The web and blogging have changed forever. Up until the end of 2010 blogging had hardly changed from its early days in the 90s. Platforms became better and more stable, blogs became more interactive and media-rich and creating a blog became easier than ever, but the essential format remained the same.
Essentially, a blogger would create an online presence and then use it to tackle anything under the sun which happened to catch their attention. Provided they did things right and they got sufficient traffic they would then use it to:
A. Serve Google Ads
B. Serve advertising through banner ads
C. Sell products for others (essentially becoming an affiliate site)
D. Sell products directly themselves
E. Any combination of the above
Bloggers back then had to do one of two things to succeed: create long posts or write frequently. Success was measured by raw traffic numbers and the concept was that the more eyeballs you got to your website the better it was for it.
Traffic was also a raw metric Google’s search algorithm took into account on the fairly logical assumption that a high-traffic website was also a website which did something right. In that retrospectively rose-tinted universe, a blogger who could type fast and jump on any popular topic as it surfaced, could make a decent living. Ditto for the person who liked to go deep as opposed to broad and write long posts which, when the site was re-crawled, gave Google fresh, wordy posts to index.
If I’d met you back then, across a cup of coffee and you asked my advice on being a blogger I would have said: “learn to type fast and get to know what’s hot. Either of these skills, on its own, will help you go a long way.” Good advice which, incidentally would also have worked for websites.
Things are not so simple anymore. The Google Panda update and its many reiterations and refinements of which we expect about 500-odd this year alone put paid to that simplistic model forever. Now if you are a blogger or if you have a website you are struggling under increased pressure to post often, be relevant, have great quality content and be very subject specific. You need to socialise your content, make sure it is seen and commented upon by your immediate social network (which now needs to be both audience and subject specific) and you also need to get it indexed fast.
|What do we have?|
|This is what worked Pre-Google Panda Update: Long posts, short posts, frequent posting, long static pages, pages with high volume traffic, infrequent updates but high traffic. Also: worked almost exclusively from their blog/website||The situation we have after the Google Panda Update|
In retrospect it is obvious that the Google Panda update, at a stroke, set back the SEO planning of practically every legitimate website (and penalized a number of content farms and spam sites which needed to be penalized).
Google did this because of one single guiding principle: the quality of the end-user experience. That quality is governed by Google’s ability to return in the search index results which are fresh, timely and add true value to the search query. Unfortunately it also meant that if you had static pages which were ok but had not been updated for ages, they dropped rank (unless you really had no competition), if you write posts about whatever came to your mind (your site dropped rank), if you wrote infrequently, you dropped rank – you get the picture.
How to Blog in the Post-Panda Update Age
All is not lost however. In the post-Panda update age the web and search can still work for you provided you are able to reposition your content creation strategy (and you had one all along, right?) and pay attention to a few new developments which are the direct result of the spread of social media and the ever evolving online visitor behaviour.
01. Long posts are in. Why? Because long posts, like this one, allow a very precise dissection of issues and enable you to get across points without taking shortcuts. If you only write infrequently and you are not a blogger then long posts which have real value and are backed by solid information are definitely the way to go. As a classic example see my piece on SOPA. If you blog, long pieces allow you the ability to create keyword weight on your site on a cumulative basis and without having to resort to heavy iteration or unnatural writing (both of which are now being looked upon by Google with a frown).
02. Short posts are also in. Why? Because the online community, facing a flood of information is struggling to find the time to read it all. If you are socialising your website’s content (which you must) constantly pushing long posts in the face of people who do not yet know you and are not ready to make a decision as to whether they should devote the time to read it is definitely not the way to build up traffic and a loyal audience. You need to be able to at least grab some of the online population’s attention with short posts aimed precisely at those who are challenged by time. For example, at HelpMySEO I produce a weekly podcast covering SEO, social media and small business advice which barely goes over three minutes. And I also produce the odd 60-second video covering social media. If you blog, depending on the subject, you really need to think about creating content in pictures, memes, the odd infographic. Mix and match and see what your audience response is like.
03. Be subject specific. Why? Because Google is looking for authority websites that can provide3 the best content on a specific search query, there is. It takes the view that a site which contains a couple of dozen pages on kittens, has a long tale about living out on the farm, discusses space travel and then goes on to include a treatise on quantum computing is unlikely to be an authority website on any of these topics. Its content is most likely to be derivative, possibly out of date, probably wrong and unlikely to add real value to anyone’s search. Now, I know this view may be wrong. There are many polymaths out there with a degree in astrophysics and a passion for blogging about kittens and their page on space travel may actually be the best answer to a specific search query. Unfortunately there are many, many, many, more opportunists who set up blogs hoping to make a fast buck and will write about anything and everything with the same passion and conviction that you and I put in our weekly grocery lists. These are the ones Google is targeting. By being subject specific you are making sure that you begin to create authority, traffic and an audience.
04. Use as many communication channels as you can. Why? Because in the post-Panda update socialisation of your content is a metric Google officially now takes into account. If your content is not being shared through YouTube, G+, Facebook, Digg, Tumblr and Twitter, to mention just a few of the channels available, you are missing out on a valuable opportunity to find an audience, drive traffic, create a following and get your blog to where you need it to be.
05. Cross-link content. Why? Because in a world flooded with information those who do come to your website and spend some time reading a post rarely have the time to stick around and browse and although they mean to and probably want to come back later, that later comes more and more rarely. So make it easy for them to find at least one more piece on your website. This helps create interest, a closer bond between you and them, reduces your bounce figures (great for your SEO) and leads to healthier search rankings.
06. Be real. Why? Well, this one has nothing to do with the Google Panda update. You can be as false as you like and provided you can be consistent and follow the five steps above you will pull it off, have a great career as a blogger and probably end up making a lot of money. However, doing all those things is a full time job. It requires you pouring your heart and soul into what you do and actually getting your passion across to a wider audience and this is only possible if you really are yourself.
Now that you know how it’s done, go get them!
How to make your Website stand out from the Crowd
Understanding Content Marketing and the Power of Google+
How writers can better use SEO on the web
Content Strategy and Tone are Important in your Online Marketing
Marketing Through Google Plus and Social Media in General
Writers and the Google Panda Update
How to Develop a Small Business Marketing Strategy which Delivers Results