Every business owner needs to know something about search engine optimization. If you don’t, your company could be burned, as mine was when Google’s Penguin update came along in 2012.
Before Penguin, Google ranked my company either at the top, or near the top, of search results for almost every public relations keyword: Toronto PR firm, Canadian public relations agency, top PR firm Ontario, and on.
And we’d held those positions for several years.
Sound too good to be true? It turns out it was.
In 2006, we started working with a reputable search company. As a start, they made a few adjustments to the Polaris site, worked their magic, and in short order we started appearing in search results, gradually rising to the top.
While ranking high was good for awareness and profile, the impact on our business results was actually minimal. We got calls from students looking for internships and some potential clients invited us to participate in RFPS. We won some of those pitches, but still relied primarily on referrals from satisfied customers for most new business.
Throughout the duration of the search company’s contract, I had only a vague understanding of what they were doing. I knew they were building back-links to my site, but I never took the time to understand where those links came from.
That ignorance was a mistake. And it would have been an even bigger mistake if my business relied on web traffic to pay the bills.
In April 2012, Google introduced its Penguin algorithm update as part of its on-going effort to combat web spam and improve search results for users. When the update came along, it penalized my site and overnight we were gone from search … and stayed that way for a long time.
If you can’t distinguish between one black and white animal-themed Google algorithm update and another, Google designed Penguin to penalize sites who were buying links or getting them via link networks “designed primarily to boost Google rankings.”
(Panda, on the other hand, was “meant to stop sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results.”)
It wasn’t until Polaris disappeared from the search results that I finally looked at my site’s back links. We had a lot of them, but they were low quality links. In fact, the copy on many of those sites was total garbage, a bunch of nonsensical gibberish unrelated to anything, let alone public relations.
When my company disappeared from Google’s search results, I spent a lot of time considering my options. I was no longer working with the SEO company I hired in 2006 so I was on my own.
The first option was to get in touch with the webmaster of every low-quality site that was linking to mine and ask them to break the links. I knew that would be very time-consuming, and in many cases impossible, so I decided against it.
Another option was to “disavow” the links. After Penguin, you could ask Google not to consider low-quality links when assessing your site. However, you still had to make an effort to break the links—disavowing them wasn’t enough in Google’s eyes.
The final option was to start building high quality links by writing useful content that interested others. This option was also time consuming and I knew it would take a long time to pay off. But it had several advantages other than SEO.
I enjoy writing. It is the best way to improve my critical thinking skills. Original content also provides fodder for social media, eBooks, email marketing and DRIP campaigns—the possibilities for multi-purposing are almost endless.
Having a blog has also led to new business. Some of our clients need help starting a blog, establishing best practices, developing an editorial calendar or writing posts.
Google introduced the Penguin algorithm update almost three years ago. Over those years, Polaris gradually started showing up again in search results. Last week I got calls from 3 potential clients—qualified leads—who found Polaris on Google.
So my story has a happy ending. And I learned an important lesson that business owners should heed: never hire an SEO expert unless you can take the time to understand what they’re doing. For your own sake, learn a little something about search engine optimization.
If you need help starting or maintaining a blog, download our eBook, Business Blogging Fundamentals.
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