Over the past week, most people have noticed significant changes in the SERPs at Google. Web sites that previously held number one positions have dropped to number 89, and some web sites have disappeared off the Google results pages altogether. As is the case with all major Google updates, SEOs have been panicking in forums and there has been much discussion about one topic in particular: reciprocal linking.
The first thing you have to do to understand the direction in which Google is taking with this update, is to get into the minds of the people who run it. Something that is so often overlooked is the fact that Google (and any other search engine) is first and foremost, a business. The reason they offer the service they do, is to make money, to make stocks soar and to keep shareholders happy. Googles income comes from many sources, but the main one is advertising. In order to be able to sell their advertising real estate for a profitable price, the ad space needs to be seen. In order for the ad space to be seen, many, many, many people must visit the Google web site and use the Google search engine. In order for Google traffic to be at such a level, Google must offer a great, if not the best, search engine service.
So, how does Google offer, or attempt to offer, the absolute best service possible? By having the most relevant, and most useful search results.
Useful and relevant web sites are sites that are extremely visitor-friendly, sites that offer a lot of quality information in many different forms, from RSS feeds, to articles, to forums. Sites that are organized and have developed, naturally, a respect on the internet. A great example of such a site is About.com – search for any topic on About.com and you get a page with a lot of information on that topic and many, many links to other web sites that carry further information. It is, undoubtedly, one of the best places on the Internet to go for information.
Now, heres where it gets tricky. In the past, Google has evaluated web sites by looking at areas of the site that are easily manipulated by webmasters and SEOs, such as meta tags, alt tags, keyword density, page titles, etc. We all know this has changed. Google has begun to reward sites with a more natural approach to these areas, and to penalize sites that have been over-optimized.
The key now, is visitor-friendly, natural web sites. Google will attract more repeat users, and thus, more advertising capital, if their search results always yield web sites that have the information searchers are looking for and are easy to use and understand.
Natural web sites are web sites whos page titles reflect the page content in an easily understandable way. They are web sites whos keywords meta tags contain only the words that apply to the page content. They have description tags that reflect the content in a concise, easily understood way. They have image alt tags that describe the image properly. Most importantly, natural web sites are web sites that develop a natural link popularity. That is to say, they dont have someone working on finding web sites to swap links with. This is an unnatural linking strategy. A natural linking strategy is to offer a good, resourceful web site and have people link to it of their own accord because its such a great resource. Such a strategy also includes linking out to quality web sites that offer further information on your web sites topic, whether or not they link back to you. This is a huge indicator that the goal of your web site is simply to offer the best information possible to web site visitors.
Cross-promotion will happen naturally as well, and links that are a result of cross-promotion are still considered a natural linking strategy, and as a result, Google or any other search engine cannot not outlaw reciprocal linking all together. But you have to be extremely picky about the sites you decide to engage in cross-promotion with. They must be very relevant and should have a decent presence on Google. Stay away from automated linking programs, link farms and most importantly, exchanging links with excessive amounts of web sites. Your links page should look like an excellent place for your visitors to go should they require further information on the topic your site deals with.
In short, the most important factor contributing to your Google ranking, is visitor-friendliness. Amassing enormous amounts of link exchanges simply does not work anymore. You absolutely must have your web site visitors needs foremost in your mind. If you meet those needs, you will be rewarded both in your rankings and in repeat traffic.
About the author:
Courtney Heard is the founder of Abalone Designs – http://www.abalone.ca, a search engine optimization company in Vancouver, Canada. She has been involved in web development and marketing since 1995 and has helped start several businesses since then in the Vancouver area. More of Courtney’s articles are available at http://www.abalone.ca/resources/