If a Google algorithm change makes the Wall Street Journal, you know it’s a big deal.
Google’s been on a tear lately. And what they’re up to affects businesses just like yours that rely on Google traffic for lead generation (or want to).
Let’s talk about what’s going on, the 2 big reasons why it’s going on and, most importantly, what you need to do to protect your business.
Beware the Penguin
The algorithm Google uses to determine where sites rank in the organic search results is always changing. Recently, however, the changes are coming faster and furiouser (if that’s not a word, it should be!) than ever.
The biggest of the changes, dubbed the Penguin Update, has especially been a whopper.
The WSJ’s article about Penguin focused on small business owners who’ve been affected by it (mostly for the worse). One of the owners saw sales fall from $68K to $25K in just one month. Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon in the wake of Penguin.
Over the past year or so Google’s algorithm changes have been focused on three main areas:
- Penalizing low quality sites that have unoriginal, spammy content and/or have lots of ads on them.
- Increasing the importance of “social signals” (ie. sharing and mentions of websites in social media) in determining how a site ranks
- Penalizing sites that have been “over-optimized” (ie. Google thinks the site owners have been trying to artificially boost their rankings). This is largely what the Penguin update is all about.
What’s Google Really Up To?
There are two things (which are closely linked) I believe to be at the heart of these changes.
One, Google is trying very hard to compete with (become?) Facebook. By integrating social signals (led by their Google+ social platform) into the search algorithm, they seem to be trying to turn into a social media company instead of keeping the focus on what they’ve always done really well…search. Time will tell whether that’s a smart move or not.
Second is money. The Penguin update has been a doozy. There’s pandemonium in the search engine results now. Business owners who’ve relied on their top Google rankings to pay the mortgage suddenly find their income has dried up overnight and they’re understandably panicking.
It’d be one thing if this change has improved the search engine results on Google. However, it’s not clear that’s the case.
Lots of post-Penguin searches are pulling up spammy sites that have no place on Page 1 of Google. At the same time, there have been established sites with lots of authoritative, unique, quality content that have been torpedoed.
There’s more uncertainty and volatility in the organic search results right now then I’ve ever seen. And that uncertainty and volatility serves Google very well.
Because it makes their paid advertising programs (which accounted for 96% of their $39.7 Billion in revenue last year) a lot more appealing.
If you’ve been living the high life at the top of Page 1 of Google’s organic search results and your site suddenly disappears, where’s the first place you turn?
For a lot of people that’s going to be AdWords, Google’s paid advertising program. (Though, as we’ll get to in a minute, there’s plenty of other options.)
Not only that, but with social signals playing a larger role in the rankings, more people will have to pay attention to Google+ which Google’s pushing like crazy.
I don’t fault Google for any of this. They’re a public company, accountable to shareholders, and it’s their job to get people to use their services and, ultimately, make money.
And while I feel bad for those who’ve been negatively affected by the recent changes, they knew the risks involved with Search Engine Optimization (or at least they should have).
SEO has always been an ever-changing game and never had any guarantees. No one knows when or how Google will change things next week, next month or next year. The only guarantee is things will change. Those changes will help some business owners and hurt others.
(By the way, this is not a knock against SEO which remains a very viable and very important online marketing strategy…you just have to be smarter about it these days.)
The bigger point is if your leads mostly come from just SEO or just PPC or just Facebook or any other form of lead generation, you’re playing with fire. One algorithm change, policy change, cost increase, etc. and that could be it for your business.
The One Word That’s Key to Your Survival Online
The lesson here is you have to protect yourself and your business. And the way to do that comes down to just one word…DIVERSITY.
This means getting traffic from a lot of different sources which could include:
PPC, SEO, Local Search, Bing, Yahoo!, Email Marketing, Blogging, Display advertising, Direct Mail (yes, I’m mainly an online marketing guy but direct mail, done right, does work!), Social Media (including YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook), Video Marketing, Article Marketing
And that’s just a starter list of broad categories. Even within each of the above there’s no shortage of options available.
The strongest businesses get leads from a variety of sources. Sure, if you have strong 1st page rankings on Google and your site suddenly takes a nose dive because of an algorithm change, that’s gonna hurt. But if you’re diversified, that drop won’t be the difference between making payroll or not.
And, by the way, diversity is also the key to successful SEO.
Getting backlinks (these are links from other websites to yours and are the single most important factor that determines how well your site ranks) from a variety of different sources has always been important. One thing that’s clear from the Penguin update is having variation in the anchor text of your backlinks is also very important.
Quick Mini-Lesson: Anchor text is the actual text you click on a web page that takes you to another web page or website. It’s usually blue text and is often underlined. The words used for anchor text matter because they help tell the search engines what the page the anchor text links to is about. “Click Here” is horrible anchor text for SEO purposes because it doesn’t provide any useful description. However, if you want to rank well for the term “flowers st louis” then having backlinks from other sites that point to yours with the anchor text “flowers st louis” can help you rank better for that term. However, with the Penguin update, having one keyword make up too high a percentage of your anchor text will likely hurt your rankings. So, again, diversity is key.
While my site hasn’t taken a hit because of Penguin, watching these changes and others unfold has been a big wake up call.
- It’s part of the reason why I started a newsletter and am blogging again.
- It’s part of the reason why I’m having more conversations with clients and prospects about paid advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook and Bing.
- It’s part of the reason I’m working with clients more closely on the messaging on their sites in order to boost conversions so they make the most of the traffic they’re getting.
If you’ve been relying on one source of traffic for lead generation, I challenge you to add just one more source to the mix over the next 14 days. It’s not that hard to do and will put your business on more solid footing no matter what changes Google has in store for us!
Not sure what sources of traffic make the most sense for your business? Sign up for our 30 minute Post-Penguin consultation where we’ll analyze your business and traffic sources and come up with a game plan for adding more sources of traffic to help you Google-proof your business.