In February Google updated its algorithm yet again. Now the reason for this is up for speculation but Google has said it's to make a better user experience. In Google's eye, they would like every search to serve up exactly what the searcher is looking for. Its earlier updates have always favored high quality content that creates a great user experience. I don't think anyone would argue with that. I surely won't or don't.
But this update also penalized many sites just because they or the company that they hired used certain blog networks to help get their sites higher up in the search engines. In fact, several networks have been de-indexed. (What that mean is that the sites in question can't be found on Google–it's as if they don't exist.) Now while some things can be overdone and too much of anything can be a bad thing, what Google did here (including sending out over 700,000 notices to webmasters that they appear to have some unusual linking to their sites) has hurt a lot of innocent people who have good sites, with good content that are now forced to either pay for their traffic or go out of business.
My research has found that Google is also favoring content that has been shared on Google + even more than on Facebook. Google + is a great platform BUT it isn't gaining the popularity that I originally thought it would have. Yes, we all have our profiles there and share the occasional thing, but it's a bit of a ghost town. Is Google forcing us to use its social networking platform in order to help our rankings on Google proper? I think so and it's not fair.
Google's own Matt Cutts said at South by South West that Google will be penalizing sites for “over-optimization.” What is over optimization? Well, it's a general term and there are no stead fast rules. If you do any type of link building there is a point where Google considers it overdone. None of us in the search engine community know exactly what they look for–although badly spun articles and blog networks is what they are looking for right now. All we can do is try one thing or another and see how it effects the search engines. You can overdo it by linking internally to pages within your site but no one knows at what point Google will consider it overdone. Now, they say that this is to level the playing field and that the search engine will find the most relevant content for the end user, but I tend to disagree (black hat techniques not being part of my equation here.) If you are optimizing your site and creating what people want to read, you shouldn't be penalized for being smarter than your competitor which brings me to another point that actually scares the hell out of me.
The recent algorithm change has also opened up a huge hole for the unethical and nefarious. It's now possible to effectively knock out your competition by sending links to their site. This practice, now being called “negative SEO” is where you take garbage links (from comments or x rated sites) and send a ton of them to a competitors site. This has been tested by a few and I've seen the case studies. Negative SEO works and it's totally unethical. The new Google algorithm has a gaping hole in it and I hope they fix this sooner rather than later. Here's a post on Google + about this and here's a link to a case study on negative SEO.
Many in the community have also pointed out (correctly, I will say) that we are giving Google too much information about who we are and what we do. Many sites that are not affected are not using Google's free analytics product but other software to measure their stats. I haven't taken the plunge to moving all our sites to another platform, but we are researching alternatives. I hate this game of cat and mouse. I just want the efforts for our clients and ourselves to generate a great user experience that in turn will bring in more business. A lofty goal? Maybe. But that's the way it should be in my opinion.
Am I putting myself in danger by writing this on my blog? Probably, but it needs to be said.