White-hat SEO will produce better long-term rankings
Google is holding a "white sale." First it announced earlier this year that it made changes to its natural search results algorithm, which it reports will impact "approximately 12% of search queries." The change impacts only the US at this time.
Then, Google unequivocally threw down the gauntlet on JCPenney when it discovered "link buying" boosting the search engine optimization (SEO) rankings of the retailer. The ensuing hubbub caused all sorts of fallout for SEO practitioners. One of our recent studies showed that organic search drives 50% to 55% of all Web traffic on average for e-tailers. Keeping up-to-date with the ramifications of these trends is critical for retailers.
Google is making it clear that retailers practicing "white hat" methods of driving SEO rankings will benefit at the expense of those who experiment with more controversial methods. A report from Experian Hitwise said that people who search on the Web report 82% of their searches in the US on Bing are successful, while they experience only a 66% success rate on Google. Since the change, we surveyed more than 20 retail customers and saw that 80% of them had seen no change in their average Google natural search ranking for their top 100 terms, while 20% saw a 2% to 4% improvement in average ranking.
The recent algorithm changes address two key issues: link buying and content farms. Link buying means leveraging services that allow for links from well-regarded sites to be connected to an advertisers' site for a fee, regardless of their relevance. Content farms leverage systems to track trends in search queries, then autobuild content that is often irrelevant or of "low quality."
The Google algorithm change is a welcome opportunity for retailers practicing classic and successful SEO tactics that drive results. Driving useful content, ensuring it can be found, and then syndicating it through social media and link building practices develops sustainable SEO assets that deliver over time, and keep the marketer from unwarranted risk.
As Google levels the playing field, an advantage will actually be given to those that follow best practices. The techniques being penalized will allow better links to be driven to a site, because it is acknowledged that a good link strategy is the key driver to improved search ranking. Building quality links requires building quality content and then syndicating that content. There is no shortcut to a quality site.
Craig Macdonald is the CMO and SVP of products at Covario. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.