Are Google Updates Killing Traditional SEO?


Google’s Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates have put a tremendous squeeze on some types of SEO content. Heavily keyword-stuffed, back-linked and spun content that once rocketed to the top of the search engine’s results pages are now relegated to the hinterlands, relics of an age in which search engines were unsophisticated and black-hat SEO tactics flourished. The increasing pace of change and the severe penalties for using outmoded or questionable SEO techniques has led some industry outsiders to conclude that SEO specialists and even SEO itself are obsolescent if not obsolete.

Google has harmed sound SEO strategies about as much as the development of sound killed the motion picture industry. When “talkies” first came out, they did kill some silent film stars’ careers, and Google’s algorithm changes have indeed put an end to some forms of link-bait and keyword-stuffing. Many content farms that relied on automated article spinners or non-native English speakers with a tenuous grasp on natural, idiomatic writing never recovered from the first waves of Panda updates in 2011.

For other SEO content providers, though, the changes have sparked an evolution, not a slow descent. As previous strategies that relied solely on link-building and keyword manipulation have faded from the SEO scene, content marketing, social media integration and an emphasis on giving visitors full value for their time have become the norm. The environment today is more congenial and less cutthroat; successful SEO teams foster cooperation with authoritative sites instead of trying to compete with them by siphoning off their traffic with a jumble of keywords and low-value links.

Evolutionary processes inevitably lead to some extinctions. In the case of SEO, the entities that couldn’t keep up with a changing environment were the content mills. Content mills typically relied on thousands of writers churning out words that no client ordered and few visitors read. The point of this incredible volume of skim-milk-thin content was to get people to click just long enough to sell ad space; someone searching for “How to Boil an Egg” would probably encounter the keyword-dense, superficial mill article at the top of the results page and consign a chef’s little-known but excellent personal blog post on the same topic to the back of the stack.

A few mills still produce content, but they’ve changed their tactics dramatically. Those that still seek ad revenue no longer pump out volume at anywhere near their old pace, and they have tighter quality controls. Others have formed partnerships with corporate clients, newspapers and magazines that are after a real readership, not just keyword-laden ad bait. The problem is that a gigantic mill with millions of pieces of flimsy click-bait content can’t clean up its reputation in a few days or even a few months. Google’s updates may not have killed all the mills, but they’ve forced them to alter the way they do business and revise millions of pages.

Change is coming slowly to the big mills, but for smaller content marketers, PR firms and SEO services, adapting to Google’s updates happens almost as quickly as updates appear. SEO specialists and smaller writing teams offer more maneuverability than mills and content aggregate sites can deliver. Writers and content creators who read SEO industry news can be proactive, changing what they write to fit what Google will likely do as well as modifying their content to align with previous updates. They customize writing in ways the struggling mills can’t.

Far from killing off SEO, Google’s algorithms have helped it grow in new ways that benefit both readers and custom SEO content providers. Each algorithm change is a refinement of what Google does best: helping connect readers with the information they want to find as simply as possible.

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