How to Optimize Your Website Post-Penguin: Wipe the Slate Clean


When is Google going to stop wrecking our lives? Panda. Penguin. Freshness. Search Plus Your World. Schema. The landscape for webmasters (do we still even use that word?) is changing so rapidly that many marketers are feeling helpless. The traditional search engine optimization (SEO) tactics are now either null or noxious, leaving many looking for the light forward. And they’re hemorrhaging traffic, rank, and most importantly, authority in the process.

Demand Media Traffic Drop

At least it’s finally killing Demand Media

How do we get ourselves out of this situation? We hit the restart button. We get all Bruce Lee on Google’s ass, empty our cups and kung fu our websites back to the top of the search results. We need to forget about keywords, rankings, results and Google Plus, and look back at our predecessors who faced the original problem of getting their content in front of the right people.

Empty Your Cup
“Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. ‘It is overfull. No more will go in!’

‘Like this cup,’ Nan-in said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’ ”

Forget everything you’ve learned. Assume you are back at the beginning. Google has rebuilt its search engine, and it is time for you to rebuild your tactics. When Google first built its search engine, folks like Bruce Clay and John Audette saw its value and decided to augment the content they published for Google.

The problem is that the original search engine from 1998 was a computer, a very basic computer, and it read and understood things like other computers. So we learned to write content it could understand and index. SEO tactics developed from there. Today, Google’s search engine operates and indexes the Web like a human being. We therefore need to forget everything we’ve learned. Empty your cups, everyone.

Build Things That Are Intuitive
It’s time to start talking and building things like human beings. Start using your keywords like someone would actually say them. Take that really valuable keyword and plug it into a social listening tool like a Radian6 or Sysmos to give them some context. Find out how people are using them and then mimic that in your Web content. Even use it to inform what content you are creating.

Radian 6 Keyword Research

Look at all that delicious context

Do the same thing with your Web architecture. When you are designing your user experience and building your user interface, follow the guidelines of the semantic Web, build rich mobile experiences and use open-source languages. If my 92-year-old grandmother can come to your website and use it, then you are doing a good job. This is especially true since Google’s index gives as clear an understanding of how people use the Web as my grandma, for the moment.

This might feel foreign to some of you, but start making sense.

Provide Value to Consumers
This is really one of the core tenets of marketing that most search marketers have lost sight of completely. We have been creating websites and Web content for years so Google would think it was valuable. But what Google originally thought was valuable, and content that was actually valuable to end users, was very divergent. That is increasingly less the case as Google changes its approach.

We have always placed a lot of weight in authority. So much so that we have mostly forgotten that authority was a concept derived from relevancy and being relevant means providing value. Take a long hard look at your audience, from as many angles as are at your disposal (start with site, search and social to start), and find out who they are, where they spend their time, how they talk and how often. Then find a way in which you can add value to those conversations without being disruptive.

Manifest Destiny
According to The Washington Post, we’re in a Manifest Destiny moment in digital (kind of a trite metaphor, but still applicable). I’d say we’re back at the same for search. Google’s search engine has shed its old skin, is rapidly indexing the Web and penalizing those who have yet to adapt.

The good news is that we can be human again. We can get back to writing like we read and building things that work. Most importantly, we can get back into marketing and start using our intuition again.

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Catherine Salzman
Catherine Salzman

Catherine is Empower’s first Data Journalist, converting data into stories and linking consumer insights through execution. She also has significant Latino research experience, having been published in several peer-reviewed journals. Catherine lives in Bellevue, Kentucky with her husband and daughter.


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