sending it into virtual purgatory (SERP page 1,398,530 or beyond) — effectively flushing your web-based income down the toilet.
Google’s infamous slaps strike without warning, penalizing websites that somehow offend their never fully disclosed notion of “correct and proper” SEO.
But now, Google is giving advanced warning that it intends to slap, believe it or not — SEO itself! SEO, of course, is the art and pseudo-science of intuiting Google’s rules so that your website, in a perfect world, appears and stays on the first page of a Google SERP.
But the world is far from perfect; indeed, it is ineffable, and Google prefers it that way. Because Google lives in constant fear that bands of ingenious little techno-nerds and black-hat bandits will hijack their search algorithms, and “game” their system — bringing down their galactic cyber-cash cow, like Visigoths sacking ancient Rome — not only do they never fully explain their rules, they keep changing them! So, at best, SEO has always been a gamble… a guessing game.
Their most recent algorithm change was PANDA, which penalized websites for, among other things, too many low-quality ads or links above the fold, and for poor quality traffic over all.
And now, here comes…
The Newest Google Slap
So new, in fact, this Google slap doesn’t even have a name, nor has it been activated yet. But it will be, says the man in charge, Matt Cutts.
Matt Cutts, you see, is the head of Google’s Webspam team, and he leaked a bit of info recently at Austin’s SXSW convention that has sent web-marketers and SEO professionals into a virtual tailspin.
“…We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there’s something we’ve been working on over the last few months and hope to release it in the next few months or few weeks. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or over SEO — versus those creating great content and a fantastic website — we’re going to level the playing field. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance more adaptive, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like using too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links, or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”
No doubt, the question you’re now asking yourself is:
How much is too much SEO?
Indeed, what is over-optimizing, or over-SEO-ing? Well, you can bet your top page ranking that Google isn’t going to tell you any more than what Matt said above. So don’t bother trying to micro-analyze his statement or guess how many keywords or links are too many on any given webpage. Google’s algorithms are probably the world’s best-kept secrets. Governments would pay dearly (and probably are) to learn how Google keeps their cyber-vaults hacker-proof.
So, unless you can somehow mind-meld with Matt Cutts’ brain… you’ll just have to…
Create content that appeals to people, not bots.
Hardly a revolutionary idea. In fact, this “idea” has been promulgated ever since Internet marketers stopped living in the world of flesh and blood and chose to live and market in the cold, black, binary world of cyberspace.
So what’s the answer then to the question: How much SEO is too much SEO, or more to the point, what is to become of content marketing as currently practiced?
The answer is revealed when you…
Stop worshipping Google.
Look, when it comes to content marketing, so many companies today are hiring anyone who can tap, tap, tap on a keyboard and conjure up articles stuffed, to whatever degree, with keywords. Yet, these articles have so little actual value or use to readers — indeed, they’re not intended for human eyes — and these companies state this, unabashedly. These articles are written instead for Google’s bots. In fact, when advertising for writers, these companies will state, unequivocally, they’re looking for “SEO writers” — that is, anyone experienced with keyword research who can strategically insert keywords into a 750-word article. The actual “writing” of these articles is only incidental to the job. No real writing talent or ability is required, because there’s no need to connect, on any level, emotionally or intellectually, with a human being.
Could this slap then be the final fatal blow to content marketing?
No doubt, you’ve read these types of articles yourself (or published them). They’re innocuous, banal, and often created by unemployed housewives with no experience with, or intrinsic knowledge of, the subject at hand, or by offshore content factories, where English is a second language and the price and speed of delivery is their main value proposition. This is the type of content-marketing abuse Google is looking to stop.
To its credit, Google’s aspiration, vis-a-vis SEO, is to provide targeted, and most of all, valuable, actionable, qualitatively superior content to those searching for it. To that end, Google has upped the ante — penalizing those who attempt to game their system, tricking it into rewarding their websites with a higher SERP placement, which would otherwise be given to websites that serve searchers better and more honestly.
What, then, is to become of SEO companies?
Let’s face it; most SEO companies are a slippery bunch with mixed track records. Their ability to divine the intent of Google’s algorithms has always been, and will always be, rather Sisyphean. Any results they achieve for their clients are, by their very nature, fleeting.
What many marketers fail to realize, though (until they look at the results and their associated cost), is that the broad strokes with which an SEO company typically paints a client’s website to earn it a higher ranking are pretty much the same things marketers can do themselves, if they understand one elemental truth:
People are not stupid (and neither is Google).
Therefore, in regard to content, provide what people want to read and what they can hold in high esteem, if your preferred mode of marketing is indeed content marketing. And if you do this, by virtue of your content’s qualitative depth, your website will become known, inevitably, to both your broader target market and to Google’s new, smarter bots.
In other words, you’ll gain market share — you’ll make money! And you’ll have great SERP placement!
So do what so many of us are already hoarse from preaching. Create content for humans, not spiders. Provide well-thought out, well-crafted answers, not diluted pabulum stuffed with keywords. Publish articles that nourish relationships and can satisfy your market’s appetite for solutions. And doing this requires no more time, effort, or money than that which would otherwise be expended hiring penny-per-word writers to produce thousands of pages of useless drivel — drivel that now will only cause you to be banished to SERP page 1,398,530 or beyond.
Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter at Writing With Personality. To read more of his articles and irreverent musings, and download a FREE copy of his NEW eBook, containing 21 of his most outrageous rants, visit his blog: Marketing Wit & Wisdom!