The quality of the user experience has always been a primary focus of Google, which has resulted in their constant battle against SEO practices that were designed to manipulate their ranking algorithms while offering little or no value to searchers' inquiries. While this battle was somewhat like a game of "Whack-a-Mole" for many years with Google on one side knocking down spammy tactics and black hats on the other side constantly developing new ones, the Panda algorithm update followed by the Penguin update changed things considerably. 


The one-two punch of these algorithm updates, made possible by increasingly sophisticated spam detection techniques, virtually eliminated the benefits of SEO strategies that were designed to get ratings and nothing else including the mass distribution of keyword filled, poorly written content and backlinks originating from sites with a sole purpose of generating backlinks. With the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in the late summer of 2013, Google knocked down another foundation of SEO; the optimization of specific keywords within search terms.


Instead, the new algorithm focused on the entire context of search terms to better understand what was being asked in order to deliver the appropriate results. For example, prior to the Hummingbird update, a keyword-based search such as “best James Bond movies” might display a variety of results focused on the keyword James Bond but not necessarily the best of the movies. Hummingbird is designed to take the entire phrase and deliver results pertaining to “best James Bond movies”.

While these algorithm changes have mandated a variety of modifications in SEO strategies, there are still practices that are being deployed by many companies that are now being ignored by search engines and/or hurting rather than helping rankings on the search engine results pages.


$1   Guest blogging – Google’s own anti-spam guru Matt Cutts said that, due to the high levels of spam in these posts, guest blogging is officially dead.

$1    Press releases as marketing materials – Much like guest blogging, distributing spam/marketing press releases isn’t working either. Releases that are written to announce events in a news based format, however, remain sought after and can still play an important role in SEO campaigns.

$1   Staying with a keyword-centric SEO strategy – As mentioned above, Google is striving to deliver results that answer questions or deliver solutions, rather than display lists of web pages that look relevant to queries because they have high percentages of keywords in their content. This change makes it necessary for businesses to evaluate the questions that searchers pose when looking for their products and then create content that answers those questions.


SEO has changed. The choice now is whether to make changes to keep up or to continue to see diminishing results by executing a stale strategy.

Google recently announced that it will feature long form content in their search results, a change that will alter the front page by dropping the organic listings to nine in most cases, while adding three long form articles. The change is in response to Google’s findings that approximately 10% of searches on the site are seeking articles that provide the kind of in-depth coverage and analysis that isn’t available in articles with word counts of less than 500. 
While the in-depth articles do not show up on every results page, they do appear on searches relating to current news headlines, large Fortune 500 corporations, and other broad topics such as jobs, health, family, etc. Originally touted by Google as a methodology to surface quality content from a variety of sources, the in-depth articles featured so far have been authored for the most part by major publishers, perhaps a signal that Google’s long form algorithms have been set up to play it safe as the new feature rolls out. Featured long form articles have been authored by the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker.  
The results for long form pieces appear in a block called “In-depth articles”, which features three listings with word counts ranging from 2,000 to 5,000. The change featuring long form content appears to be an extension of the Panda algorithm update, which targeted short and shallow articles posted on content farm websites for the purpose of generating backlinks to sponsoring websites.      
Despite its leanings toward established publishers at present, Google has stated that, "…you'll also find some great articles from lesser-known publications and blogs." Should this be the case, Google’s “In-depth articles” present another channel for businesses to exhibit expertise in their area of operation with the opportunity to appear on the front page of results for highly competitive keywords.