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January 28, 2013

Google Takes Another Bite Out of SEO: First Links and Now Keywords

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For search engine marketers — and the companies who depend on them — things just got a little tougher. SEO companies, most still reeling from the impact of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, aren’t going to like what the CEO of LinkSmart reported in Forbes on Jan. 22.

It’s not just links that are taking a hit from Google — now keywords are in trouble too, according to Pete Sheinbaum, who was the CEO of Daily Candy before taking the helm at LinkSmart. Google put an end to the easy acquisition of links, which for more than a decade had been essential to search engine rankings.

Links remain important, but their overall value has diminished. Worse for SEO specialists, quality links have to be earned. Google stripped sites of many links they deemed forced, purchased or otherwise tainted and now makes it harder for sites to gain links. Content marketing and social media marketing are usurping SEO’s dominance in link-building as Google now rates links based on perceived value — a link from an article published in a high-authority magazine or shared on Twitter — gets more Google love than links from ezines and directories.

Google Shields Search Results Data

And now, Sheinbaum says in Forbes, keywords are also losing their importance in marketing.

Google isn’t discounting keywords as it did links. But it’s making it harder for websites and advertisers to know what keywords drive traffic. Google is keeping much of that information to itself and may become increasingly stingy about releasing it in the future, Sheinbaum says.

If, for example, your marketing strategy revolves around keywords such as “how to make money online,” you may be paying a search engine company to put those keywords in anchor text and spending money on pay-per-click advertising based on the phrase “how to make money online.”

Google is not stopping you from spending money this way, but the company is making it harder to track results. You may not know if someone visited your site because of the keywords or because of some random reason.

What happened? Google used to freely pass along reports about keywords. But for any site that uses Google analytics — and about 57 percent do, according to study by Optify — Google keeps this information private. This is good for Google — it acquires information for its own advertising purposes — but bad for other companies who sell advertising based on traffic and keywords.

This means that marketers and advertisers are going to have a harder time analyzing traffic on their websites — and justifying their rates to website owners. Owners who want to get the most out of their marketing dollars — and SEO companies who want to keep earning their fees — will have to look beyond raw data and try to look deeper into the meaning of traffic rises and dips.

If traffic rises on a Tuesday, falls two days later and picks up five days after that, simple data will no longer provide the reason. It will be necessary to examine what changed on Tuesday — content was published on a high-authority site or a new ad campaign launch — what happened in the four days of slower traffic and on the fifth when traffic picked up.

New Strategies Needed

Todd Mumford , CEO of SEO Visions, says the information in the Forbes article should not alarm search engine specialists. For one thing, he says, Google started shielding keyword information months ago and savvy online marketers and company owners are already employing new strategies to test the strength of campaigns.

Mumford, interviewed for this article, cited three key ways to analyze traffic data despite Google’s attempts to keep the information to itself:

1. Google Webmaster Tools

These tools allow website owners to see statistics on daily average traffic, prominent search queries, ranking position and other statistics.

These tools do not, however, always provide accurate results. Google webmaster tools reports, for example that DavidAndersonWealth.com ranks at position 81 in the US, but it has rested in position 33 to 38 for several weeks.

2. Site Search

This tool helps owners and markets understand keywords relevant to a customer buy cycle — you can find out what keywords customers click on (or ignore) when they’re on your site and adjust accordingly. Mumford says websites can synchronize site search with Google to help synch up their data with Google’s.

3. Site Surveys

Mumford says site surveys can be a very effective way to collect data provided your website has a decent amount of daily traffic. Such surveys can be more valuable than Google analytics, he says, because they do a better job of capturing user intent. Questions, ratings and comments on your site tell you more about your customers — and how to market to them — than the keywords they click on.

When you understand your customers, you can match keywords to their intent without Google’s help. If, for example, your site visitors click more frequently on words such as “lose weight now” than “get healthy,” you can build your content and marketing accordingly.

Bottom Line

Traffic analysis requires more nuance — and more guessing — and companies may make more missteps than they’re used to until their tracking skills become better refined.

Google is growing up and forcing website owners and online marketers to grow up, too.


David Anderson is an entrepreneur, business guru, mentor and author. Based on 30+ years of experience from the UK, USA Europe and Canada, David and his team have shared their “secret sauce” that has worked time and time again and helped “ordinary people achieve extraordinary things”. Visit David Anderson Wealth.

129 Responses to “Google Takes Another Bite Out of SEO: First Links and Now Keywords

    SEO is getting tougher day by day.We need to find some tools to know how much traffic a keyword can bring in.Also,as a SEO specialist,I guess we need to emphasise more on Social presence.

    In reference to Todd’s comment “I suggest to businesses that they audit their backlinks with a professional to ensure that low quality links are removed. Additionally, low or thin content pages that do not provide ‘unique value’ should be removed…”

    You can do this by using Google’s (disavow links) webmaster tool. Thanks from a dedicated Google slave :)

    Thanks for that comment Richard, using Google’s “disavowal links” is a very good point. luckily I’ve not had to use it since it was introduced, however, I sure could have used it 12 months ago!

    avatar Peter Mutiso says:

    This makes me conclude that there is no pro in SEO

    avatar James says:

    I don’t think SEO is getting any tougher as I have managed to get my website actually on the first page of Google just by thinking about it in another way and it works, currently my website is still there for 2 very strong keywords. I thought maybe 2nd or 3rd page, not the 1st page.

    SEO these days, one has to think outside the SEO box. The website well you have to find its high ranking.

    Well done and congrats on page 1 ranking James! You’re right about thinking outside the box, especially if you’re in a specific niche market.

    avatar Todd Mumford says:

    Great job James,

    Definitely, SEO is only one facet of building an audience and succeeding online.

    One big part people need to understand is that SEO is a means to an end – to get your value proposition in front of your target audience.

    If what you offer isn’t interesting and doesn’t address a pain point it might not fare well.

    avatar Dustin says:

    For me the “game” of SEO is being eliminated which is a good thing. Google is after quality, relevant content and there are just too many websites who played the SEO game without focusing on the other.

    It was inevitable for it to happen and I think it actually improves things on the web and spreads a fair chance to more honest and trustworthy sites who haven’t only focused on only getting into the SERPs.

    So you want SEO? My guess is focus on what people want and this in turn will be what Google wants.

    avatar Todd says:

    Hi Dustin, great points.

    The changes in Google will accelerate the gap between businesses that are slow to make the move to content marketing and don’ consistently analyze the relationship between them and their audience.

    Great content for your audience builds links. That same great content will never be construed as thin or not valuable.

    So, changing the overall strategy entirely to focus on developing fantastic content – for most businesses – will be a requirement, not simply an option.

    Nicely said Dustin. In the short-term Google are going to continue to ruffle feathers and some sites that have been doing well will suffer. But it simply could not continue as it was, it was unsustainable in the long term, and quality suffered. I think your last comment “focus on what people want and this in turn will be what Google wants” absolutely hits an hour on the head :)

    I’ve read the article and all the comments. Thanks for the info and I, too, agree that Google will continue to try to remove spam while making their paid search bigger and look more enticing. I also agree that you should have at least 5 sources of traffic like @David said. I recently read elsewhere that you should be doing thing to drive traffic to your site, and to not even build links unless they are in a good enough spot to actually bring you traffic.

    Thank you AEM, the more legitimate traffic stream you have the better!

    Thanks David, great new insight in to potential changes to be seen in 2013.
    And in my opinion, as long as there is organic results, there will always be search engine optimization tactics to raise up in that first page for a particular search term. Let’s imagine Google shifting into being a fully paid search engine; if they do, then within very short time, their entire business model would collapse.
    If we take a look at Google INC 2012 Financial Tables. Then we clearly can say “that sort of move (no organic results)” would be the biggest mistake the World has ever seen as far as running a business is concerned. All the foundations are there for Google (we just have to look at their state of the art data-centers) and because they have to make more and more money, they are being a little aggressive (especially in the smart phone search market, where most people actually (without being fully aware) are presented with Ads by Google.
    These are my opinions, and regardless of the changes Google can bring to the internet table, we as seo experts, will simply witness it and use what we witness to our advantage.

    Yep, I absolutely agree with you. The entire Google business is based on free searches. Take that away and you hand the search business over to Bing!

    I felt that the site which have been worked on January month were affected and the keywords went back. But the sites which i have not touched the work is the keyword remains the same. Since the site i have worked all keywords went back and if i do some daily SEO work on that site thinking that i could retain the keywords back, but still the keywords again going back.

    I don’t know what happened in Google’s algorithm. Few of my sites which i have worked this month showing keyword down and which i not worked showing keywords in same position.

    Do any one practice the same thing what i have experienced.?

    avatar Todd Mumford says:

    Hi Recruitment Services,

    Google released an algorithm in August of 2012 that creates a random effect for some changes in websites, based on how authority your website is. In general, the more authority, trusted your website is, with better content, the more it becomes immune to updates because the updates are designed to remove or reduce the significance of low quality sites.

    Here is the link. It’s a long read, but worth digesting.

    Here is a great reference to that piece from Bill Slawski over at SEO By the Sea

    Google Patent Review

    What does this mean to you?

    Work on developing high quality content and developing high quality links, and be leery about making too many changes to old content (or too many SEO changes at once / overall)

    Also, be patient with changes that you make. This patent describes how Google can essentially ‘test’ SEO changes you make, moving your rankings potentially backwards even if the changes are positive ones that help the user.

    Over the long run, if you develop sound content for your audience, research keywords well, implement strong informative titles, and link naturally in your internal content while building good links you will do well.

    Hope this helps

    avatar Leadgenix says:

    Interesting to hear opinions where others feel Google is making SEO harder when others see the other side of the coin.

    avatar Jane Edward says:

    When I first read the news about the Google PENPAN update, there are some website that came to mind that I know will never be affected by the new Rules. And when I did a search for them separately, they are still where they were on the search engine in there respective niche.
    Google introduced the PANPEN rule because it is fed up all the rubbish SEO strategies many websites are using to gain prominence on SERP.
    Google is for humans and not Robots no matter what.
    If you happen to own Google, would you not want make that clear?

    […] depending on Google searches to generate web traffic, read up on the most recent updates to the Panda and Penguin algorithms. Join a forum that discusses various aspects of search engine optimization and ethical techniques […]

    Google has gone cray.I dont understand whats the logic behind this.I have seen many useless site ranking for very high volume keywords.Really this is just stupid.

    avatar Abhi says:

    If keyword is not a matter then what is the main criteria in future SEO

    avatar yebhi coupons says:

    I dont know but if this is the case then may SEO provider will find it tough to get them self going.Keyword is the major aspect of SEO,many SEO provider invest 2-3 days in searching for a good keyword.

    avatar Computerz101 says:

    I also agree don’t just focus on Google… Make sure your efforts work for all the primary Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing and more. Don’t forget about talking to people, contacting people the old school way for links, passing out business cards, flyers etc…The more ways you have to make yourself visible the better never rely on a single source. Thanks for the great advice David!

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