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One of my many search and social conspiracy theories (of which often turn out to be true) is that the Penguin algorithm update on April 24, 2012, was actually two updates. There was a public update that went after low-quality links, splogs, and other SEO linking tactics. This sent shockwaves through the search engine optimization world. Most agencies had to change some of their practices. Some closed down altogether. It was the SEOpocalypse for many in the industry.
It was also an awakening for others. Some who had always focused on quality linking over bulk linking found that suddenly, their clients’ rankings were improving without effort. It wasn’t that their SEO suddenly improved. It was that many of the competitors were suddenly vulnerably. I am blessed to have been on the receiving end of the benefits of Penguin.
There was another change, one that wasn’t talked about publicly by Google. Social signals rose in prominence. Suddenly, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other respected social media sites were having more of an influence on search rankings. This had been the case since at least late 2010, but now they were more prominent. Google had doubled up on changes to camouflage the rise of social signals behind the fall of bulk link-building.
I remember being at SXSW and hearing both Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing‘s Duane Forrester reveal more than they ever had ahead of time. They told of a major change coming which turned out to be Penguin in Google’s case and an unnamed and semi-irrelevant algorithm change at Bing. It struck me at the time because they weren’t known to tip their hand much even after changes, let alone before.
All of this was about social signals. They did not want SEOs to focus on them. They wanted to test, tweak, and adjust the algorithm while everyone was scrambling to fix their link issues. They tipped their hand for the public change because they didn’t want anyone focusing on what was in their other hand. It was a masterfully played maneuver that worked. Even today, there are SEOs who are not focused on social signals despite data that shows the power.
Now that the dual-changes have settled in, had updates, and been corrected, they have an understanding of the risks of social media spamming for SEO purposes. They’re ready for it. It’s for this reason that when you’re tasked with getting social signals, you have to do it the right way. You have to play their game the way they want it played. In short, you have to focus (as you always should) on quality over quantity. In the world of SEO, particularly for local businesses, it’s extremely important to understand that amazing content is the best (and arguably only) way to get social signals that will help with search results.
The automated processes won’t work. The social buying services won’t help and might even hurt a bit. Social signals are real and the right way of getting them is by producing the best content in your industry. Over the next week, we will go into details about how social signals work, ways to get them properly, and signs that must be followed in order to find the path to true search engine success. Stay tuned!