Penguins, Pandas and other wild animals have wreaked havoc on many website owner’s traffic levels over the last two years. The message from Google was clear: Stop trying to manipulate our search results. The black-hat techniques that many so-called “SEO Experts” had been using for years were no longer working.
Many business owners did not even know that their SEO marketing partners were using questionable tactics to promote their websites, so they were shocked to see their traffic crash to the floor (I can only imagine what lies these SEO companies told their clients). Companies had grown website traffic for years using poor quality articles that were stuffed with keywords, link bombing, and link wheels designed to fool Google.
Google had warned website owners to focus on good content and not try and manipulate their results, however everyone had got away with these black-hat techniques for years so the warnings largely fell on deaf ears. Due to this, many website owners were unprepared for the changes Google introduced, creating what can only be considered an “unmitigated disaster” for them. Their whole business model was built on getting traffic by manipulating search engines. With no plan B, many websites were simply left to die (good riddance to most of them).
The Fall of Content Farms
Search Engine Land Editor-In-Chief Matt McGee wrote a fantastic article a few months ago entitled “Google Panda Two Years Later: The Real Impact Beyond Rankings & SEO Visibility“. The article highlighted just how much some large websites had been hit. Using data from Search Metrics, Matt showed how badly websites such as HubPages, Mahalo and Suite101 had been affected.
The fall in traffic they experienced was astounding. HubPages currently has 62% less traffic than it had before the Panda changes were introduced. Mahalo has lost 92% of its traffic and Suite101 has lost a whopping 96%. As professional as these websites look, they have never been nothing more than glorified content farms that were specifically designed to encourage visitors to click on links.
They were used by many people to promote their new websites as articles achieved a decent PageRank fairly quickly. Therefore it was common practice for an SEO company to throw up an article on HubPages or Squidoo and insert several links to their websites throughout.
These companies always valued quantity of quality (a quick look at any article on the ultimate content farm About.com verifies this). That was was made these websites successful, but in the end, it was also what brought them back down to earth.
For an insight into the world of content farms, I recommend reading former Mahalo employee Andrew Kaufman’s excellent article “Confessions of a Content Farm Hand“.
Quality Over Quantity
I saw a few small irrelevant content websites that I own see traffic drop after the Panda update, however across the board, I was largely unaffected with those changes as I had always generated traffic by focusing on high quality articles.
My friends were not so lucky. They were generating thousands of pounds every month from a UK financial comparison website whose traffic was created from links from low PR content farms such as Linkvana and BuildMyRank.com (which Google completely deindexed in 2012). It was a simple little website but it generated a huge amount of money from only a few hundred visits per day. I believe it could have sold for at least $100,000 (probably much more) on a marketplace such as Flippa. After the panda update, it was practically worthless, giving them a harsh lesson on why you should not try and manipulate search engines. On a positive note, they are continuing to rebuild the website by writing high quality articles for visitors. It is a shame they did not do this from the start.
As a website owner, I was not directly affected by the changes in Panda, however the changes did improve my position as a freelance writer. Dozens of website owners had contacted me over the years asking me to write for them. They quickly withdrew their offer of work when I advised them I would not write 500 word articles for $5-$10. In their minds, all articles were created equal. The only thing they were concerned about was that an article was unique. The quality of the article was not important. It is no surprise that many of these people turned to article spinning instead.
The days of generating traffic with thousands of poorly written articles are over. Today, quality is much more important than quantity. It is much better to get a few incoming links from a top website than it is to have hundreds of links from low traffic websites.
“So you don’t need a ton of links. Don’t go for quantity. Go for quality.” – Neil Patel
SEO expert Neil Patel spoke about this in great detail in an interview with Jayson DeMers. He noted that:
These days, if a competitor has a thousand or ten thousand or hundred thousand links and you merely have a hundred, you can still outrank them if your quality is better, and you’re growing organically over time. So, the velocity is much slower instead of getting a thousand links every single day or every few weeks or. It’s like get a handful of links if you’re trying to rank for “dog food”, your best link, quality wise, is someone who already ranks for “dog food” in the top thousand, if not top hundred. Find out those pages, hit them up, try to get a link, right?
And on top of that, you want to make sure the anchor text is diversified. You don’t want to just have “dog food” as all of them, because if it’s all “dog food”, it’s not natural. It needs to be rotated up, have multiple keywords in there, look as natural as possible from the domain name, to the title tag of the page, or the keyword, other various keywords that are related to that main keyword, so forth and so on.
But those are the main ways that I would build links. Slow and steady wins the race. Go for quality and don’t go for speed, right? And don’t try to go out there and buy thousands of links or you don’t even need to buy any links. If you just write really good content, pretty good product or service, you can get rankings more quickly and better than most people out there who are spending thousands of dollars a day on link buys.
Good Content Should Be at the Heart of Your Online Strategy
SEO strategies in the past relied on too many external factors. Your destiny was in the hands of the search engines and a change in their algorithm usually meant your website traffic was going to drop. Traffic was generated by adding content to other websites with links back to your own. Unfortunately, this was always at the expense of adding more value to your own website, and adding value to your website should be your ultimate goal. Any technique that looks to manipulate search results is a short term solution to a long term problem. Search engines are never going to have any problems with websites which publish good content.
My original title for this article was “Forget About Building Links and Start Writing Good Content”. I decided against using that title as I realised that it is a little misleading. Link building is still important. The rules have changed, however it remains an important piece of the SEO puzzle.
It is therefore important that you do not forget about link building, but I strongly believe your main focus online should be creating high quality content. Good content is at the heart of generating links.
The SEO Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO suggests 5 samples of link building strategies:
- Get your customers to link to you.
- Build a company blog. Make it a valuable, informative and entertaining resource.
- Create content that inspires viral sharing and natural linking.
- Be newsworthy (to attract links naturally).
- Find directories or listings of relevant resources.
You should quickly notice that every single one of these link building techniques relies on your website having good content. If you do not publish good content, no one is going to link to you, no one is going to share your articles, and no directory is going to accept your website. In 2013, your whole link building strategy depends on you providing visitors with useful information. The days of keyword stuffing are over. Remember, quality over quantity.
Web Hosting Secret Revealed is a great example of a website that places emphasis on quality rather than quantity. It publishes three or four articles every week, however there is no filler. Each article is a few thousand words in length and was written with the reader in mind.
In the short term, the strategy for WHSR owner Jerry Low is to attract shares and incoming links to each article. This will not be too difficult to do as all content here is good enough to generate links and shares organically. Long term, the volume of quality articles on WHSR will continue to grow, ensuring that the site generates a lot of traffic from search engines.
Write for Your Readers
Website owners regularly talk about metrics such as social media shares, page views and unique visits. We use these terms so frequently that it is easy to forget that each unique visit represents a human being; a person who is sitting reading your website from their computer, tablet or smartphone.
When you are reading an article on the internet, do you care how many retweets it has or how many likes it has on Facebook? Of course you don’t. All that matters is that the article is useful to you in some way; solving a problem or entertaining you in some way.
Keep this in mind when you are writing your articles. If you want an article to be shared and to be linked on other websites, write your articles for people, not search engines. Ultimately, it is a person who decides whether your content is good and whether they share it with other people. And if people do link and share your content, search engines such as Google will see that as an indication that your article is of a high quality and rank your page higher in their results because of that.
So my advice to you is:
- Write for people, not for search engines.
- Connect with your readers. People are more likely to share your content if they like you as a person.
- Be patient. When it comes to link building, slow and steady wins the race.
- When you contact people to ask for shares and links, be polite, professional and respectful; even if they do not link back. You never know, they might link next time.
- Your primary focus should be writing good content. Without good content, you cannot generate incoming links and shares effectively.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I am always interested in hearing about the strategies of website owners use to build traffic online, therefore I encourage you to leave a comment and share your views on the issue.
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