In Part one of How To Optimize for Google, I discussed some of the fundamental on-site SEO aspects and how they have changed over the past few years. This article focuses on a few algorithmic updates as well as some updates in the inbound link landscape.

Google Algorithm Updates

Caffeine Update

The Caffeine Update came out in2010. While it does not directly impact your search rankings, it does speed up the entire optimization process. Before you would make a change on your site, wait for Google to spider the change, Google would index the change, and then eventually apply that update to its search rankings.

Now with Caffeine in place, Once Google spiders and indexes your site updates, the impact on the organic search results is virtually instant. Now you basically just have to wait for Google to spider your site to see the changes, taking what was sometimes, a few months of waiting out of the equation.

Google Instant

Google recently rolled out Google Instant. While this update does not directly impact search results, it does impact how search results are displayed, and can impact the traffic you receive. With Google Instant, search results update as you type in real time. As you type new words into the search box, the results change, which can result in fewer people scrolling down to see the entire top 10. If the searcher does not see what they want in the results above the fold, they may be more inclined to keep refining their search until they see what they want at the top of the list.

With this in mind, it opens up opportunities for more long tailed search traffic, but it also reduces your chances of getting traffic if your rankings are below the fold, making top 3-5 results that much more important. Also, once you are in the top, you want to ensure that your description and title tags are catchy to make sure they attract some visitors!

So while this update does not directly impact your rankings, it can impact your search traffic.

Farmer Update & Unique Quality Content

The “Farmer” or “Panda” update is the latest major update over at Google. While their main target appears to be content farms, any site with substantial amounts of “useless” content is at risk of suffering as a result of this update.

If you are building a new site, or want to take advantage of this update the key is creating useful, relevant, unique content. It’s really something most sites should be doing anyways, but now there is more encouragement to actually do it.

Talking about the “Farmer” update is easily a post in itself, but there is one piece of key info to know about. Unique quality content is good. Duplicated, low quality content is bad. This has always been true on a few levels, only now, that duplicated and low quality content won’t just go “supplemental”, it can actually damage the rankings for the rest of your site, so it is really important now to ensure your site does not have any low quality pages floating around.

Inbound Links

There have definitely been some changes in the way links are handled over the past few years, although some of the fundamentals have remained the same.

Reciprocal Links

These are still not bad, but have much less value than they did 3 years ago. The value of reciprocal links continues to drop, perhaps someday it could reach zero, but given that there are many highly legitimate reasons to have a reciprocal link, I doubt this will be the case.

Keep reciprocal links very relevant. If you can trade the links from contextually relevant pages rather than standard “link” pages, your links will stand a better chance of actually providing you with some value. Links traded by means of a reciprocal directory listing, or link drown out on a lengthy “links” page, are in most cases not worth your time.

As usual, relevance is key, so keep the links within your industry, and also be sure to mix up descriptions and anchor text, and where possible get inline links from actual page copy – they certainly are the most natural, and hold the most weight.

Paid Links

Google doesn’t like this. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that they are much harder on paid links now. If Google finds you buying paid links for SEO purposes (not using the rel=nofollow) they can penalize both you and the site you bought the link from. Unfair? Perhaps, but many still take the risks. If you buy “dofollow” links for the purposes of SEO, be warned, Google may drop the hammer down on you, so tread lightly.

Some food for thought: In theory, paid links may not hurt you – think about this. Google still says that you can’t do anything to harm your competitor’s site. SO, does that mean, if you went out and bought your competitor dozens, or even hundreds of paid links, Google would not penalize them? How can Google tell who bought the link in the first place? Seems to me, unless your name is JC Penny, they will focus more on penalizing the link SELLER, not the buyer… I don’t recommend going out and buying links however, I think there is a valid risk here, but perhaps not all it is hyped up to be?

Articles and Press Releases

Keep it relevant and unique and writing articles and press releases can still be a great way to help out your link portfolio. Articles tend to work best if you create unique articles for distribution to each publication or blog. Consider guest blogging, where you write for other industry specific blogs in exchange for a link in your bio, or throughout the article. Many blog owners may go for this trade as they get valuable unique content, you get a link – it’s a very fair trade.

Forum Posts & Blog Comments

The value here, if any, is minimal. Do it because you love it and want to contribute, not because you think you will see a spike in rankings. Most links are blocked via nofollow anyways as these areas are so widely abused.  This applies to Guest Books as well, if there are even any still in existence – I haven’t seen one in years.

Link Farms & “Bad Neighbourhoods”

Stay away from these. They have been bad for years and years, and they always will be.

Dmoz, Yahoo, and other Authoritative Directories

Yes, some directories can still give you some great links, especially directories that are on topic with your industry. Directories that are moderated are often slightly better, as there is that human element and not all links are posted. Helps to reinforce that they won’t link to just anyone, as is the case with DMOZ.

Look for industry specific, and geographically specific directories, as some can provide you with some good inbound links.

Be sure to check in next week for part 3 on How to Optimize for Google, where I will talk about the role Social Media is playing in organic SEO, and how it may impact things further into the future.