This is a guest post from Leigh Chesley at Salesfusion.

Keeping Google happy is a lot like pleasing a cat – what they want can change frequently and abruptly.

Major Google algorithm updates Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird have had a major impact on websites and SERPs over the past few years. The general rule that Google has given webmasters about these updates is this: If you are not practicing black hat search engine optimization (SEO), you have nothing to worry about. That’s all well and good, but then a lot of people ignored everything else Google had to say. Even if you are confident that your SEO practices are on the up-and-up, here are answers to some of the most pressing questions about the menagerie of recent algorithm updates.

1. What is black hat search engine optimization?

If you don’t know what black hat search engine optimization is, how can you be certain your teams (or you!) aren’t guilty of doing it? Black hat SEO is any unethical technique that is used to manipulate or break search engine algorithms to get higher search engine rankings. Warning: This applies even if it is accidental! It’s pretty obvious that unethical practices include presenting content in a way that breaks the search engines. But what you may not know is that it also includes techniques that create a poor user experience because the site was optimized for search engine spiders, not for humans. Even the most well-intentioned webmasters can fall into the trap of wanting to rank high on the first page and forgetting that it is even more important that people are able to navigate the website once they get there. You might be ranking third in the search ranking, but if your content is difficult to digest it won’t do you any good in the long run anyway. Make sure your web copy and navigation is natural and intuitive. When in doubt, use A/B testing. In fact, use A/B testing regularly even if you’re not in doubt.

2. What are the updates?

If you know what the recent updates are targeting, you can make sure your site is up to snuff. It can also give you a clue about where Google is going in the future.
  • Google’s first Panda update targeted content, ad-to-content ratios, and content farms. It impacted about 12 percent of search results. These websites were considered to be lower quality, or “thin” in regards to content. Duplicate content, too many ads and poor writing were all targeted by the Panda update.
  • The Penguin update targeted keyword stuffing, inorganic backlinking and other false optimization techniques. This update knocked unsuspecting, well-intentioned webmasters’ sites out of the top of the search engine results.
Inorganic backlinking is creating links that are purely for backlinking and have little or no relation to the content on the website. This practice was helping some websites create a false level of trust within the rankings, gaming Google’s PageRank algorithm, which calculates number of links from credible sites as part of its measure of “trustworthiness.”
  • The Hummingbird update, on the other hand, was less about targeting SEO practices than enhancing the user experience, including mobile search. It has been described as giving an old classic car a new engine. Google is continually updating its search algorithm, looking for ways to deliver more qualified, relevant results. (You learn more about specifics here).

What should you do?

What that “Golden Rule” of search engine optimization says is true. If you’re not employing any unethical, black hat search engine optimization techniques, then your website is not likely to suffer from Google updates.
  • Backlinking is critical if you are trying to increase visibility for a website, especially if it is in a competitive space. However, backlinking needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully. The best way to approach your backlinking strategy is to pursue logical backlinks from credible websites.
  • Content is king – even in the search engine results pages. Write content for humans (after all, that’s likely your audience) and the search engine spiders will take notice. Go back and look at your copy to see if you can layer in a just a few words that will help your organic rankings, but don’t stuff your copy with buzz words. This is obvious, and is likely to hurt your rankings in the long term. Make sure to include natural keywords. Add in a few links to other credible websites.
  • Distribute press releases through credible online publishers and benefit from the backlinks you get through your PR. When you distribute press releases and create good news stories, you are naturally adding your keywords into organic search. You are also increasing your backlinks for credible sources that continuously have fresh, new content – something that Google loves.
So Google has a herd of animals stampeding through the SERPs. No sweat. The next time there is a new one on the horizon you’ll be ready. The bottom line is this – have a strategy around your search engine optimization plan, but make sure it is logical and humanistic.]]>

Greg is a member of the executive team at Stryde and a seasoned digital marketer who has worked with thousands of businesses, large and small, to generate more revenue via online marketing strategy and execution. Greg has written hundreds of blog posts as well as spoken at many events about online marketing strategy. You can follow Greg on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.