The talk has been all about Panda and Penguin this year as Google continues to refine its algorithm to weed out spam and low quality web pages. At least, that is the “official line”. The inconvenient truth is that implementing Panda and Penguin resulted in Google’s ad revenue soaring to new heights as larger sites that display Google ads took a bigger proportion of the first page results for the most highly trafficked keyword searches.
Panda weeds out low quality content including pages with similar content or minimal information. Penguin goes after pages deemed to be overly optimized. The new definition of “overly optimized” includes some techniques that were previously considered good and even necessary to obtain good rankings such as using keywords in your internal page link text. A new limit was instituted for keywords used in visible text, anchor text, domains, etc. and this limit probably changes every couple of months when they tweak Penguin. This caused sites that previously ranked well to drop and sites that were previously search-engine-unfriendly to rise.
Backlinks are said to have been devalued and this is being misinterpreted by many who believe that backlinks are no longer as important as they once were. That is incorrect in my view. The devaluation was on the low quality pages and sites that contained the links and not on the idea of backlinks themselves. Getting good quality backlinks is every bit as important as it once was and probably even more important now that on-page optimization has been under attack.
This all becomes especially apparent when you study the most popular real estate keywords like “my city real estate”. In larger market areas (and even in some that are not so large) it may be next to impossible for an individual agent site to rank in the top 10. Google has tweaked their algo so the large national listing aggregators are favoured which means Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com will be there for sure. Remember that earlier I mentioned how Google’s ad revenue was soaring? All 3 display their ads – surprise!
Another spot is taken by the local real estate board or association site. I have no beef with this. The remaining spots are usually company sites and when you check to see what these sites have in common you find that the common factor is thousands of links from hundreds of different domains. If an individual agent site manages to make it into the top 10 it is because it too has thousands of links from hundreds of different domains. All of these sites in the top 10 will have been around for several years and the links will have been acquired gradually over that time. The only reason it is easier for a company site to make it into page one is than it is for an individual agent’s is because a company site has natural advantages in acquiring links. I should add that in spite of all the talk over the years about how link schemes don’t work, some of the sites I looked at in the top 10 were using them still and obviously benefiting.
How is search engine optimization in 2012 different from previous years? It isn’t really. It is still all about links.