Google’s Getting Smarter: What You Need to Know About SEO

This article appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Writers’ Journal.

View “Google’s Getting Smarter” as it appeared in Writers’ Journal.

It’s been over a year since my last article on this subject and we’re long overdue for an update. Google announced big changes last fall so I’ve run some tests and I will share my findings with you.

In case you’ve forgotten, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, the art and/or science of making your web presence as attractive to search engines as possible. Hopefully, attractive enough to land you in the coveted top 10 results.

Last time, I de-mystified SEO by uncovering 6 dirty secrets:

  • SEO applies only to free (organic) rankings
  • Content and Links are the most important things you can have
  • Properly formatted pages or blog posts help
  • Meta keywords or tags are important
  • Longevity counts
  • Your best traffic might come from sources other than search engines

The reason we need to re-visit this subject is that Google, Bing, and all the other engines constantly change the formulas they use in order to determine where your content fits in with the universe. I’ll go over what I’ve noticed and then I’ll let you know how to adjust your tactics.

Google Calculates Percents
Gone are the days where a page laden to the ridiculous with a specific key term will shoot to the top of the rankings. The latest algorithms calculate the number of times a phrase appears on a page and compares that to the overall volume of text. As near as I can tell, the sweet spot is between .5% and 1%. Any more than 1% and you risk getting penalized. Sadly, I haven’t found a calculator that will do this easily. I had to resort to Microsoft Word’s word count and find and replace, and a calculator.

Blogs Rule
Sadly, I don’t even teach my websites classes anymore. WordPress has gotten so robust that unless you need something spectacularly flashy, you can have all the stability of a website along with all the syndication goodness and ease of a blog in one free package. I moved myself over this last fall.

There are several things that blogs in general, but WordPress in particular, do that Google and Bing really like. The first is a thing called “permalinks.” You can set your blog to use the title of your article as the name of the page is sits on which, provided you titled the article something catchy, helps SEO.

The other immensely useful thing blogs do is “ping.” All you do is set up a list of special sites in your blog settings and every time you make a post, your blog tells the world about it. WordPress has a good list.

WordPress and some of the other major platforms also allow you to install a bunch of plug-ins that will automatically post to your Facebook and Twitter accounts as well, which leads me to my next finding.

Social Networking
Back in October, Bing and Google announced that they were deep in negotiations to incorporate Twitter tweets and Facebook posts into their search results. I had some definite opinions on what that would do and I’ve kept watch ever since. I predicted that both Facebook and Twitter would be flooded with marketing messages whose sole purpose was to boost the poster’s search engine rankings, thus eliminating them from the algorithms.

I appear to have been right about Twitter. My best guess is that Facebook’s insular nature of syndicating to friends has saved it. The upshot is, at the moment, your own Facebook posts can provide incoming links to your website.

Search Engines Weigh Clicks
On the subject of links to your website, receiving click-throughs from the search engine results can impact your placement, so the more Google searchers choosing to click on your link, the better your placement will become.

Google still weighs how useful a site linking to you is in determining your site’s ranking so the quality of sites linking to you matters.

Quality Over Quantity
On that note, here’s another thing that’s changed this year: search engines are down-playing links from the comment feature on blogs. This means that prowling around for blog on your topic and commenting will no longer significantly effect your search rankings. Frankly, I’m relieved. As soon as China figures this out, we won’t have those annoying robots coming by giving us generic compliments in poor English!

What is does mean is that Blogrolls or Link Lists are making a comeback. Trading quality links with people will help you.

Freshness Counts
All documents on the Web have date stamps on them and the search engines are concerned with returning not only useful, but current information. That’s why the blogs have become so powerful. It’s very easy to post new articles with them and the search engines pay attention when they get a ping from a blog because they’re like electronic newscasters. They want to be the first with a scoop.

Practically speaking, it means that you want to become a little better about updating your website. While I understand that your meaty articles of old are still relevant and contain good solid facts, you need to understand that those gold nuggets will slowly sink in the flash-flood of new things coming out. Better than updating them would be to craft new, perhaps shorter, articles that refer back to your keystone. This sort of thing will give you the best of everything: fresh content and relevant links.

Meta Tags
No search engine has used the meta “keyword” tag in a number of years, so that bit of data in your header is no longer useful. However, the “description” tag and the “title” tags are still used by Google when displaying results. These are important to you because they give you the opportunity to control what the person looking at the results sees. Craft useful headlines for page titles and concise, relevant descriptions.

Meta tags apply to more than just the header codes. Images and hypertext links also allow you to include extra text via the “alt” tag. Don’t flood these tags with text, but don’t neglect them either. The visually impaired use these tags to help navigate your site. Make them useful to them, and you’re on the right track.

Google’s Webmaster tools can give you some useful data on your website.

Beware Fads
Marketing buzz people shout out the latest and greatest schemes to get to the top of the search results (all for $19.99, but if you act now…). In that, they’re a lot like Ponzie schemers. The only ones getting rich quick off of their advice are them. When optimizing your website for search engines, stick to the basics.

  • Content
  • Relevant Links
  • Properly Formatted Pages/Posts
  • Stellar Titles
  • Longevity (content volume built over years)

Commanding a stellar Web presence – or even a strong one – is like trying to get your body in shape. It takes consistent effort over time and paying attention to what you’re doing and the effect it’s having. Also like getting in shape, the process can be fun and the commitment rewarding.

Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on internet marketing. Her internet marketing workbook is available on her website at

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This entry was posted by on Friday, September 30, 2011.
Filed under: Articles, For Writers, Marketing, Web Design and Development, Writers' Journal
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