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This week’s online marketing blog post focuses on SEO specifically and on things that Google has not changed over the years as most of the press and attention is put on things that are changing rapidly.  The inspiration for this post came as a colleague asked me for my perspective on last week’s Moz Whiteboard Friday (6 Changes Google Hasn’t Made) where Rand provided detail and commentary on six areas of SEO that have not changed.  As I was typing a response, I realized that I was creating a long-winded blog post reply rather than an email, thus I’m sharing it here on the Voltage Blog as well.

Overall, I’m NOT surprised by the fact that Google hasn’t made a lot of these changes. In my opinion, they make ranking algorithm changes for 2 reasons and have a criteria or rationale for each.

  1. To improve their product (search results) for users: In this case, they are looking for ways to make adjustments to existing variables or for new signals to incorporate to provide the most relevant and beneficial search results for a given query. Examples of this are their use and integration of universal content, localization of results, search history impact on results, and specifically using Google+. There has been and still is a lot of speculation that social engagement and popularity on Facebook and Twitter have an impact even though Google flat out denies that there is any whatsoever.
  2. To neutralize spammers and those exploiting the algorithm: This really is a sub-mission of number one, but it is big enough to have a “web spam” team at Google that is separate from the team that manages and improves the algorithm for the purposes of number one. This is evidenced by the major announced spam filtering initiatives like Panda, EMD (exact match domain), and Penguin we’ve seen in the past few years.

In terms of the specific six items that Rand walks through in the video, I’m not surprised at all by the fact that many of these remain the same. While most of the industry headlines focus on changes Google makes and the 500+ algorithm updates they made last year alone, the core of SEO has not change or been removed entirely.

  1. Links from “on-topic” sites matter more than “off-topic”: This one is really interesting and while my research and advice to clients normally revolves around topical relevance for links, I do see that others have impact as well. I think Rand is right with his example that in a more closed to niche link graph that what botanists think is the most relevant/important gardening site may not be the same as what consumers think. It is dangerous for Google to write off all off-topic links and look at vacuums for industries as then every site will seek to have the same finite set of industry authorities link to them. When that’s the case, then how can Google tell the sites apart from a linking perspective?
  2. Anchor text’s influence would eventually plummet: I haven’t personally performed the number of tests or conducted extensive research to isolate the impact of this variable. I don’t overemphasize this with clients as my approach and view is that this is just one of many variables we need to address on-page for internal linking and with inbound links from other sources. I don’t think that on our own sites that if the only thing we optimize is anchor text for internal links that we’ll see much impact. Just like optimizing only title tags will make a splash. The key is to use keywords consistently and optimize across all of the on-page variables. Regarding inbound links, we know that we can go too far and get into trouble by having too many links out there that have the exact same anchor text. Thus, it is best to not focus too much on this variable and just consider how it rolls up into the rest of what we can control and optimize.
  3. 302s and other redirects would be treated more like 301s: Despite the fact that there are misplaced 302s all over the web, I think that Google has been so black and white with this topic that they don’t feel a need to expand and make assumptions about long-term 302s. It took me a few years in SEO before ever seeing the value in 302s, but twice in the last year I’ve had legit reasons to use them during some complicated site launches and do see their place. I think like a lot of other variables, it is incumbent on the site owner to figure out how to work with their CMS or technology to get the codes right for their intentions.
  4. Rel=Canonical would be come more of a “hint” and less a directive: This is something that must be implemented with care and tested. It is less black and white than 301 redirects, but I do appreciate how Google does typically make it directive. It falls into the same category as title and meta description tags though. If you don’t use it right or provide meaning, then Google reserves the right to ignore it or penalize based on misuse.
  5. Shares from trusted/important/influential social accounts would have a more direct and observable impact on rankings: I was at the SMX Advanced show a few years ago when the opening keynote panel included Rand and a presentation of the correlation and causation argument. This debate still gets discussed even though Google flat out denies that there is any direct relationship or impact between social engagement on Facebook and Twitter on search results. I still push clients to research and explore opportunities as I agree with Rand that there are likely many citations that come out of social engagement that provide benefits that do touch on known search variables.
  6. Google would take more cleanup action on hyper-spammy keyword niches in PPC (porn, pills, casino): This is really interesting to me as I haven’t/don’t spend a lot of time on the forefront of research and monitoring of Google’s spam battle. This is why I follow Moz and continue to try to learn DAILY in this industry.

I have no disagreements with Rand’s assessment as most of my assessments above are in addition to what he presented or are viewed through the lens of how I address these matters specifically with my clients.  I like to encourage anyone interested in online marketing and SEO to watch for the weekly Moz Whiteboard Friday videos as they are a 10 minutes well spent each week.

Feel free to comment or get in touch if you want to talk about how this information impacts your website and SEO plan.  We love to consult (for free) and talk about options available for marketers, website owners, and more.

Thanks for reading!

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