Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Discontent Over SEO "Guidance" From Google

How does anyone know what to do to rank well in Google searches?

Most people who work on that task give a version of this answer: We engage in appropriate tactics, optimization, and content creation based on guidelines set forth by Google.

But what are those guidelines?  For starters, take a look at Google's "Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide."  If you don't have time to delve into this tome (honestly, who does), then the summary version is this: (1) Use common sense keyword terms as headlines/titles on your website pages; (2) Add helpful, interesting, unique, informative content to your website.  Ta Da.  That's about it.

Of course, there are a million other detail questions that one might ask about all of this.  To help with the detail questions, Google's head of  search spam, Matt Cutts, frequently releases short video clips that explain different concepts.  For example, here is one from late last month that talks about what counts as duplicate content.  In particular,  the question concerned any penalties for things like "Terms and Conditions" and similar content that appears verbatim on many different pages.  Will that trigger a penalty?  Here is Cutts' answer:

In short: don't worry about a duplicate content penalty for this boilerplate text stuff.

But perhaps even more interesting than Cutts' answer is the response it spurred in comments sections of one of the most popular search engine marketing community website: SearchEngineLand.  Take a look at the comments on this post:

In other news, Panda is now useless. Who /really/ follows his LITERAL advice anymore?

One day it's black, one day it's white.....it is always difficult to know what's going to hurt your SEO efforts and rankings, so as a rule of thumb I'd always advise clients to avoid duplicate content.
It is very easy for google to come up with statements saying something is safe, but as we all know the rules and algorithms could change tomorrow, so better stay safe!

I honestly don't listen to him that much anymore. The discrepancies between what Matt and Google says and the reality in the SERP has become way too big

I think this is what his job is. Manipulating the answers into a 
myth. Find the duplicate and then think if its gonna hurt you or not!

The takeaway: The most sophisticated marketing and SEO folks in the business are frequently dismissive the advice provided by those directly from Google.  This is a product of Google's somewhat generic, mundane advice and the complex reality.  For law firms and law firm blog writing, it is another reminder that there are few silver bullets.  Because most don't know exactly what does and what does not work, sticking with the basics is always the best strategy.  Add good legal content consistently.  Add to the Internet, and you'll do well.

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