Not that long ago, it wasn’t all that difficult to optimize a website for a search engine. Before there was Penguin or Panda, there was color. Or rather, there were shades of gray – areas that weren’t quite white-hat but weren’t black-hat enough for Google to penalize you for using them.
SEO wasn’t easy, per se, but it was easier.
The rules were more simple:
- Post decent content.
- Optimize your content for high-traffic, low-competition keywords with selling connotations.
- Don’t use obvious black-hat techniques like link-bombing.
- Build backlinks to your website. The more the better.
- Pack your keywords as dense as Google will let you (about 2% for most niches).
There were obviously details for each of these rules, but by and large, you could become an ‘SEO expert’ in a matter of weeks if you dedicated yourself to learning them. It might take a while to actually optimize a website, but it could actually be done by a single person working just a little overtime full time for a few weeks.
The most difficult parts of ‘old style’ SEO were producing content, some folks even outsourcing to writers off shore, like in India and the Philippines that spoke (or rather wrote) English just well enough to get Google to understand what they intended their topic to be. You could outsource an article overseas, and while with most of this content any English-speaking human that read it would laugh and click away, the search engine spiders didn’t mind the off syntax, so it worked.
Link-building was largely a matter of using automated systems that could mass-produce backlinks for you and hiring more outsourced link-builders to create those links that couldn’t be automated. SEO companies in the US often did the ‘hard’ work of producing quality content – the pieces that you expected people to read and that you put your company logo on – while they outsourced other content.
Then along came Penguin and before that its older brother Panda, and everything changed. Since we’re going to focus specifically on the Penguin update next week, let’s do a little bit of ‘in-between’; the time after the mammal but before the bird.
Google’s Panda update was almost entirely content-centric. The idea was to punish sites that were mimicking high-authority status by filling page after page with gobbledygook and low-value content. It also enforced a powerful set of rules designed to encourage all websites to be more user-friendly. For example, the massive article repository called EzineArticles.com used to have blocks of Google Adsense advertisements between the titles of each article and the article body. When Panda hit, they removed the Adsense altogether.
That’s more than a million pages of Adsense ads that vanished overnight — a huge hit to EZA’s income — but under Panda, that bit of user-unfriendly advertisement would have nuked EZA’s articles’ SERP results, so they had to suck it up.
The end result post-Panda but pre-Penguin is that a huge number — more than 10% — of all searches were changed, mostly for the better. Enforcing higher quality content and user-friendliness is almost always a good thing for the end user. Then, Penguin came.
More on that next week…