“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
-HG Wells, 1945
We all know that well written, original content is extremely useful from an SEO perspective. It is 100% worth doing and is vital to any holistic SEO strategy. That said, if you’re writing your content with the search engines in mind as your primary target, you’re doing it wrong.
2015 is quickly turning into the year that Google finally forces websites to be customer focused. We all know that Google released their “mobile update” in April and the reason for this was to force websites to focus on design for the end user. If you have a mobile friendly site, you get a boost in Google’s mobile rankings. If you don’t, you won’t get the boost.
This really started a few years ago when Google announced that they would stop providing keyword data for organic. In 2011, Google started withholding keyword data. In 2015, pretty much everyone is seeing 90%+ of their organic keyword traffic being reported as “not provided”. This isn’t news of course, but Google’s reasons for doing this are becoming much more clear.
For years, Google has asked SEOs to stop focusing so much on keywords and focus more on the user experience. SEOs continued to focus on brute force style SEO, so Google basically said “you children can’t be responsible with your data, so we’re not giving it to you anymore”. That was the first true shot across the bow when it came to Google’s war on keyword based SEO. Since 2011, they’ve done the following:
Pushed Panda Live, punishing sites with “thin content”
Removed virtually all organic keyword data via keyword encryption
Rolled out the “Freshness” factor update
Released an update that penalized sites who were showing too many ads “above the fold” (or rewarded those who don’t, depending on how you look at it)
Started adding authorship to articles in the form of pictures and bylines
Rolled out the “Venice” update to improve localized results
Rolled out Penguin to further penalize people for keyword stuffing, article spinning and lots of other no no’s
Rolled out the Knowledge Graph, showing more emphasis on semantic search and giving searchers the information they’re looking for easier and faster
Rolled out the “Pirate” update, to better identify copyright violations
Rolled out the EMD update, devaluing exact match domains
Replaced the core algorithm with Hummingbird, while keeping several of the key updates mentioned previously (Penguin, Panda, etc)
Started the removal of authorship due to widespread abuse of the markup
Rolled out Pigeon to improve geolocated search results
Completed the removal of authorship markups
Rolled out the Mobile Friendly update
If you look at these updates, they all have something in common. The pattern is clear and obvious for all to see. Google is telling SEOs to focus on user experience instead of ranking or expect to see your coverage and visibility slide. They’re also telling SEOs that Google wants you to do as they say, not as they do (as their knowledge graph and answer boxes are nothing but unoriginal, scraped content), but that’s a rant for another day.
There are always going to be sites that play in the grey or the black in order to get ranked. That should not be your focus, as it is 100% beyond your control (unless you enjoy ratting out your competition, and even then there’s no guarantee that anything will happen). Instead, focus on what you can control – content quality, site speed and ease of use.
Good guys don’t always win, but at least they can sleep a little easier knowing that they won’t wake up one day to find their site completely deindexed with a message sitting in your inbox that reads something like this:
Dear site owner or webmaster,
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team