SEO Quality is King: Google Stomped on ‘Black Hats’
The B2C (business to consumer) eCommerce economy is projected to grow to $2.35 trillion by 2018, and the number of websites is close to a billion. Every eCommerce entrepreneur out there frets over the same question: “how do I climb the Google search rankings and raise my company’s online ‘visibility’.” This article explains the importance of SEO Quality for search engine rank.
Keeping SEO ‘honest’: two things every eCommerce business needs to remember
Here at seorw.com, we’d like to clear up a couple of issues right away: first, there are no shortcuts to a high ranking, and second, if you’re in eCommerce, Google is really the only search engine that matters.
Back in the day, when SEO first developed as a marketing tool, it was relatively easy to game the system. SEO Quality was not important. So-called ‘black hat’ operators deployed a variety of techniques to top Google’s rankings, allowing amoral webmasters to maximize their traffic while annoying the crap out of surfers and potential customers. Their dark arts were legion: unrelated keywords, keyword stuffing, bait-and-switch, and duplicate and mirror sites, to name a few.
What did it mean for your potential e-customer? Wading through a mass of dodgy Viagra sellers before they could get to legit web businesses. The black hatters were threatening to turn Google and its fellow search engines into a minute-munching, time-wasting irritation.
Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird: cute, but deadly
That was, though, ‘back in the day’, and Google geeks got straight on the case. The battle for Internet Earth was joined, and, yes, just like Lord of the Rings, Gandalf won and Saruman lost: white hats carried the day, and the black hats retreated.
Take ‘keyword stuffing’ as an example. Up to 2011, black hat webmasters would fill their sites with high-demand keywords simply to gain traffic. Their site content was thin or even non-existent. Clicking one of their high-ranking links would rarely if ever get you where you wanted to go, and Google searchers would have to trawl their way through site after site of drivel to find a relevant search result. In 2011, though, Google struck back with the release of Panda, an algorithm update that actively penalized the keyword-stuffing technique. In a stroke of Google genius, stuffers were wiped from the search results. Panda also removed so-called ‘content-thin’ sites, which were often composed of little more than keywords, and ‘content farm’ sites, which aggregated plagiarized content in an effort to raise their search-engine ranking.
Penguin, released in 2012, sorted out the problem of black hat ‘back-linking’, the fraudulent creation of links to other sites that, before the optimization wars, would significantly raise backlink-heavy sites in Google results.
Google’s next move in the fight against black hat SEO was much more sophisticated and came in 2013. Called Hummingbird, the new algorithm was a quantum leap in search engine tech that fixed an ongoing issue: relevance. Previous SEO algorithms had worked to precise lexicography, looking for specific phrases and ranking accordingly. Now, Hummingbird unleashed what became known as ‘semantic search’, parsing websites for synonymous or related phrases that aligned with a customer’s search parameters. Hummingbird recognized that we humans use language fuzzily, and when we type words into a search engine we rarely nail precisely the most apt phraseology.
Gaming the system is out, SEO quality is in: there are no shortcuts
OK, so you’re a webtrepreneur, or at the least, you’ve brought your brick-and-mortar business to the ‘net. You’re asking ‘Can I game the system?’ Here’s seorw.com’s answer, with love from the experts: ‘No’. The shortcuts that black hat web designers used to leverage have been blocked, bollarded, and pedestrianized. No black hat traffic gets through these days…and we’re very happy about that!
So what works? SEO is very much alive and kicking, growing fast, and retains its potential to link you to your customers. Rather than the dark arts of black hat subversion, quality SEO has adapted to the increased sophistication of search engines, and its toolkit has grown accordingly: improving content quality (especially site mapping and headers), site security, data analytics, and streamlining sites to ensure faster upload are now the name of the game. They keep eCommerce honest, but still allow cleverly designed websites to raise their Google search ranking.
What about Bing? What about Yahoo!?
It’s true. We’ve only mentioned Google. There’s a good reason for that, though. Much of the world’s eCommerce is moving onto smartphones and tablets, with their frictionless usability and portability, and while Google’s market share on laptop and desktop searches hovers around 80%, its domination of the portable market is total.
Cart additions are higher on laptops and desktops (around 8%), with a roughly 3% sales conversion rate. Compare that to mobile application rates (4.7% cart additions, 0.8% sales) and yes, it’s clear that the latter market is lighter on sales. But the mobile eCommerce market is growing, and lower entry costs mean that many more people have smartphones than desktops. Conversion rates are lower but the customer base is bigger, and as we all know, in the economics of the internet, the ‘long tail’ is where the action’s at. March 2017 figures show that Google has snaffled an incredible 96% of the search action on smartphones (www.netmarketshare.com), with Yahoo! so far behind it’s almost below the horizon at less than 2%.
Realistically, with Google so far out in front as the market leader and the others trying to keep up (whether algorithmically or in terms of brand recognition), the big G is the core focus of SEO quality. If you can get it right on that platform, you’ll do just fine on the others.
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