Google’s 3-Prong Strategy That Has Changed SEO Forever

SEO has changed, and there is no going back. Want to ensure your site doesn't disappear from Google and that you're “future proofed” for the next round of vicious Panda updates? Read on.

Recently Search Engine Land reported that Google is de-indexing link networks like it's going out of style. That means that all the links they (the link networks) had in Google are now gone. In Google, they no longer exist.

This is just the latest round of updates Google has pushed out. And they're just getting warmed up.

Matt Cutts – Google's head of web spam  – recently gave a sneak preview into Google's next update. Their target? Overly SEO'd websites. Here's a tasty quote from the article:

We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.

– Matt Cutts

Too much SEO? You're next in line for the Google smackdown.

These updates have been happening for the past year. And if you look at the big picture, there are 3 strategies that Google is implementing.

Strategy #1: The Angry Panda

Yep, that Panda sure is angry

Yep, that Panda sure is angry

The string of Panda updates Google has released over the past 13 months are meant to clean up it's search engine of what's essentially garbage, and provide better, more relevant results. They also show where Google is taking SEO for it's search engine. Here's the shortened history (with approximate dates).

  • 2.24.2011 – Panda 1.0: targeted scraper sites – sites that merely pull content from other sites (meaning they lack any original content)
  • 4.11.2011 – Panda 2.0: handled English-language queries
  • 5.09.2011 – Panda 2.1
  • 6.18.2011 – Panda 2.2: targeted content farms – websites that farmed content from other sites and used (shady) SEO to have it rank higher than the original content
  • 7.22.2011 – Panda 2.3
  • 8.10.2011 – Panda 2.4: improved results for all languages except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
  • 9.28.2011 – Panda 2.5
  • 10.2011 – Panda 3.0
  • 11.18.2011 – Panda 3.1
  • 1.15.2012 – Panda 3.2: data refresh
  • 2.12.2012 – Panda 3.3: data refresh
  • 3.24.2012 – Panda 3.4: search query update

What's the pattern here? Targeting sites that do not produce original content and manufacture backlinks rather than earning them by creating quality content that people will naturally share.

But these Panda updates are only one part of the trifecta Google is putting into place. Leg two of this iron triangle are the keywords, which they are taking away.

Strategy #2: Keywords, Now You See Them, Now You Don't

If you're looking at your HitSniffer or Google Analytics stats you may notice the [not provided] keyword showing up. For me it's showing up more and more. In fact, it's currently ranked #1 for the past month.

Google Analytics Top 10 Keywords

Google Analytics Top 10 Keywords

And Google said before that it wouldn't have that much of an effect. Silly Google. Misleading Google.

Now a triangle without a 3rd leg does not a triangle make. The third strategy Google is pulling out is:

Strategy #3: Social Media Invades SEO

For a professional searcher like myself personalized search is the last thing I want. I need access to all the potentially relevant information, not just that shared by people in my Google+ circles. I can't circle enough people for that.

Here's an example search. When logged into Google and I search for “WordPress SEO” I see the following:

WordPress SEO Personalized Google Search

WordPress SEO Personalized Google Search

And when I'm not logged in I see the following:

WordPress SEO Non-Personalized Google Search

WordPress SEO Non-Personalized Google Search

That's a huge difference!

Now we can debate the usefulness of personalized search, or how it limits (or doesn't) your access to information, but let's save that for another post.

For now just understand that if any of the tens of millions of people who run a search on Google are also logged into ANY Google product AND are also a member of Google+, their results will be personalized. Oh and you won't know what keywords they search on to get to your site.

Currently that label can be applied to many millions of people.

Bonus Round: Microformats

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I added support on this blog for the tags. These tags tell Google and other search engines more about what kinds of information are on the page. We're about one-month in and I have some preliminary data to report.

Overall, when compared to the month previous, visitor numbers are down. That's not surprising as I have a steady flow of visitors to this site and get boosts each time I publish blog posts. For the past two weeks I've published very few posts due to my working on our Blog Summaries site.

However even with visitor numbers down, for organic search only (people searching on Google and getting to the site), the rest of the stats are looking better thanks to the updates I made. Here they are:

Google Analytics Organic Search Results

Google Analytics Organic Search Results

I'll report back in another month when I have more data.

So wow, that was a lot of stuff! Now all that's left is the big question – what do you do now?

What You Need To Do Now

The long and short of it is this: the future of SEO combines standard “good” SEO practices, social signals, and adding additional markup (like tags) to your pages that help tell Google and other search engines what your content is all about.

To be successful moving forward you need to adopt a strategy that includes:

  1. Creating valuable content that people want to link to and share. What defines “valuable”? That's up to your ideal customers.
  2. Having your content shared on social media, including Google+.
  3. Being social: connect with your current and ideal customers on social media. Don't fake it. You either care or you don't. I hope you do. I know my clients do.
  4. Getting people on your list. The importance of an email list cannot be over emphasized, especially now. It's not enough to entice someone to your site with valuable content – you need to capture them as a potential lead, and that means having an email list.
  5. Helping the search engines help you. Add or another supported microformat to your website. We're early stages here and there's a big opportunity. Get your geek on and add them!

Of course none of this works if you don't have solid products and services in place first. So before you embark on this mission, be sure your boat floats and is ready to weather the storm.


  1. Great post,

    I believe that having your customers and potential customer in your Google circles will be more and more important.

    If you’re not connected in some social way with them it will me more difficult to rank in their results, so it’s important to act fast to don’t create a gap too big.

    • Great point Sandro. Of course that assumes that your customers are on and active in social media.

      To your point one of the first circles I created was for our clients. Good to keep tabs on them and help them share their content too.

  2. Great info Robert. Just came across your post. I shall be signing up to your newsletter. I don’t think Google are using the panda updates for the benefit of any one other than google. I just read another post about Blank Blog spots. No content just ads. They rank high due to the keyword optimized URL..Crazy

    • For people actually trying to do the right thing and not game the system I think the Panda updates are beneficial. However I do agree that Google does what’s in Google’s best interest. And to ensure they provide good results they need to determine what they feel is “good” content and send people there so they keep coming back, using search (and other products), and seeing ads.

      As a friend of mine said yesterday, Google isn’t a search company, their an ad company. Sounds pretty accurate to me. Everything else they have is just an ad medium they’ve created.

  3. Nice post Robert. I did a SlideShare piece a couple months ago titled: “How to Create a Custom Web 2.0 Link Wheel” with sub-head “Social is the New SEO”

    Of the 7,500 views, quite a few said “not so fast” and a lot people said they sense “social shares” is going to have a big impact on traffic to their site. I’ve noticed the vast different in “visit duration” when a visitor it “socially engaged” vs. not socially engaged. (ie) 29 minutges vs. 1.5 minutes

    I’ve been tracking you on G+ for awhile now. Glad you added this post to my Stream.

    • Hi Neil – thanks for coming and connecting with me on G+. For the benefit of everyone I’m posting my G+ response to you.

      One of the things you mentioned was people “paying” with a +1 rather than a tweet. Here’s what I said to that:

      CommentLuv plugin allows you to do something kind of like that. Regardless, all of this can be gamed for a short time. Google will catch up with the spammers and purchasers of +1’s as they are with blog networks and link manufacturers.

      At the end of the day search is changing thanks to social media, but in a much bigger way than simply the changes we see Google making.

      The connectedness of people brought first by the Internet and then social media is changing the way people find and consume information. Mobile is starting to have a major impact as well.

      It’s a very exciting time. Things are more than a little up in the air but they do have a trajectory.

      +Seth Godin ‘s book “We Are All Weird” is spot on as far as I’m concerned. It’s the 30,000 foot view.

  4. That looks like my ugly mug in the first “WordPress SEO” search (signed in) 😉

    I like the fact that I can see how what I share shows up in the stream for your searches…

    What to do about the keywords (now you see them, now you don’t)?

    • Seeing as the percentage of [not provided] is going up I find it behooves me to try everything I can to connect with the people that come here and create a relationship with them.

      I’m currently planning out a longer term strategy to do just that.

      Based on my own evidence and conversations with my peers it seems that simply writing content, engaging in conversation (as we are now), and converting visitors into subscribers, while all very important, is no longer the full monty. It simply isn’t enough value to keep people interested.

      Just my $0.02. Either way, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

      It’s all about the relationship and that means providing value. It’s time to crank up the amount of value coming out.

      Examples to follow: Apple and Amazon.

  5. Yummy article. Thanks for the heads up!

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