Google finally penalizes what was already a bad idea.

I normally don’t write about the more technical aspects of search engine marketing, mostly since I look foolish scrambling for answers to the follow-up questions. With some assistance from Mike Rowan of The Swarm Agency, I’m making an exception based on Google’s recent system update.

The empty promise that became a big problem

Has a prospective vendor ever offered to get your website listed on thousands of other sites or directories across the internet in a short period of time? They promise that having a bunch of sites/directories linking back to yours will increase your stature and improve your search result rankings, many times even guaranteeing top search rankings. Major marketing companies like FindLaw have advertised this as a major advantage, preying on their clients’ lack of marketing experience.

Experts like Mike Rowan call this tactic link farming or link spamming. It was in the gray area at best, and most often delivered minimal (if any) improvements to search rankings for business websites. In their most recent search algorithm release (called Penguin 2.0), Google has started going after the companies that participate in this activity with a vengeance – both the link networks as well as the firms that have listings on them.

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200

The penalties are harsh. If your site was among those penalized and dropped off the search ranking charts, this may be the cause. If your vendor has submitted your site to these link spammers, you may be caught next as Google continues to improve their link analysis tools. You’re only recourse is to remove those links or risk getting penalized now or in the future. You’ll have to ask Mike how to do that.

How to (really) improve your search engine rankings

As Matt Cutts, Google’s new head of search spam, discussed in an interview this week, focus on your visitors. Provide a compelling, interesting, educational experience that will bring your visitors back, and make it easy for them to recommend you to others. Here are some other ideas:

  • Keep your website updated with new content and information.
  • Use social media outlets (how about more LinkedIn effort?) and local listings (Google+ Loca) to draw in more relevant visitors.
  • Build links one at a time with credible sites like yours.
  • Keep more traditional activities alive, like email newsletters, seminars, articles, sponsorships, etc.
  • Have someone analyze your inbound links, identify “unnatural” patterns, and remove those links.

In addition to achieving your immediate goal of generating more business, Google will recognize your efforts as well and reward you over time by showing more of your content higher up on the search results when people are trying to answer questions, solve problems, or research services.

Thanks to Mike Rowan of the Swarm Agency for his input. Click here to read his blog post as well.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.SM

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