Search Engine Optimization is currently an ambiguous term, as the concept has changed dramatically over the last two years. The practice had previously been used by companies to manipulate search engine results with keyword placement and backlinks. This could help boost their Web traffic results.
Google reacted in February 2011 by unleashing Panda, an anti-spam algorithm designed to clean up SEO practices. 25 Panda updates have followed since, all of them cutting down on dubious link-building tactics. This hasn’t stopped the attempts to manipulate search results, leading to an announcement on 21st May by Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts: Panda 4.0 had been released.
Google are traditionally secretive with what this entails, but the consequences were felt immediately across the Internet. For companies the world over it’s a tense time; here’s an overview on how to make sure your efforts are positive for the online community.
The Anti-Spam Internet Era
Matt Cutts’ official announcement got the update rolling. In what has become a mandatory mass panic reaction from the SEO world, the news rapidly spread across the Internet. Whilst some have deemed Google’s plans draconian, it has helped to clean the Web and boost people’s hard work over those who practice blatant search engine manipulation.
Search engine optimization is now anachronistic, in some respects, as the concept of building links to boost search engine rankings has changed dramatically. In the early days Google were quick to point out their annoyance with many SEOs flooding the Internet with keyword-heavy, spam-ridden articles. This led to terms such as “unnatural links”, where poor-quality sites could land themselves at the top of search results with dubious keyword practices and spun articles. Google worked to make sure this would no longer happen. Over the years, as more changes came about, there has appeared a very clear approach it had become necessary to take in order to avoid being penalised.
SEO In 2014
For many small businesses there is ongoing concern and confusion in how to approach SEO. The Panda 4.0 release doesn’t help the matter, as Google’s updates can appear ambiguous in their expectations. In late 2013 Google released the Hummingbird update, which focused on conversational search terms. This was followed, in January 2014, by Cutts’ plans to crack down on spam-heavy guest posting. Several months on and a new version of Panda is out. All of this is aimed at controlling dubious spamming campaigns.
For businesses across the world the concern will be about how they can promote themselves. The answer’s long been touted, and it involves hard work and constant creativity. Unique content is the way to adhere to Google — the creation of intriguing content with a sense of individualism. Dubious antics such as spun articles (or articles which clearly only exist for backlinks), duplicated content, and uninspired articles are not a viable option.
Google’s social media network, G+, is vital to this, as marketers can sign up to the service to have their work linked to their accounts, effectively verifying everything they write (here’s how to go about this — do so immediately if you’re still not using the service). Another important factor is businesses hiring professional writers, as SEO and marketing are dependent on content creation. Anyone with a background in content creation can excel in the Panda era of Google. Details on the full scale of Panda 4.0 are still vague, but the key to not falling foul to Google’s anti-spam movement is to be as creative as possible. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
Despite the knowledge about the anti-spam updates, some companies have been badly affected all the same. None more so than eBay, who have endured a nightmarish time.
eBay’s Tumultuous Week
The auction site isn’t often in the news — it goes about its business in the background with immense success. It was consequently surprising to see eBay endure an onslaught of disasters this week.
The first problem occurred when Panda 4.0 hit their Web traffic. According to SearchMetrics, there was a 33 percent drop following the launch of the anti-spam software. Other sites badly hit were ask, retailmenot, starpulse, yellowpages, and isitdownrightnow. The sites which have suffered are ones which deal in syndicated/duplicated content. As mentioned, this has been a key source of frustration for Google over the last few years. Whilst the full consequences of Google’s activities can’t be understood until a later date, it is at least fairly clear which brands have hit trouble.
Worse was to follow for eBay, who realised on 21st May their site had been compromised by hackers. This left 150+ million users with personal data in an insecure environment. This is believed to have been a security shortcoming hackers were able to take advantage of for several months. The advice to eBay users is to immediately change the password to their account, and to update affiliated accounts (such as PayPal) as a precaution.
Since the news broke, three U.S. states have investigated the company’s security practices. Connecticut, Florida, and Illinois representatives began a joint investigation, whilst New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman requested credit monitoring from eBay for anyone affected by the hack. The FBI are also involved in the incident. It’s a PR disaster for the auction giant; in one week they have taken a shocking turn of events.
EBay’s troubles are a stark reminder to businesses to respect Google’s anti-spam expectations, and to always keep an eye on security.