May 18, 2012

Playing in the Google Zoo – National Brands & Google Updates

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A panda, a penguin and an SEO expert walk into a conference…

OK, so that’s not really a joke but it certainly could be.  Within the past few months, Google has made several well-publicized updates to their search algorithm aimed at different aspects of the search results.  On April 24, Google launched Penguin, one of the few updates aimed specifically at local search.  Once more the buzz, worry and speculation began around the possible effects this update would have on SERPs.

For years now, in the local SEO space, many small agencies and “SEO advisors” have targeted small businesses with “guarantees” of top placement on Google in a short amount of time.  Any person involved in SEO knew such claims were achievable, but only by utilizing tactics Google has long-labeled as “black hat” or “illegal.”

Penguin is Google’s long-awaited move to address and cleanup sites utilizing unapproved tactics that have previously been ignored because they are at such a small, local level.  Google has stated that this update should only effect 3% of search traffic, but since that traffic is all local-specific it may appear much more far-reaching.

Initial results in the first several days of the implementation have shown results that are expected based on Google’s commentary.  For years, Google has stressed that for long-term success, websites should optimize based on consumer experience instead of optimizing for search engines.  Post-Penguin searches are showing that those sites previously relying on keyword stuffing, an over-abundance of backlinks and other “questionable” tactics are suffering while those “playing by the rules” are seeing minimal negative effects.

We’ve discussed on this blog before how the business listings portion of the search results garner the most consumer attention and for now this section appears to be a local “safe haven,” free from adverse effects of the Penguin update.  Even those local businesses with websites impacted by the update appear to be safe within the local business listings.

The Penguin update, while not a direct “threat” to national brands in the local space, does bring to light a few important points for brands to consider:

  • Even in local, a Google-only approach can be precarious as one simple change in their algorithm can send a business completely off a consumer’s radar.
  • Cultivating a multi-pronged local strategy involving both local sites and business listings across the local ecosystem will yield maximum consumer exposure, thus increasing in-store traffic.
  • Incorporating social media on a local level will create and additional layer of consumer contact and interaction, promoting the brand and increases consumer awareness, purchase and advocacy.

If there is one thing certain in search, it is that Google will continue to push updates to their algorithm and those in the SEO world will continue to scramble to adapt websites to those changes.  By lessening dependency on Google, focusing on optimizing listings and local-social content, national brands with a large local footprint will find themselves more prepared to ride the waves when another Google algorithm tsunami hits the web.