“Welcome to another installment of SEO in the Outback. Today, we’re hunting a particularly elusive species of creature, situs al naturalis. They’re born with highly optimized content and navigation – these things seem to be in their DNA structure. Others in the websitus genus have to work hard to gain these attributes. These beasts are so rare they can normally only be found in carefully cultivated wildlife preserves…”

How Google tours the Outback…

You know that “Related Article” section many sites have? Well, while visiting Search Engine Land and reading Danny’s viewpoint on the Penguin Update  (I would have chosen the title “Google Ices Web Spam with Mafia Penguin Connection” but that’s just me) I happened to look over their related article section. It was almost a shock to see the titles listed there.

Oh, sure. We know Google’s been busy this year already. –And, yes, we keep up on the changes. However, in this industry, you just sort of absorb the changes and roll on: like California stops for marketers.  Once you’ve seen the changes and figured out how to (or if you need to) counteract them, you incorporate that knowledge and then move on to the next crisis {algo change | client | ranking dive}.

With that in mind, maybe you’ll understand why it startled me to see all the changes listed in one spot like that (and I’m sure they missed a few). Especially since I remember each one being touted as “rewarding high-quality sites”, “getting rid of spam”, and “making search better”.

So… is it working? Or did these updates (and the pre-rollout announcement of them) just scare some webmasters into cleaning up their sites? And, what exactly would they be cleaning up?

The All Naturally Optimized, Ad-Free, User-friendly Website

So let’s break it down. What HAS Google been doing with their {beloved |hated | tolerated} search engine? According to them, they’re focusing on tighter, better searches. For the website owner, that means:

Quality content

Panda

But I LOOK harmless enough…

Panda had business owners struggling, no doubt. “What do you mean, they want quality?” Although Google’s Amit Singhal thoughtfully posted the Google blog “More guidance on building high quality sites,” it was abysmally lacking in essential “guide” like tendencies. It isn’t until you get to their Webmaster Guidelines that you start to get an idea of what the search engine sees as high quality.

As an aside:  Understand this. Whether you agree with a set of best practices or not is a moot point. You need to be aware of them, nonetheless, because the search engine is coded to see these best practices as indicative of quality. It’d be like us seeing “14K” on a yellow bracelet; all of a sudden, that bracelet takes on a shine that says “quality”.

Anyway… quality content isn’t thin. It doesn’t have a ton of keywords not-so-artfully buried in sentences. It has headers. And sections. And paragraphs and bullet points. (It probably doesn’t have fractured sentences, or lots of “ands”, but che serà, serà)

Quality vs… not quality is like:

Fewer ads above the fold

If you have ads on your website, you need to take a good look with a reality-focused eyeball. Go ahead; load your site up and take a look-see. Is a banner ad the first thing you see? Okay, no problem… let your eyes slowly scoot down the screen – but don’t scroll. Percentage-wise, how many ads do you think you have versus content?

3 signs that your ad use outweighs your content:

  1. If you say, “What content?”
  2. Between affiliate links and ad links, all your text is underlined.
  3. You use AdChoice for your article images.

Natural Optimization

Now this… this is the part that floors me. No matter how it’s phrased, Google is saying “your site needs to be optimized (i.e. perfected for relevancy),” which is basically what it says in the Google Guidelines. However, it also says, through the (paraphrased) words of Matt Cutts, “Your site can’t be optimized or it will be penalized.” Of course, as Cutts said when the Penguin update came out, “That’s not what we meant at all,” even though they’re still talking about an “over-optimization penalty”.

What does this double-speak mean? It means, to me at least, that the search engines are looking for natural optimization. In other words, relevance that happens out in the wild.

-And yet, if you look at the animal kingdom, some wild animals started out in shelters: cultivated, nurtured and groomed for their future life as a wild creature. Things that make you go hmmm…

Website Quality Assurance – Emphasis on “Quality”

People fuss over the strangest things. For example, they’ll {moan | complain | whine} when their site traffic drops 1%, but completely ignore that their conversion rate went up 3%. They’ll complain about 300 Twitter followers and totally miss the fact that Twitter brings a whopping 9,000 visits a month to the table. In other words, the {numbers | metrics} they use are skewed. What they use to decide growth is messed up.

Now, you’re not going to get a highly optimized, user-friendly, ad free website all by accident. Perfection is created. Therefore, you create one, while doing so in such a way as to make it appear as if “it juz happened, yo.”

Since Google’s guidance post seemed less than guiding, we’ve created a guidance post of our own. The emphasis is “quality, not quantity”.

  • When was the last time you visited your site? (Correct answer: frequently – this week, etc.) Visiting your site should be a regular occurrence. You never know when something that was working perfectly yesterday is now toast today.
  • Using LinkSlueth or other crawler, check your pages for link errors (404s, 500s,etc.) or redirect loops (301 to 301 to 301).
  • Test redirections any time they’re set up, to make sure they’re working properly.
  • When you put up new pages or replace old ones, make sure they’re visible to the public with no errors.
  • Make sure each page/post on your site has a proper title, description, and headline.
  • Make sure each page/post has unique, informative content.
  • Use proper, semantic-style writing (headlines, section headings, paragraphs, bullet points, etc.). These give ample opportunity for visitors and search engines to decide the topic of the page and if it’s relevant to their search query.
  • Connect the dots from search engine snippets to the content on the page and the images used with the content.

Remember that a good website is much like a book. A book may have several sections, but they’re all about the same topic (whatever that topic is). Your website is nothing more than a book – and a book with less than 150 pages, at that (for most of you). When you strip optimization down to its bare bones, it’s simply a way of making sure you stay on topic for a particular search query.

The Ending

A successful website isn’t about how much traffic you get. It’s about how many customers you keep. It’s not about quantity, but about quality; the quality of your visitors makes a difference on whether they buy or not. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that what matters to { your visitors | search engines } is your ability to provide them with quality?