Say “Google” to a website owner, and you might get get a reaction as though you’d said “boo.” In the last few years Google has rolled out a number of impactful updates that have changed the face of their search results pages. People who prospered on the backs of Google for years have found themselves facing lean times. Google doesn’t want to display certain kinds of sites any more, and it is becoming increasingly aggressive in removing them from its index.
Yet digital publishers have little to worry about. A well-run and well-managed digital publication might actually benefit from these new guidelines. Because they trade in quality information, and don’t merely use content to point people towards commercial ventures, they remain purer in Google’s eyes.
Rooting out thin content
High quality digital publishers got a boost in 2011 when Google released its Panda update. Algorithm updates were nothing new to Google; they’d deployed many in the past that had nuked a huge number of sites they considered spammy. But nothing hit quite as hard as Panda. Except for a number of mistaken instances, this was quite a boon for digital publishers who wanted to rank for Google queries.
The main purpose of Panda was to root out thin content. If you can remember back to before the Panda update, you might remember searching for a certain topic and seeing a number of related, but extremely poor, results. Some might give you a bit of your answer, others might try to get you to buy something via an affiliate link. The solution was to search in Google News, which can be just as flooded with results.
Once those thin-content sites, ones that offered no value through content, were eradicated, digital publishers started ranking higher for queries related to their content. Google has now built Panda into its algorithm, so it will continuously purge these low-quality results, handing the advantage back to the publishers that create quality content.
Affecting commercial searches
Whenever Google rolls out an update, it notes the number of queries it affects. Typically this is a very low number, perhaps 2-3 percent of queries. Of course, given the sheer volume Google experiences every day, the actual number of queries affected is very high indeed. With their Penguin update, which targets link schemes and low-quality linking, Google has most greatly affected commercial searches. That can be good news for information publishers.
That’s not to say that digital publishers have completely avoided Google’s wrath here as they did with Penguin. Many digital publishers were led down the dark passages of SEO and paid firms to obtain thousands of spam links. Those publishers were then affected by Penguin and the recent spate of manual link penalties Google
The driving idea behind the latest Google updates is to clean up search results that were once dominated by content-thin sites that exist only to make money via affiliate referrals. If your site makes money selling its own products, such as conferences, or works just off various ad revenues, then you have little to fear. You will find that those sites are affected far less frequently, and that they are easier to recover when penalized.
Working with quality publishers
Not only has Google worked to remove low-quality content from its index, it has also started working to promote higher quality content. This goes beyond the basic snippets that you see with typical searches. Those provide information about a website, or perhaps a quote from the content that is relevant to the search query. Yet sometimes it is difficult to discern the type of content lies beyond that link. With a new feature, Google has given even more power to digital publishers.
For many broad searches, you can now find a section called In-depth articles. It appears at the bottom of the first results page, so these links do not appear in premium real estate. Nor is there any way to click and find more in-depth articles. It seems that each section is limited to three for the time being. Yet to be in that three can lead to a great uptick in search traffic. A listing in the in-depth section sends a particular signal to users, which can lead to not only more clicks, but clicks from people who will stay on your website.
New opportunities abound
Why have publishers, for the most part, withstood the avalanche of Google updates? While there are many reasons, the one that stands out involves commercial intent. When Google issued these updates they were clearly targeting a certain types of sites, the kind that exist solely to sell you something, usually through a third party. While there is sometimes value in that, people would prefer their search results to send them directly to the merchant.
Since much competition has been wiped, and since Google’s rules are much clearer now than they have ever been in the past, current digital publishers can start taking advantage of the new frontier and find new ways to monetize their sites. Implementing affiliate codes, for instance, is much easier now that much of the competition has been erased from the Google search results. But that’s just one advantage.
Digital publishers can engage in a more natural form of SEO, which many are now calling inbound marketing. Many digital publishers do this quite naturally, by sending the right signals. Now they can take advantage by starting to sell products of their own. It’s easier than ever to accept credit cards with services like Intuit, so commercialization naturally follows. And let’s be honest: almost all digital publishers are looking for ways out of the typical CPM ad scheme. If that means selling products to end users, we should look at it as an opportunity for change.