For those whose businesses rely on the Internet to produce revenue the latest Google update, nicknamed Jagger, was one of the biggest events in the past couple years (probably since the Florida Update of 2003). With this 3-part update Google has essentially changed many of the rules and have thrown the SEO community for a loop.
In this update there are a few key areas that have impacted the way sites rank and how an SEO (or a business owner optimizing their own site) needs to approach and address the various components. The key areas that have been affected with this update are:
In short, the way everything about your site is calculated has changed however if we pay attention to what has changed in each area we’ll quickly see how to optimize a site and equally important, we’ll see what Google is trying to accomplish with this update. I state that this as equally important in that understanding what Google is hoping to accomplish will help us take measures now to protect our rankings during future updates. We will cover this further below in the conclusion.
The History Of Your Web Pages
The history of your website and in fact, the individual pages within it are playing an increasingly important role in your site’s ability to rank well. The longer your site has been online the better your chances of ranking highly. Further, the longer a specific internal page has been live the better it will rank for additional phrases.
What this means to you is that you will have to take into account the length of time your domain has been around when you set your expectations regarding which phrases you should be ranking for. In the beginning of a promotion you will not want to target an intensely competitive phrase with hopes of attaining it on Google; rather you will want to select less competitive secondary phrases that contain the primary phrase (seo services vs. guaranteed seo services for example) and optimize for that. What you will accomplish is rankings on Google for at least a relevant phrase while at the same time building links with relevancy for your primary phrase which you will rank well for once your website has gained history.
The less competitive the phrase, the more weight the other factors will have on your ability to rank highly. History is only one factor among many. For highly competitive phrases where you are competing with sites that have history and have also addressed the other factors noted below you will find it extremely difficult to outrank them, however for less competitive phrases the other factors will hold more weight in that the other sites will likely not be optimized as strongly for them and thus, your site stands a much better chance of beating them out.
The Way Backlinks Are Counted
Similar to the history of your site, the history of the links to your site have gained importance. As was noted in Google’s patent application #20050071741 titled, Information retrieval based on historical data, links, like sites, gain weight over time. This point was further clarified in the latest update as sites with longstanding links gained strength while sites with many new links did not see significant ground gained. The sandbox on links is functioning in fractions in that after a period of time a link will gain part of it’s weight, after a bit longer, it will gain more, etc. (the exact length of time is of course a closely guarded secret by Google and likely changes as their algorithm does). This means your link building today won’t create any substantial effect on your Google rankings until months down the road.
Additionally, the relevancy of links to your site is still important however Google’s ability to determine relevancy appears to have improved. Pages no longer have to containing the exact keyword phrases to be relevant but rather have to be from related industries. For example, a link to an SEO site from a web design site would be considered relevant even though the keywords on the page are not specifically related to SEO.
Natural links have gained weight over unnatural links. Links that are contained within content areas of a page will be weighted more strongly that links that appear alone or in a directory-style (like reciprocal links pages) as they are considered more natural. When you are having links built to your site try to get them placed within the content (within the description portion of your reciprocal link for example). Also, in link building you will want to insure you’re varying the terms of your anchor text. Creating hundreds of links with identical anchor text will quickly be detected as a link building effort (i.e. not natural) and thus will carry little weight. Different anchor text for your links will appear more natural and thus will have a more positive impact on your rankings.
Site Content & Structure
The optimal keyword density doesn’t appear to have changed but rather appears to have declined in value altogether. Sites with low keyword densities are starting to appear more often for phrases based more on their links than their content and also overall site relevancy.
While the importance of a specific keyword density on a page has declined, this has been countered by an increasing importance of relevancy throughout the site. Google is opting to assign relevancy based more on the overall content of the site rather than a single page. General directories will be showing up less and less in exchange for topic-specific directories. Additionally, sites with a central theme carried throughout the majority of pages will tend to rank over sites with a specific page or even section on a topic.
Internal links are carrying a solid weight in attaching relevancy to specific internal pages. Properly worded internal links, preferably built into the content of your site (see note on natural links above) will add weight to those internal pages and increase the likelihood of those pages ranking for specific secondary phrases.
While this update has caused a panic among some SEOs it is clear to see what Google is looking to accomplish with it. By placing significant weight on the age of domains and links they have reduced the effectiveness of buying multiple domains to links together (easier to buy one and spend your time promoting it) and it has also reduced the value of paid links in that the buyer will have to pay for the link for months before the full weight is assigned. In some cases this may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars simply waiting for the link to gain any real value.
Additionally, by considering the overall relevancy of a site vs. the relevancy of a specific page they are allowing relevant sites to rank highly even if the content is created to be appealing to the human visitor over the search engine spider. This move helps to weed out less relevant pages from appearing and increasing the likelihood that a searcher will find what they’re looking for in the results. A site with more pages of content on a specific topic is more likely to provide the information being sought than a site with a single page on the topic or a page of links.
While not perfect this update has done a lot to address a number of serious issues with Google’s results. To be certain, there is still room for improvement in cleaning out spam results however they are definitely moving in the right direction. But what does this mean for us?
For those seeking high rankings on Google this update and the direction it predicts for future updates indicates that clean tactics will be necessary. Spam is becoming less-and-less effective and its detection is becoming stronger and stronger (though certainly not perfect at this point). Building solid, natural links and creating a site with a lot of useful, relevant information will win out in the end though the aging delays on both domains and links mean you will have to be dedicated to the task. And this is the environment Google is hoping to attain, dedicated webmasters creating larger, more relevant sites with natural links. Mission accomplished.