Fire Your SEO Firm? Penguin 2.0 and The Evolution of Search

With Penguin 2.0 expected to come soon, there’s been lots of discussion about assessing the quality of links and cleaning up the ones likely to ding you in Google’s search results. Last week, The Sales Lion put out his thoughts about SEO and link-removing, which are based on an email from an SEO company to a client who had contacted him.

My first thought is he’s right: the times they are a-changin!

With each update to Google algorithms, we see a steady march towards natural, informative content being promoted organically because they are shared, linked to by influencers and are just generally more helpful. Search engine technology is moving beyond sheer number of links and the metadata to an assessment of the actual content. Penguin 2.0 underscores this. The somewhat mechanical approach to link building is no longer going to be rewarded; it’s giving way to creative content that people actually want to read.

It’s not going to stop there.  Case in point, Google wants to make sure the person doing the posting is an actual person, and they’ve developed the technology to do so. Google can check profile pictures to determine if it’s a company logo or an actual flesh and blood person, and act accordingly. The point is clear: write for people…not the Google search crawlers.

This brings us back to where many companies are at today. For B2B companies with large websites, and a long history of SEO, link building has been in the past, and is still an ongoing tactic in their toolbox. What is now a concern with Penguin 2.0 is that these link building techniques (and the links they produced) now must be reviewed to ensure they don’t become a negative pull on your SEO with the Google algorithm changes. But, does that mean that link  building is bad?  Just recently, Jason Brooks commented on UKLinkology:

“By taking a piece of content and spinning it into a thousand unique but often less legible versions and then submitting to multiple article directories, blog networks and other sources you could get a page ranked in many verticals.” – Jason Brooks

This ultimately brings me to my gripe with The Sales Lion’s post:  Google’s changes to its algorithms, in and of itself, is not an indication of White Hat or Black Hat SEO. It is a natural progression of their technology, and a shift in strategy does NOT necessarily mean your SEO company are a bunch of black hatters.

I’m not talking about the fly by night SEO guy who’s creating links to his clients’ businesses by stuffing keywords and links from his kids’ soccer team page that he also happens to run (yes, true story). Black Hat SEO happens because it created a real impact and it was easy to do. But, for those companies using those tactics, they’re living on borrowed time.

But wait one second…

Article directories? Blog Networks?

Do we mean article directories like those listed by folks like SEOMoz in their beginners guide? Or the directory they maintain on their site? What about sites like Squidoo or Hubpages? I’m sorry, but wasn’t there a time that seeking out links on these networks was considered a good thing? Even links from well-known directories such as Alltop and Technorati have been hit by Google Penguin in the past.

I think a great example of a site NOT engaging in keyword stuffing, black hat link building schemes was, whose story of their recovery from Penguin 1.0 can be found here. Heck, Google even came out with their own Link Disavow Tool in the wake of their algorithm changes last year to help sites weed out links that they couldn’t get rid of. This was NOT an unexpected development. Many people were going to get hit by these algorithm changes.

The point is that SEO evolves, and sites are evolving with it. I view SEO to be more in line with UX – User Experience; if you design a good user experience, you are naturally going to have better SEO than Joe Blow Enterprises trying to over-optimize his anchor texts and stuff the footers of his pages with links.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to review what you’ve done in the past.

Before you toss your SEO company out on its ear for reviewing and revising not only your site but also your inbound link building (which can involve a large number of webpages and yes, it takes time), take a good, long look at the optimizations that they are proposing. Google Penguin and Panda updates have penalized a lot of websites, and I’d be curious to know how long many of these sites have been around. Believe it or not, there was a time long before Inbound Marketing existed (or at least termed that way), where a blog was not the most vital part of a company’s website. A very viable strategy for quite awhile was focusing not on creating great content, but on link building. Rand Fishkin lamented this fact a few years ago:

“The web’s link graph isn’t a meritocracy – like everything else in life, it’s a popularity contest. Those who find the best ways to distribute, promote and market their works to the audience most likely to link to it are going to succeed much more so than just the “great content” producers.” – Rand Fishkin

It’s way too easy to look at the SEO tactics of yesteryear and decry them as “black hat.” SEO is no longer just the purview of a few web administrators slinging code and wielding a Google Analytics account. The term, as it’s been understood, is practically meaningless. SEO is about creating engaging content, presenting a clear, well-designed site, making your content findable, and becoming an influencer in your business.

It’s going to involve everyone in your organization, from the web team, to your marketing department, to your management.

Things are changing. However, if your SEO firm is explaining to you what they are doing and why, if they are keeping up with the changes and keeping you informed, IMO that is a huge plus and does not, as my friend Marcus seems to suggest, mean they are a black hat SEO firm.

Image credit to Lord Biro at Flickr