SEO 2015 - Myth and Reality

Jochen Fuchs

Is my website really SEO-friendly? Can Google see my site? I get this kind of questions almost daily. But what’s the answer? Well, SEO is quite a beast of its own. Two or three years ago, answering those questions would have been easy, but in 2015? Entirely different story.

What actually is SEO?

Search engine optimisation, or SEO for short, has been around as long as search engines themselves. The word is quite self explanatory: You optimise your website to make it as easy as possible for search engines to find it. There's two parts to this: Onpage SEO and Offpage SEO.

Onpage SEO is everything that happens on your website.

Back in the day, having reasonably clean source code, choosing the right keywords and adding a healthy amount of links was enough. This would get you good rankings quite easily. The Google algorithm was relatively transparent and most factors that went into ranking were known. Domain popularity and number of external links were the most important ones.

Offpage SEO is everything that happens outside of your own website.

Building backlinks is certainly the single most important measure here. Social Activity and networking within your target audience have also become more and more relevant over the past few years.

Rise of the animals - Panda and Penguin

Panda and Penguin may no sound intimidating, but they changed SEO from the ground up. They are the code names of two of the most important updates to the Google algorithm and declared war on blackhat SEO. Blackhat SEO are SEO tactics that knowingly violate Google regulations.

What's in it for Google?

You, me, we’re all Google’s customers, and we’ll only use their product as long as it gives us relevant, interesting results to our searches. Imagine some amount of effort and know-how was all you need to get your site to the top of search results, whether the content is actually relevant or not. People would stop using Google very fast, and switch to a search engine that delivers better results.

What changes did the penguin algorithm bring about?

Penguin focused mainly ranking down websites with repeated links and suspicious link structures. Lots of websites found themselves on rank 5, or even page two of the search results instead of rank one. This doesn’t sound that critical, but was a financial disaster for many sites and their owners.

Panda cleaning house

Panda dug even deeper and killed off entire business models on the web. Until the Panda update, many sites existed with the sole purpose of producing big amounts of content for popular search terms. Most of the time without much actual substance, but full of keywords to influence the Google ranking.

Google rolled out the Panda update in 2011 and took the fight to content and link farms. The goal was to give real, valuable content better visibility amongst content mills as well as shopping and link directories. For the owners of those sites, the results were shattering. Their sites lost 25% to 30% of their traffic immediately. Even well-established sites like eBay went down massively in Google ranks.

Panda’s effect on a German shopping directory’s visibility index – Source: http://www.sistrix.de/news/panda-4.0

Panda 4.0

Since the initial Panda update Google improved the algorithm continuously. With Panda 4.0, content farms became mostly obsolete from an SEO perspective. Some shut down entirely following the update. Today, offering and maintaining relevant content on your website has become by far the most effective SEO measure.

In 2014, Google put their sights on link networks. Google never liked people buying links to their site, but never really took action against it until 2014. Most sites could use link networks relatively unhindered. There were occasional penalties, but never any severe consequences. This policy changed dramatically last year, when Google began heavily punishing buying backlinks from link networks.

Matt Cutts, head Google's webspam team, made multiple public statements and announced measures against link networks. The result was Google manually taking action against link networks. Owners of those sites were informed via Webmaster Tools about their violation and could observe their ranking dropping massively only a few days later. Thousands of sites were hit by this last year. Some just went down in ranks, others disappeared entirely from search results.

How does SEO move on in 2015?

Decent SEO experts have long stopped buying backlinks and instead invest in relevant content and genuine, sustainable link building. SEO practices from a couple of years ago have no chance of success today.

Forget all “easy” methods to improve Google rankings. In fact, keep as far away from those as you can. There’s no such thing as good SEO for $99.

Stay away from simple solutions.

We’re often asked if websites created with rukzuk are optimised for search engines. This question comes from the wrong assumption that SEO just happens if your site is built the right way. What is that even supposed to mean?

However, there are some basic factors to consider when building a website. You can fulfill all of them by yourself using mostly common sense. But even if you do, that does in no way guarantee a good ranking.

Coming up article: “SEO 2015 – Onpage Optimisation”. We'll be looking at what's most important when building a site, and what neither you nor Google should waste any time on. The third article in this series will cover “Offpage Optimisation”.

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