When Google’s so-called Panda update dropped in 2011, it turned the world of search on its head: quality, not keywords, would dominate from here on out and content would be king. Now Google has updated its algorithms again—call it Panda 2.0—and every marketer and small business needs to adapt once more…but this time Google is making it trickier by refusing to go public with its changes. We chatted with search experts to find out what you can do to make sure your company’s content and search strategies are firing on all cylinders.

The biggest difference between the original Panda update and the latest iteration is Google’s public silence: the search giant officially released virtually no details of the update, but the search marketing community is abuzz with talk of ongoing changes and rampant speculation about what it means for search optimization.

While details of the update are hard to come by, our experts all agreed that quality, audience and user experience are more important than ever. Here are some specific suggestions any small business can follow.

1. Focus on overall marketing, not just search optimization

“If you are devising a way to do anything that is built exclusively for links, and that strategy becomes popular in the search engine optimization community or the marketing community, at some point, Google is going to figure it out and devalue that technique,” says Ryan Evans, founder of public relations firm BiteSize PR . “Google’s job is to rank the best sites in the world for a given query. If whatever you’re doing isn’t the best content, you’re going against what they have a $300 billion interest in maintaining.”

Dan Reno, SEO director at online marketing agency Be Found Online, agrees.

“If you’re ever going to recommend something that could be affected so significantly by just one Google update, you’re probably doing several things incorrectly,” he says. “A lot of it comes down to common sense. If what you’re doing doesn’t have an impact somewhere else, or [would] be viewed as a viable marketing tactic for other reasons, chances are you’re probably barking up the wrong tree,” he adds.

Instead, consider SEO as just one facet of an overall marketing goal. Web content should draw attention and help individual readers, rather than just build search engine rankings.

2. Create valuable content

If you’re a business owner looking to draw attention to your products or services, you may have considered writing guest posts for high traffic sites in exchange for a backlink or two, either within the text or in your bio. But before you whip up these posts, you’ll want to make sure that they are remarkably useful for the reader, and that each post is individually crafted for the site where it will be posted. Writing similar posts for multiple sites isn’t recommended.

Writing a high quality guest post for a website in exchange for a backlink can be a good strategy to build awareness of a product or service, but Google now warns against “large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.” Translation: don’t spam the Web with copies of your product pitch masquerading as an op-ed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t include a link back to your site with a high quality guest post, but it does mean that writing posts that are similar to one another for the specific purpose of getting backlinks is not advisable.

“If the intent for the guest post is greater than just getting a link back to that site, in most cases you should be in the clear, because there should be greater benefit than just that link; it should be adding value,” Reno explains.

3. Use “nofollow” for links Google may consider unnatural, including those in press releases

Many business owners include links to their own sites when distributing press releases en masse through newswires or other paid distribution services. But as Google continues to devalue what they consider “unnatural” links, they recommend using a “no-follow” attribute when embedding anchor text on press releases, which essentially tells search engines to ignore the link for SEO purposes and prevents your business from being penalized for seeding so many links around the Web.

The no-follow tag should also be used for links where money or products change hands—giving out free samples in exchange for reviews with a link to your product, for example, or paid links included in a directory service.

“That’s not really a change for Google, because they’ve always stated that if there’s a link to another site that’s considered to be an advertisement or there’s a business relationship between properties, then a no-follow be used,” Reno explains.

4. Backlinks aren’t everything

Receiving media attention from credible sites is far more important than a one-off backlink to your site.

“A physical book doesn’t have a link,” Ryan Evans points out, “but if the audience is relevant, it could be a good media opportunity. If you build relationships, do a lot of research, write really compelling content and have a great design, you’re going to rank better over time [in search results].”

The best way to receive that attention, and the links to your site that go with it, is by creating valuable content, says Evans. For example, his firm, BiteSize PR, recently received a natural link from Spin magazine to a post Bitesize put together on the 100 greatest publicity stunts of all time.

5. Links serve your readers

“Google has said you should never sacrifice user experience for SEO,” Reno explains. But leaving out links can be just as bad for your audience as stuffing your posts full of them. “By not linking, you are not contributing to a positive user experience, which Google has also said that they frown upon. Not linking to someone because you’re afraid you’ll get penalized by Google is a little bit silly,” he adds.

Should you be concerned about existing links that look bad to Google?

“If you were involved in any kind of spun content ratings and haven’t already been penalized or cleaned that stuff up then, yeah,” Reno says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t really spend too much time being worried about existing backlinks, just try to focus on quality going forward.”

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at Yaelwrites.com.

© 2013 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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