Google's Algorithm: Where to Next?
Internet marketers everywhere are scrambling to make sense of Google's many algorithm changes. While Google's changes only affect a subset of all searches, some marketers have nevertheless suffered significant losses to their bottom line in the form of traffic loss. If you fall under this category, it is crucial to understand why Google makes these changes and what these changes imply. Google's trajectory for its algorithm is predictable, and if you get ahead of the curve, you can insulate yourself from future damage.
The Recent Changes
Over the past five years, Google has rolled out four major changes to its algorithm. They are, in order of appearance: Caffeine, Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. Caffeine was an update to Google's index, the part of the search engine responsible for locating and ranking websites. Introduced in 2009, Caffeine provided 50% faster searches. The update was an unprecedented upgrade to the search engine's architecture, and it closed a lot of loopholes that SEOs were using to manipulate the engine. Panda came into the scene in 2011, and heads rolled as the update deranked sites with thin content. Penguin went into effect in 2012 and targeted webmasters who were not following Google's terms and conditions.
Hummingbird, the most significant update to date, represents a complete overhaul of Google's engine. Like its predecessors, part of its mission is to derank sites that use blackhat SEO tactics such as doorway pages and link schemes, but it is also armed with powerful tools that will help Google interact more organically with its users. Most importantly, Hummingbird shifts the focus from keywords to the actual meaning of a search string. In other words, Google is attempting to build a search engine that understands phrasing and the context between words. This shift has important ramifications for Internet marketers.
Why the Updates?
First and foremost, Google is a search engine. While the company does make most of its income from advertising, its public face as the world's most popular search engine drives its popularity. Peel the public service facade away and what you're left with is a company that pairs content with advertising, and many might not find this nearly as endearing.
Yet Google is a corporation. Everything it does is designed to turn a profit. At the same time, however, people view Google's search engine as a public service. To remain the top search engine, therefore, requires that the company take a dispassionate, impartial and level-handed approach towards ranking sites. In other words, Google must ensure that everyone who wants to create a website gets a fair chance to rank for their keyword. This is precisely why the company seems forever at odds with SEO in general, and it is why it considers quality content to the be one of the determining factors when ranking sites.
As Google forges ahead with updates to its algorithm, it will continue to press the envelope in terms of comprehending the true nature of a user's search string. A search engine that can accurately parse a full sentence can return extremely accurate results. Consequently, the onus is on Internet marketers to provide well-written content that solves a problem.
Perhaps most important from a marketing standpoint: the long-tail keyword will become much more important. Consider the keyword "Forex." An associated long-tail may be "Forex trading for beginners," which you could aim to incorporate organically somewhere on your page.
By forcing companies and marketers alike to anticipate their users' needs in this way, Google hopes to ensure that quality and usability of content will increase. You can use this to your advantage by producing high-quality content centered around long-tails that link out to affiliate offers or product pages, though you should always take care that those pages have plenty of content themselves, lest Google consider them "thin." Thin content on your domain can result in a lowered rank.
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