Do as Google says and get penalized

Over the years, Google has been telling webmasters to avoid manipulating their content and links to try to gain higher rankings. The advice has usually been along the lines of, “Do what is good for your readers.” In other words, we should ask ourselves, “Would I do this if Google did not exist?”

Of course, spamming has worked, at least in the short term. That is why people have continued to do it. And Google has waged a guerrilla warfare with spammers over the years.

But people could always get ahead as long as they made it look like they were doing things just for their readers. In other words, as long as it looked natural, and not automated.

  • If they were careful to vary the link text.
  • If they were careful not to have a thousand identical articles with the same resource box.
  • If they avoided link-exchange scripts.
  • If their content was “technically” unique (not the same content with just a couple words changed or synonyms substituted).

All that changed in what I call Google’s “Zoo Period“. Google unleashed pandas and penguins on the world, two black and white animals we usually associate with the words “cute” and “cuddly”.  But Google’s penguins and pandas are anything but cute and cuddly.

These two algorithms are delivering a hard strike at spammers.  The problem that everybody notices, however, is so much collateral damage of innocent websites and in particular that the small guy seems to be hit more than the big brands.

The problem that few people are talking about openly  is…

Webmasters are doing stupid things to please Google

Google’s advice that we should be creating web content for our readers, not for Google, is wise – at least in theory.

The problem is, that Google is now penalizing those very activities that we should be doing to make great websites for our readers.  Here are a few examples that I have noticed.

Content stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing was a big problem.  This was when people would just cram their keywords into their pages at an unnatural rate in order to gain an advantage in the search engines.  It made for hard-to-read pages.  People don’t do this too much any more; it no longer is considered effective.

Instead, they do content stuffing.

It seems that early results show that “thin content” (not many words on a page) can get a page into trouble with Google.  Worse still, several pages of “thin content” have been shown to drag down an entire domain. So webmasters and bloggers are rushing out in droves to beef up thin content pages, which typically would be any image-heavy page or blog posts with fewer than 100 or 200 words.  On one of my blogs, I have deleted a lot of old posts that were incredibly small.  Those posts were small for a reason, but they are gone now.  Others I have beefed up.

The problem that any writer worth her salt will immediately recognize, is that you cannot equate quality with word count.  In fact, a good writer seeks to streamline her content and use only those words that are absolutely necessary to convey the message.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” So says William Shakespeare.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” So says Friedrich Nietzsche

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” So says Thomas Jefferson

“Stuff it!” So says Google?

 

So the Internet is being again polluted by low-quality content, just to keep it all above Google’s word-count penalty threshhold.  Will this finally be the end of all those Wordless Wednesday blog posts?  Will I have to add a whole lot of extra verbiage to posts like this, where the video pretty much says it all?  Or to posts like this where a picture is worth a thousand words (if only Google could read pictures)?

Retired shotguns

In any marketing campaign, you have three choices.

1. You can use the rifle or sniper approach, narrowly defining your target audience and delivering a message directly to them, for their eyes only.  If your market is very small and very well-defined, such as if you manufacture street signs or oxygen dispensers for hospitals, this is usually the best choice.

2. You can use the shotgun approach, spreading your message as far and wide as possible hoping to reach the largest possible market.  This is ideal if you are selling a consumer product that appeals to a wide section of the population, particularly if it has appeal across all ages, genders and income levels.

3. You can use some combination of the rifle and the shotgun.

Once upon a time, before Google was a household name, people used to do article marketing that encouraged syndication.  The idea was the more websites published your article, the more people would see it and the more potential visitors you would get.

If you could blast your article to 1000 websites for the same amount of effort as to one or two websites, who cares if nobody saw the article on half the websites.  What counted is that some people saw it on some of the websites some of the time.  If the article was rubbish, it was just web pollution.  If the article was riveting, the shotgun would pull in traffic.

If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall ads to “post your ad on 1000 websites”.  Again, the shotgun approach.  You have no idea which of those websites are actually worth posting on.  Maybe 10 of them will bring you traffic.  But if the cost is $25 and you end up making more than that from just one of the sites, already you have positive ROI.  This has nothing to do with search engines, by the way.  And this would never have made you rich.  But it is/was a legitimate part of a shotgun approach to marketing.

You can’t do that anymore.

No more syndication

Even before the Penguin, people were panicking over “duplicate” content and “spinning” their articles so that each instance of the article would be “unique”, at least in the sequence of words it would use.

But now, the matter of spinning versus duplicate content is a moot point.  Now the Penguin will bite you for all the low-quality websites linking back to your website.

Google has plugged the shotgun, so that now it backfires and injures webmasters!

What a mess!

The problem is that if you have an amazing article, it makes perfect sense to get it syndicated as widely as possible.  If posting it to one article directory brings in five great leads and posting it to another brings in three great leads, good business sense dictates that you should syndicate it as far and wide as possible.  You want to include instructions on your site saying, “Please copy my articles, with attribution and a link.”

The problem is that Google will get you for the duplicate content.

Then the Penguin will stomp all over you for the poor quality links.

Verbose blog comments

What’s next?  Already I am hearing the chatter about blog comments.  People are asking whether we have to make sure our comments are long enough?  I know that a lot of spam comments are short: “Nice site”.  But other spam comments are long-winded, such as this drivel I just pulled from the moderation queue:

“I actually wanted to type a brief word so as to express gratitude to you for some of the pleasant guidelines you are writing at this website. My extended internet look up has finally been rewarded with wonderful tips to go over with my guests. I ‘d assume that most of us visitors are unequivocally blessed to dwell in a very good place with so many perfect individuals with helpful secrets. I feel very much privileged to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to some more cool times reading here. Thanks once more for everything.”

When I leave comments, sometimes I am long-winded.  And sometimes I am short-winded.  Here are three examples I left on three different posts of the same blog, over time.

 

 

 

How long a comment depends on how complex a remark one wants to leave.  It is not a sign of quality but of complexity.  Hopefully this will never be a concern, but if current trends continue, it won’t be long before the next black and white animal comes charging out of the Googleplex to cause mayhem on the Internet.