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How and why to keep up with Google’s latest changes

Thursday, 15 August 2013 | By Patrick Stafford

Google is a trickster. Just when you’ve got the hang of ranking your business online, everything changes.

 

Suddenly your content isn’t ranking quite as well, and you may find that overnight your position drops from Google’s first page to second or even third.

 

And it’s happened again. Over the past few months, Google has introduced some tweaks to the way it ranks and organises content.

 

While some of these changes are focused squarely on dodgy websites using tricks like backlinks to improve their rankings, some of them will affect companies that aren’t doing anything wrong.

 

In fact, e-commerce businesses have suffered in the past few months due to some very specific changes.

 

So why should you care? As Monte Huebsch of AussieWeb explains, more people than ever are simply taking the cream of their Google search crop.

 

“I used to say 80% of people don’t go past the first page during my talks,” he says. “But Google contacted me and told me to update my data – it’s more like 95%.

 

“Nearly nobody goes to the second page, and 85% of people don’t even scroll down the first page.”

 

With auto-complete and social media now impacting Google rankings more than ever, now isn’t the time to get lazy.

 

So what are these most recent Google changes, and how can you use them to your advantage?

 

Backlinks

 

One of Google’s most drastic algorithm changes – codenamed “Penguin” – made a return this year. Over the past month or two, Google has been tweaking and changing the way it ranks sites based on backlink usage.

 

You may not think you’re using any backlinks at all. But dodgy SEO companies have used this as a tactic for years, so plenty of small businesses can find themselves affected.

 

Jim Stewart, chief executive StewArt Media, says the changes have been so drastic some businesses have dropped off the first results page.

 

“There has been a major change in the way Google assesses backlinks,” he says.

 

“We’ve even found instances where people have been buying backlinks to their content through sites that have no relevance at all, and they rank number one for it.”

 

If you’re not buying backlinks, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about. But Stewart says businesses should always check their SEO managers are doing the right thing – and issues a warning to those who are.

 

“Even things like press releases have been clamped down on,” he says.

 

“Press releases were one way to get backlinks across a multitude of sites really quickly. That’s been affected in a big way.”

 

If you’re issuing dodgy press releases just to get links, you’d best watch out – Google is coming for you.

 

Duplicated content

 

This one is a bit more complicated.

 

The Panda update mostly focused on the quality of the searches being presented to the user. As part of the crackdown on dodgy content, Google attempted to downgrade duplicated sites.

 

But as Jim Stewart explains, plenty of sites have duplicated content, even if they don’t know it.

 

“Many sites actually have internal errors which they don’t know about,” he says. “Especially if products are discontinued. So they would downgrade a site based on that as well.”

 

Most duplicated content is pretty obvious. For instance, if a company blog is simply reposting things from other sites, then Google will look on that site fairly poorly.

 

But e-commerce sites have emerged as one unlikely target.

 

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Given the amount of products an e-commerce site sells, many would be forgiven for just taking descriptions from a manufacturer’s catalogue. But as Stewart explains, Google has cracked down on that too.

 

“A lot of e-commerce sites got hit hard by that,” he says. “It tends to see that duplicated content as a low quality issue.”

 

But of course, sites don’t have the manpower to rewrite thousands of product descriptions. So Stewart says businesses in the e-commerce space either need to get to work on those descriptions, making them different from the manufacturer-provided content, or come up with something else entirely.

 

“One of the things we’re recommending to sites is to look at their content strategy, and consider things like blogging where you can actually expand on your products.

 

“That’s another opportunity for you to create the content that Google wants to see.”

 

AdWords Enhanced

 

Earlier this year Google introduced a new type of AdWords campaign, and slapped the “enhanced” label on them. Last month, it shifted every user on to these new campaigns.

 

So it doesn’t matter whether you like them or not – enhanced campaigns are here to stay.

 

So what are they? Enhanced AdWords campaigns differ from the previous version in that you can now target multiple devices in the same campaign.

 

Previously you had to target mobile and desktop devices in separate campaigns. Not anymore. Now, they’re all in the same campaign, along with other features which let you customise campaigns the way you want them.

 

All of this means you can streamline everything and get much better results in less time.

 

There’s also a new feature called “adjustments” which allow you to focus your campaigns on specific types of people, times or locations. As Monte Huebsch says, given the old AdWords campaign has been brushed away – and the new one is so powerful – now is the time to wise up on the new way of doing things.

 

“If you haven’t been on board…now is the time,” he says.

 

Authority and content

 

That content strategy should help you with this next one. As part of Google’s updates over the past few months, the search engine is prioritising authority – as long as you’re seen as a thought leader in a specific area, your rankings will increase.

 

That means you should be blogging about your specific industry as much as possible. The more shares and hits you get, the better off you’ll be.

 

But the opposite is also true. The less content you have, the more Google will view you as unnecessary. So any pages with just a large picture and a sentence or two aren’t going to cut it.

 

“What Google is saying now is that if a page doesn’t provide valuable content – why should it rank it higher?” Huebsch says.

 

This also helps your mobile rankings, which are becoming just as important – if not more important – than normal rankings.

 

Rendering

 

This is just a quick one – but an important rule nonetheless. Jim Stewart notes Google has been prioritising rendering speed. The longer it takes to load your pages, the lower Google will rank you.

 

“This is especially important if you want to rank well in mobile search,” he says.

 

“It’s probably a good idea to have your web pages rendering in under a second.”

 

Google Maps

 

This is a big update. And you probably don’t know anything about it.

 

Google recently switched over its classic Google Maps design to a new version. But it didn’t just change the design of the landscape – it changed the way business listings work as well.

 

The new version of Google Places was updated last month, but a huge amount of data was lost in the transfer. Businesses lost data including opening times, physical locations and other location-specific information.

 

“They stripped out three quarters of the data, so it hit everybody,” says Huebsch.

 

“If there’s anyone anything can take away from that process, it’s that they need to look at their listings and find out what specifically has been taken away.

 

“You always need to check your listing. Once you do, you can claim your listing, and then put all of your data back in – and that includes pictures, categories and everything else.

 

“If there’s one thing to take away from the change, it’s that businesses need to check that data and make sure it’s up to speed.”

 

This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

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