How Google’s PageRank Algorithm Screwed the Online Writer (and What They Did to Fix It)

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Editor’s note: On August 28, 2014, Google ended their Authorship program. To discover what this means for you as an online content creator, check out this post by Sonia Simone.

In many ways, this century has mostly been a dark time for online writers.

Huh? You mean the Internet — the most significant publishing revolution since Gutenberg — hasn’t been good for writers?!

Yes. And no.

Here’s the thing, good content writers got squeezed out during the early days of Google’s PageRank algorithm. As I’ll explain later, the importance was placed on the page, which created a nasty race to the bottom as far as writer’s value was concerned.

Thankfully, Google has recently changed its tune, and the web writer is about to profit from that change like never before …

And don’t miss the 20-part checklist on how to succeed in today’s Google rankings at the end of this post …

Here’s what to expect in this post

In the last post in our Author Rank series I wrote about why writers and content creators should care about Author Rank (it’s not just because Hunter S. Thompson would).

In this post we’ll explore the early phases of Author Rank. You’ll discover:

  • Google’s original attempt at evaluating web pages with PageRank
  • The abuse of PageRank — and the ugly consequences for the writer
  • Google’s response to that abuse (hint: their response rhymes with “Amanda”)
  • A 20-point checklist on creating high-quality content in a new web era

Let’s go.

Google’s original scheme to evaluate content

Google’s PageRank algorithm attempts to judge the relevancy of a page by asking two questions:

  1. How many links point to a particular web page?
  2. How valuable are those links?

In practice, the theory is this: when you have two identical pages on training for a marathon, the one with the most links pointing to that page should rank higher in the search engines.

However, the quality of those links matters a lot.

If both pages have ten links pointing to them, but one of the pages has links coming from Runner’s World and the Ironman Triathlon, that page is going to be deemed more authoritative than the other.

In addition, a page with ten high-quality links could potentially outrank a page with 100 low-quality links.

In other words, PageRank rewarded keyword-rich content that attracted high quality incoming links. But this occurred in an era when competition and content on the web was relatively low … and social networking sites were but a twinkle in the eye of the Internet.

The rules changed in the early 2000′s.

How to game PageRank (and the mutiny against the writer)

The problem with PageRank was that you could game it.

Bad marketers realized that all they had to do to attract links (and grow traffic) was create and publish horrible, keyword-rich content that was brief, unoriginal, and shallow …

Then lazy marketers took it one step further — they created even more content on other sites (blogging networks, content farms, or a string of web properties) and linked that new content back to their main site and pages.

Sites like e-How, HubPages.com and ChaCha.com — and a million service industry blogs like doctors, lawyers, real estate and so on — blossomed.

Rankings soared. Traffic blew up. And in this era, demand for “content” (in the worst sense of that word) erupted.

Sadly, it was also a mutiny against the writer. In this scheme, the author didn’t matter. Just the content. The watchword was that content was king. But the throne was empty.

Publishers demanded volume over value, and so writers were in a pickle. Finding work was not hard, but finding meaningful work was. And finding work for more than fifteen dollars an hour was even harder.

Erin Griffith summarized the position writers found themselves in:

It’s much easier to hire an anonymous consultant or copywriter to churn out content sans byline. No one cares who those writers are as long as the content they produce is viewed as legit to the almighty Google.

And of course, Google allowed spam to run riot. Content farms, blogging networks, and other unnatural linking schemes cropped up everywhere.

Link building became a hot business as SEO consultants demonstrated they could get a website ranked by simply creating a mountain of cheap content.

True, there were those who were creating high-quality content with credibility, identity, and authority — but there was so much noise Google needed to do something about the hot mess it had helped create.

And in February 2011, Google rolled out one of the most punishing algorithmic updates on the books — an update that affected the ranking of an entire site, rather than just a page or section of that site.

Within days, entire content empires were leveled.

Panda eats, shoots weak content, and leaves

The update I’m talking about is called Panda.

And while Google’s Panda doesn’t eat, and will likely never leave, it did shoot bad content dead. The story goes that the update was named after one of the core engineers behind Panda.

To say that Panda pummeled the cheap link-building, content-farm model is an understatement. Within hours of its release, entire large sites were virtually wiped out of search engine listing existence.

  • AssociatedContent.com.
  • Suite101.com
  • Encyclopedia.com
  • HowToDoThings.com
  • Answers.com
  • eHow.com

Keep in mind, these sites weren’t de-indexed (removed from Google’s database). Google just stopped artificially rewarding them — which plummeted their rankings to the point of near obscurity.

Talk about a buzz kill. And it’s telling which large sites didn’t get punished:

  • WordPress.com
  • Squidoo.com
  • City-Data.com

Other sites that were not punished by Panda included Copyblogger, Mashable, and Search Engine Journal.

On these sites, content is original, useful, and ultra-specific. Content is epic.

Your 20-point checklist for creating high-quality content

Panda wasn’t (by any means) a flawless update.

Some people felt they were unfairly punished. Others were just confused. In response, Google pointed webmasters and bloggers to their web writing guidelines.

Those guidelines boiled down to these rules:

  1. Care — deeply — about the quality of your writing, and about your audience.
  2. Go deep with original research.
  3. Share a never-before-seen interview.
  4. Avoid redundant, duplicated, or stolen content.
  5. Build so much trust with your audience that people would be happy to hand over their credit card.
  6. Build your authority — and your site’s authority.
  7. Spell correctly.
  8. Fix factual errors.
  9. Repair bad grammar.
  10. Write for humans — not machines.
  11. Create something nobody has ever seen before.
  12. Remain balanced and worthy of your audience’s trust.
  13. Cover a topic comprehensively (don’t aim for an arbitrary word count and stop once you reach it).
  14. Avoid the obvious. If thirty people have already reported on the Facebook Graph Search, then find something else to write about (unless you have information nobody else does).
  15. Create something strangers want to share and bookmark.
  16. Don’t overuse promotions, calls-to-action, and ads.
  17. Write something a good magazine or journal would print.
  18. Steer clear of short and useless.
  19. Spend an insane amount of time on detail.
  20. Create something people want to talk about (preferably positively).

If you want to take your content creation to the next level, use the above points as a checklist before you publish your content. Run every single article through it. In fact, print this list out and tape it next to your desk.

Remember, the web needs content. Useful, original, and ultra-specific content.

Over to you …

The good news is that if you’re an exceptional web writer, then February 24, 2011 was your day.

Panda was a significant step in bringing you (the writer) back to the central position of ruling the content roost once again — of running the show.

Fortunately, there is even better news for good web writers, which I’ll explain in our next post in this series — 7 Ways Successful Writers Use Google+ Effectively.

Stay tuned.

Do you have any ideas to add to the checklist? Please share in the comments.

(And a gold star for those who picked up on my nod to Lynn Truss’ phenomenal book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.”)

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. I remember these times as a searcher, when every search turned up a useless eHow page and all of the useful content was tucked away on page 5.

    • Wow, you were brave to wade to page five. Funny thing is early in my career, to make a little sock drawer money, I considered writing for eHow. I resisted.

      • Jonah Gruber :

        I wrote for eHow, maybe 10 articles or so. I was pretty desperate for dough. After one of their “freelance editors” actually damaged some grammar on one of my articles and I had an inflammatory back-and-forth with an editor about a fairly straightforward, simple article (way too much time for $5), I decided to write them an angry letter requesting that my name be removed from my submissions. They happily obliged, but all my content is still up there, author unknown.

    • Oh yes, I love it when I search for something and all I can find is an eHow or a WikiAnswers or Yahoo Answers…I didn’t want any well thought out content, I just want gibberish from some bored teenager on the internet!

  2. This is so true! I don’t use Google in the traditional way when I have to write articles for my website! Using Google I will find useless information or things that everybody knows! That is a shame, but the algorithm will keep changing. They are smart enough to figure out a way to improve the search engine! At least I hope so!
    Nice article!

  3. Hey Demian,

    I must agree that the times are changing and ever so changing. I too can remember those days of just seeing sites throw up content left and right and be ranked higher than sites with true content.

    I believe Author Rank has been around longer than we think, but personally its just this over hyped term that we want to keep using just like Page Rank was back in the day. It comes down to be able to deliver and communicate what people are wanting and needing.

    One of my very first sites that I created was being able to listen, watch, and share with others what they were needing. If you can do this I am sorry, but I believe page rank, author rank, or whatever other rank you want to call it literally goes out of the window, because your give people what they want.

    Lastly, first glance at your 20 point check list did not impress me, but since writing this commenting I have went back and looked it over again. This check list was a little deeper than what I first glanced at. And I can appreciate these, and really like the exclusive never seen before interview idea and to put something out there that people want to share and talk about.. To me that’s true ranking, because people will find you because your delivering what others want.

    Anyways, just my two cents on the matter, and thanks for sharing!

    Eric

    • Eric, keep in mind those 20 points were a summary of what Google actually told us to do…but it’s also what we’ve been doing around here for ages. And it may not be new or impressive, but we often need to be reminded of the fundamentals. By default we won’t the hacks and shortcuts, the bright and the shiny, so get distracted and can veer off the track. Here’s to giving what our readers truly want. ;)

  4. It will be interesting to see how Google+ evolves as a hangout for writers. I can see the “author rank” becoming more important than an actual blog, if writer’s expand their horizons and start writing quality content for numerous blogs and social media. Being tracked by their actual author name might be a coming thing. I just wish Google+ had a better URL schema. The current one gives me no confidence that Google knows who I am, since I’m refered to by a long string of numbers.

    • Author Rank will never become more important than an actual blog, i.e. the media property you actually own, control, and generate revenue from. Yes, you can build your author profile solely on other people’s property, but what good would that actually do you? This is business, not an attention hobby.

    • John, trust me, they know who you are. Think of the string of digits like a social security number. Or driver’s license number. That’s why they call G+ an “identity platform,” which we’ll continue to explain in this series, especially the next post. And a blog/website is essential to your identity–Google wants you to build an online presence, they want you to stake your claim on a URL (think of it as your hub), and then you can expand and write at other web properties, and they will track you every where–as long as you have a G+ account and authorship markup implemented.

    • ask nicely, and Google may give you a vanity URL.
      https://plus.google.com/u/1/107524698316888689233/posts/5FQFvRMV8BC

  5. “The watchword was that content was king. But the throne was empty. ”

    I think that is a great way of putting it! You are absolutely right—site owners just wanted MORE content, not necessarily good content. But when the scales tipped too far and Google released Panda upon the world the sites and writers that had stuck to their guns were rewarded. The quality and the message of your content matters far more than how much you’ve got under your belt.

  6. As a writer who likes to go deep into subjects, I’m happy to hear that my great content and commitment to excellent writing, research and depth over fluff will have a chance to prevail in search results.

  7. Not sure if anybody’s mentioned this, but one cool aspect of author rank and seeing a writer’s picture next to a Google search is how you can click on that author’s picture and a new list of links of the author’s work fills the screen. It’s like being able to do a tertiary query on an existing search. Truly cool.

    • Yes, that is very cool, but let’s be clear: that’s a function of the authorship mark up–not AR. Author Rank is the overarching algorithm, the mark up is a function of that algo. Or that’s how it’s looking. I will definitely mention this on the authorship post.

  8. Nice. But I have an authoritative website, up since 1997, all original content. Before Panda I was Top 3 for my targeted keywords. After Panda it did not show up on page one. Instead, everyone before me was a multi-mullion dollar company. Many did not even have my keyphrases.

    CNN did a story about good people that lost their business because of Panda.

  9. A happy time for us writers indeed. And I loved your analogy about content being king, but the throne is empty.

    Another keypoint is headlines – Content captivates, stuffy keywords … not so much. Hook readers with headlines that whet their appetites, pique their curiosity, and have them racing to click on the ‘read more’ button!

  10. While reading your article one question came to mind.

    Do you think that author rank (obviously combined with good content) will outrank sites that only serve as (pure) link sites or directories for specific areas such as yellow pages, psychotherapy directories etc. eventually?

    Thanks for the series of good articles :-)

    • That’s a great question, and depends on what phrase you use to search–and how Google looks at these directories. We are really talking about two different categories of content here. Someone searching for psychotherapy businesses might get the directory, and hopefully if you are looking for “how to choose a psychotherapist”‘ you won’t get a directory but an informative article. that’s how things are supposed to work in a perfect world.

  11. Hi Demian,

    I picked up on your nod to Lynne (you misspelled her name as Lynn) Truss’ book “Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.” It’s a book every writer should have in their collection.

    I would add keywords/phrases to the checklist. Obviously, you don’t want to stuff your writing with them, but people still use keywords and phrases to search. I still think they’re relevant within content writing.

    Regarding #20, “Create something people want to talk about (preferably positively).” Sometimes being controversial works. I’m not suggesting defaming a blogger or writer, but if you read a blog post, article, white paper, etc., and have a different opinion on the subject, write a comprehensive blog post/article about it. State your position and defend it in a professional manner. Stirring the pot can be a good thing.

    This was a good post for a Monday. It made me think about the blog posts I have to write; I’ll pay close attention to the checklist.

    • I agree: stirring the pot can be a good thing. Controversy is not bad–especially if you have a good point behind bringing it up. What we want to do is avoid being the tabloid blogger who stirs up controversy for controversy sake (or for the links, shares, etc.)

      I can’t tell you how many times I double checked the spelling of her name. Thanks for the correction.

      • Point of order, please…”Sweet” 101.com??

        Back in the day, lo these many years ago when the web was young, Suite101 was a good opportunity for writers ( I was one of them). Then the company changed hands several times and the writers’ well-being was thrown out with the blood bath of page views. I, for one, am so glad to see these silly sites drop further off search results. However, I still find Google does not point me toward quality information when I am researching. Much more likely that I get something with a store behind it than with a brain behind it. I’ve begun using other search engines for serious fact-finding. Web writing? I’ll watch your series, but have little faith in skilled writers ever getting solid opportunities again.

    • Don’t forget the long tails when talking about phrases. It is a great tool for conversions.

  12. Seems to me that as content writers, our main guiding principles should always be: 1) Contribute value only. 2) Don’t be a jackass.

    If we can stick to these consistently, we’ll have nailed a huge part of what it takes to be successful in content marketing.

    • Right O to number one, but I like to turn number 2 into a positive and say “Be lovely.” Because if I repeat your guiding principle I am really at a loss as to what I should do without a little helpl… ;)

      Thanks for the comment, Cassie.

  13. The Panda update has been a blessing for our website. It is great that people who write just to help other people are finally being rewarded.

  14. For any website content development, the key for me has always been to keep the end users’ needs and interests front and center. If you avidly listen and connect with your audiences, you will know what those are.

    I also heartily agree with Amanda on interjecting popular search terms into your copy – even in titles and subtitles. Not just for SEO glory, but to help assure your readers that they’ve found what they were looking for. I’d also ADD TO THE LIST, include sharing tools that make it so easy and simple for your readers to spread around.

    Best of all, share youself. That’s the kicker for producing original content. When you spill your guts, your passion and experiences… you draw people into your words. The more you give, the more you receive. So go ahead and knock you heartfelt words out

  15. Hi Demian,

    Hopefully, readers of Copyblogger aren’t writing tabloid-ish blog posts.

    You’re welcome for the correction on Lynne’s name. :)

  16. I heard that the Panda update favored not only relevant content related to the keyword, but also it’s “newness”. Which makes sense… I personally hate it when I do a search and then click on one of the highly ranked sites and start reading only to find out that what I’m reading was written 3 years ago and there have been countless updates on whatever the topic may be since the article was written.

    What are your thoughts on that? Has there been a favorable slant toward new content?

    • There has–it was called Query Deserves Freshness. I don’t think it was a part of Panda, but an element of Google’s algo. Search that phrase and you’ll see a good explanation.

  17. Excellent Demian,

    My favorite part:
    “…content was king. But the throne was empty.”

    One item I would add to the list is let Google work for you.

    If you search any hot KEYWORD at the bottom you’ll notice “Searches related to”

    These “terms” are excellent examples of the missing points that you can make with your content.

  18. As others have said, Panda has actually helped some web sites that were struggling to get attention under the PageRank system. My blog has seen a surge in traffic every time there has been an update.

  19. Demian,

    It’s funny, when you stop writing for machines and start writing for humans the humans magically SEO the crap out of your website because they love and appreciate the content so much…

    Magic.

    Hanley

  20. My confidence is restored! I was afraid you would fail to credit “Eats Shoots and Leaves” with or without the commas. Thanks… now that is also good content!

  21. Jeff haroldson :

    Being new to all of this, I am very glad to be coming in right now. It would have been easy to get sucked into all the stuff the so called ” gurus” have been selling for years to have it all taken away. Although my skill as a writer does not compare to so many of you out there, my message comes from the right place. I look forward to the rest of your series.

  22. Thanks for this great post. As a budding web copywriter, I love this kind of big picture stuff. I’m pretty sure I’m conscious of all twenty things on your list, but keeping them top-of-mind is always good. :)

    My only concern is that nobody but me seems to find it a bit, I don’t know, (sketchy? stinky? suspicious?) that Google is judging authority on whether someone uses another one of their products. That seems to be either incredibly lazy on their part or plain old profiteering. Either way, it just feels icky. Almost like payola.

    If MS could get sued and lose based on their OS monopoly jamming people into using their terrible browser, you can bet Google will lose the fight for using their search engine monopoly to jam people into their other product. They couldn’t compete on a level social network playing field with Facebook so they didn’t.

    It’s tactics like this that give free markets and capitalists a bad name.

    • I get what you’re saying, and a lot of folks have the same concern. And I’m not one to say, “Oh, just trust Google.” But at the same time, how else can they have any way of knowing you are who you say you are?

  23. How do they know you are who you say you are when you have a G+ page? Any child with a computer can create a fake profile. They don’t know you from Adam,except now they have another tick on their G+ counter.

    “You are who you say you are” was never the major problem with the content farms. It’s the fact that they created useless content. If all those people who created content on a content farm had a G+ profile would they automagically be authoritative? Hardly. It was the dreadfully useless content put up for the sole purpose of getting page links that made the content farms so irritating. A G+ profile doesn’t show authority, it shows Google loyalty.

    There are a lot of smart people at Google. You’re telling me they can’t figure out a way to judge good content from bad without (conveniently) telling us we need to use one of their other products?

    It’s the content on the page that should matter, not the depth to which someone is embedded in the Google app world.

    • Who you are was the problem, because nobody wanted to take credit for the content, or build their reputation off that content. Google wants to get rid of anonymity. This is why they bought Frommer’s and force people to use their G+ accounts to leave reviews. They want to do the same thing on YouTube with comments, in the social networks and so on.

      Sure, you could create a fake G+ account…but you couldn’t build off it. G would eventually snuff it out (since Wallet and a verifiable credit card number is one more way to qualify who you are) and you would just waste your time. You are missing the point: Google wants to reward great content…which comes from great writers…by rewarding that behavior. PR reward content bevavior–who ever you are. Panda squeezed out the weak content so that solid, original and informative content rose to the top…and they are continuing to tweak that aglo.

      And it’s not just about having a Google app. It’s about demonstrating that you are an authority–which a Google+ account won’t do it alone. It’s a culmination of things…which is why this series is 6 posts long…and probably could be longer.

      It’s not perfect. And Google is a business who has an obligation to users to create the best product they can, and even thought there are insanely smart people at Google, it’s not as easy you might think.

  24. When I say “who you are doesn’t matter” I mean it really doesn’t. You may be world famous, but I had never heard of you before reading this post. The fact is, who you are doesn’t matter; your content was great, therefore I read it and will use it- I couldn’t care less if you have a G+ profile. That’s not intended to be a dig at you at all, just a realization that I don’t have to know “who you are” to know that the content you produced was high quality.

    I recognize this stuff isn’t easy, and I can’t begin to understand how they would determine good content from bad algorithmically. For crying out loud, I had to confirm the spelling of algorithmically! I only know that I can tell good content from bad (that is, content produced for the sake of providing unique and useful information), and you can, and just about any other intelligent person can. They’re not judging its accuracy (and shouldn’t and can’t), only that it was created for the sake of providing what you call “useful, original, and ultra-specific content” and not (as you also state) something “short and useless”.

    I recognize I’m pushing against the massive G-Tide here, but I am naturally disposed to question the motives of anyone who tries to up-sell me on one product to ensure that another one of their products works as expected.

    It seems to me that the smart people at Google could put their collective brains together and figure out how to tell content-farmed junk from original content without using not-so-veiled threats of ranking obscurity for not using their social network.

    • That’s the point: you and I can recognize good content, a machine can’t so it has to depend on signals. A G+ account is just a start.

      Plus, it does matter who wrote it: we want medical information from doctors with good reputations. Same with the information that comes lawyers, plumbers, therapists, restaurants or content marketers. Google’s just keying into the social recommendations.

      Besides, if names or identity weren’t important then Stephen King could sell like Stephen King…even if his name was Richard Bachmann. But that’s not what happened. And strip away Seth Godin’s name from his blog and what do you have?

      I get what you are saying: this looks like a strong arm tactic to use their social network. But so what? It’s a pretty darn good social network, and Google is unlikely to change their mind. As they say: if you can’t beat them, join them.

      • Whether or not you have a G+ account is completely irrelevant to me as a reader of your work, and I can guarantee you I care not a whit whether my doctor does. I have no desire for Google to tell me who’s a valid doctor dispensing valid medical advice, nor do I think they can do that. All they can (and should be able to) do is determine that the content is unique and not content farming. I find it hard to believe the only way they can do that is (SURPRISE!) by us using their social network. If I remember correctly, G+ was far from a success until they started threatening search users with bad results and forcing customers of their other products to use G+ (which I really don’t care about, it’s only the search that matters to me). Do you see a motive there other than “For the the Good of the Web, Humanity, Babies, and Puppies”?

        My major concern is that Google has a near monopoly on search and they are leveraging that in ways that are seriously distasteful. Because of their monopoly, everyone just blindly accepts it and moves on. Because I don’t buy into social networking because I value my privacy, that means I’m not an authoritative writer? That’s nonsense. Having a G+ account does absolutely nothing to establish anyone’s authority on anything. It just means they like (or were forced to use) Google’s products. Maybe in Google’s mind that’s the same thing.

        Hopefully they’ll get their comeuppance for abusing their monopoly power the way Microsoft did. Because I guarantee you someone will sue them over this and just might win. I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing, but I certainly wouldn’t mind the outcome.

  25. I’ve got a fairly new blog, but I’m finding that I rank for a lot of keywords now due to my original content. This is a great post and it’s a little extra motivation, so thanks.

  26. All good points, including the bonus points of headlines and key search words. I always learn when I come to this site. So you’re doing a good job of following good content “rules” (double entendre to go with your royal theme). The trick to #19 is to be detailed without being too long and tedious. The time spent can be dedicated to making detailed content tight and rich. That’s often good writing!

  27. Excellent post Demian. Headlines are important as raised in the comments, but there are too many great headlines that over promise for articles that under deliver. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all been there, done that.

    For headlines to have real value beyond the click, the content below them needs to deliver on the headline’s promise and delight the reader so that they finish reading feeling that their most valuable asset (their time) was well spent. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Your 20 point check list sums up my thoughts entirely and will act as a guide as I build my new website. I’m not really very ofay with the intricacies of google but writing good content I get. Great post as usual.

  29. Hi Demian, Great Article, But I have seen that in of niche areas there are still the old style sites – written for the machines – that continue to rank just because they have more links. When will this change? Is Panda still working to improve the index?

  30. Quality content will always remain to be the king. After all, people visit websites to find something that will help them or to gain rich knowledge about something. You provide quality content in your website you will find your website building backlinks by itself since people will share it on social networking sites and even webmasters will refer people to your website through a link on their websites.

  31. There are two things wrapped up in this post. The first is Page Rank which is essentially a measure of the link graph. That was widely abused as people starting linking for the wrong reasons and did so to manipulate rank. The algorithm change that truly impacted that practice was Penguin.

    The second is thin-content which was very popular pre-Panda. What Panda did was move SEO from simple relevancy to the combination of relevance and value. The latter is what a good writer can deliver. It’s not just that the keywords match and that it’s relevant content. It’s whether that content delivers value and answers the intent behind that query.

    Moving forward Authorship could be used to better understand who is consistently delivering value for a specific topic and it would be a complement to the current link graph metrics. The link graph is still important but Authorship could make it more refined and accurate. For instance, think links from a piece by a trustworthy author might carry more weight. All theory for now, but certainly makes a lot of sense and does translate into writers have a lot more power in the scheme of things.

    As an aside, Squidoo needs to be put in the bad pile as far as I’m concerned and remains the only site I’ve ever blocked in search results and is simply a blight released on the unsuspecting denizens of the Interent.

  32. Love it, Damien. In the early days, the art of writing for people was lost. Now, it’s totally possible to write for your audience and do well in the search engines. You don’t need to keyword bomb everybody in order to survive. Just write something with value. I love the 20-pt checklist. Those are the types of things we content producers need to focus on!

  33. After the Panda algorithm update my WordPress hosted blog went up 3 Page Rank points almost overnight. After the Penguin update I was penalized for having one bad link in my blogroll and my Page Rank went back to 1. After finding and removing the one bad link my Page Rank returned to a more respectable 3 almost overnight. To my mind this is clear evidence that these algorithms are doing what Google intends and rewarding well researched, original and unique content that can’t be found spread across the web. At the same time, I work as a freelance writer and for the most part prefer to write for clients without using a by line and in the past year the demand for better quality content has boomed once again. Many people are beginning to realize that quality content takes time and costs money to create and that the benefits of making those investments are a stable and enduring place in the SERPs ahead of the thinly written content of lower quality websites. It is still possible to buy cheap content for a few bucks an article but it is a poor investment because it won’t do the job that it is being used for, improving Page Rank and securing a better place in the SERPs. As more people realize that it isn’t just about how often you make posts but the actual quality of those posts there will be greater competition for quality writers who produce great content. The people that write for a dollar a post will never go away but their influence will continue to diminish.

    • Thanks, D G Mattichak Jr, for bringing up the point that the more valued content is often equated to the time invested to create it. I used to go NUTS when pseudo SEOs would praise and promote the savings associated with using content generators. Those usually spit out the most useless, garbled mess online. Sounds like the large majority of contributors to this article are embracing the PageRank and AuthorRank concepts. As do I.

  34. I like the way you narrated the story of page rank and how Google corrected the mess of people “recycling” poor contents all over the web. As you rightly said, this is the time to know the true “writing giants” and hopefully, it is theirs to dominate the search results and be rewarded for their good contents.

  35. Hey Demian,

    Wonderful piece. You hit it so perfectly on the head – both with the build up AND with the 20 items check list. They only query that ponders my little brain is how exactly Google will establish IF content is of value and HOW a site has achieved authority. The ONLY answer I can concoct is that of repeat/returning visitors. The higher the return rate the higher the value. Perhaps simply but not entirely wrong – I think ?

    Cheers, Lucas

  36. It’s all so complicated. I’m pretty much following the list though, seems like good advice.

  37. My rule of thumb when producing content: 1. Ask your audience what content they want 2. Create that content with a strong focus on very high quality 3. Make sure your content fits into your content strategy.

    No tricks. No Gimmicks. No Craziness. Totally practical & I don’t think a search engine can ask for anything more than that.

    • That’s a great process, Gary. Keep you out of trouble, for sure. Thanks for sharing.

      • Unfortunately if you are starting out you have no audience to ask so you have to guess.

        But that stategy should work too

        1) Guess
        2) Write quality content that you think matches strategy
        3) Get feedback on what you’ve done and update guesses

        The important thing is to have a closed loop system so you can continually improve

        On a separate note.

        When commenting on a blog that is nothing to do with your content or niche does it make sense to leave a link to your website or to miss it out.

  38. Dear Demian,

    This is a great article! Once I read that using double links to outside sources (for example, when citing pictures) gives you an advantage on Google Ranking. However, when I tried to research it on other websites, I couldn’t find it. Does linking to other reliable sources give you a priority, and is it ok to create double links?

  39. Content still isn’t king, although the throne isn’t empty; it bears a misshapen dwarf. High quality writing like yours is out there but it isn’t rewarded as much as good writing once was (can’t believe I’m referring to the golden age of exploited pre-’Net writers). I’ve written really good stuff, and seen others’ writing that should be on the top of the pile. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had much success with Big G that I didn’t (and don’t) deserve. But being king is still about something other than content. Google sells ads AND guides searchers to content. Isn’t that like every tour guide in New York working for Joe’s Bar and Grill, and how shocked would you be to learn how many tourists end up at Joe’s, with a respectable sprinkling at the Museum of Natural History, the Met and Wikipedia? This is a great article. But the PR on this page is 0, or is my Googleometer off? While Squidoo makes money. Something is king, but it ain’t content. Agreed, the Google algorithm screwed real writers. But the algorithm is not fixed, unless you mean like a buggy race.

    • The PageRank toolbar hasn’t been updated in months – PageRank isn’t assigned immediately (at least not publicly).

  40. With so much poor content around I’m using Google ‘images’ more and more when searching because
    I often find that well described images on a page point to relevant content.
    Also, the eye can ‘filter’ images much faster than reading the text excerpts etc.

    Regarding the ‘top 20,’ what about writing to help someone solve their problem? I get help from the web most days and I add the stuff I’m knowledgeable about to hopefully help others in return .

  41. I guess I’m not the first to commend the clever heading “Panda eats, shoots weak content, and leaves.” I enjoyed it though, so worth adding one more voice to the others.

    That 20-point checklist is spot on. I hope it doesn’t take business owners too long to catch on to the change, I know there are still many purchasing low-quality content or there wouldn’t be job ads for writers offering $5-10 a post.

  42. While I agree that with the points, the challenge in a competitive field like real estate – it is a a little harder to come up with significantly original content. However, we keep trying. Thanks for the summary

  43. …In other words… no more short cuts! SEO is the tool of the intriguing, insightful blogger who delivers quality always…

  44. Well, basically Panda and Penguin lowered the page rank of lots of sites but also increased the page rank of other websites, basically it penalize any website that use black hat SEO technics.
    Nice article, thanks for taking your time on writing this.
    I just have a question, what happens to the anchor text? Does google penalize still the wide of the anchor text or it doesnt matter anymore?

  45. Holy cow that was a lot of info! Great post! Time for all webmasters to buckle down and do things the hard way.

  46. There is certainly a lot to find out about this subject.
    I like all the points you have made.

  47. Don’t you mean Suite101.com, not Sweet101.com?

  48. Thanks for a great article! I have been trying to build our online presence for about a year and a half now and have been pushed and pulled by the so called ‘marketing professional’ offering suspicious services.

    I have built and rebuilt the website for the owner several times and am always looking for ways to improve.

    It is not so much the ‘marketing pros’ offerings I have to avoid using my ‘internet common sense-ometer’ but the fact that our competition (we are in a service related industry) is using these things and the owner is always reaching out and asking what they are doing, and asking why they are beating us in the rankings.

    I keep beating into him the facts you mention in this list and that’s why I love this article! He keep saying just look at what they are doing and do that… But what he doesn’t realize is they are creating geographic blogs and writing short articles that have little useful content.

    I always tell him that we should be writing for the future and not the now. Solving problems, and don’t forget making YouTube videos that can help people that are searching for answers.

    On the other hand, I have a few questions. These listing sites that keep calling us with leads are like the Zillow to real estate companies. If you don’t pay them, some other smaller guy will end up with his face on your property.

    Is this something that will eventually die off? (We hope)

    If we don’t pay them, some other smaller company will. And in turn he goes out, does a bad job and makes a bad name for our industry. Since it is a fairly new technology that not a lot of people know about this is horrible for us. So we are being forced to pay them in order to maintain a good reputation for our industry.

    Also online directories are recognizing the money that can be made in our industry and are popping up all the time and I can tell every time they add a link to our website.

    I read on the Google Webmaster guidelines that checking page rank is against their terms of service since it causes an overload of automated queries. But my curiosity got the best of me and I checked the page rank of the listing services page and low and behold they are ranked “0″.

    My question is: If they are adding us in their directory and linking to us.. is this hurting our site’s reputation?

    Sorry for the long ranty comment! I will not be offended if you TL:DR it!

  49. Do you have complete confidence that a robot crawler can identify the quality of an article? Having looked at Google’s expectations of a high quality website, and knowing some of the rather poor search results that are currently returned, I don’t think this problem can be solved properly without human moderation?

  50. It must be nice to spend life trying to put search engine algorithms into little boxes marked “not fixed” and “fixed”. The above explanation is pretty far off the mark – it implies that all web spam is dead. It REALLY couldn’t be further from the case. Sure, informational queries have vastly improved but how about doing a search for just about anything commercially orientated?

    To suggest that the SERPs for “payday loans”, “toys”, “car insurance”, “computers” or just about any other commercially orientated generic search term aren’t still heavily manipulated isn’t just wrong, it’s a complete fallacy.

    I have more interest than most in seeing crap SEO die off – I own an Agency in the UK, we specialise in link prospecting, content development and graphic design. However, it clearly hasn’t – its public relations. Damn fine public relations, but public relations nonetheless. The impact has been minimal and will forever be minimal while links remain the most weighted factor behind assigning position in search.

  51. It’s hard to have faith in this advice. I believe there will always be a place for good writing, but I worry it won’t be in search engines. Lazy marketers are still gaming the system. It happens every day, all day, on sites with names similar to SlouchItchingLand and InGround.org… In the time it took me to write this single paragraph comment, 20 new posts about Hummingbird (all under 300 words) have gone up, and are getting tweeted and +1′d and will show up on page 1 tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, larger e-commerce sites are buying hundreds of thousands of +1s for their blog and just screwing the whole thing up. Google is looking the other way, because they need to keep the user base high.

    It’s all a mess. I hope it gets better, but it sure looks like it’s getting worse.

    • Well, that’s depressing, isn’t it? I hate to lean toward such a point-of-view, but I hear from people in forums everyday who are working out ways to exploit the “new SEO” as they refer to author rank and rich snippets.

      There’s larceny in all of us. But this is a really encouraging post.