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We’ve all seen the cycle of Google updates. Every time there is a change to the algorithms, the blogs all light up with announcements, a fair sized group panics while the rest ride out the storm, and then the “how to recover” posts start rolling in. Eventually the excitement tapers off, and then it is time for a new update.

Probably the most shocking thing about all the commotion is how many people freak out in the first place. While some of Google’s changes are pretty significant, it isn’t like they don’t warn webmasters ahead of time with what direction they are headed for ranking websites. They won’t give the specifics, but they normally denounce a practice well before they start penalizing for it.

That is all my long-winded way of saying we don’t all have to be afraid of the next Penguin or Panda update. By simply following the best practice guidelines and keeping some solid tips in mind, you’ll find you have no reason to worry. Erin Everhart recently shared some great tactics you can use to keep your website in Google’s good graces.

1) Focus on Branding, Not on Ranking

It is no secret that Google isn’t actually a fan of a lot of what constitutes search engine optimization, mostly because of the way many try to take advantage of every loophole to get rankings. The common idea of SEO focuses solely on improving rankings, while Google wants to rank sites based on value to their consumers.

To start thinking like Google, you need to get your mind off of ranking and focus more on building your brand. If you search for any type of product like a flat screen TV, the results will be almost entirely brand names. Google views brand names as trustworthy and valuable parts of their community, and that goes for small businesses as well as large companies. Simply sponsoring events in the community and interacting with users in positive ways go a long way with search engines.

Of course, it would be naive to say the big brands don’t have advantages, but it isn’t the reason you think. Google evaluates them the same way they evaluate everyone else, but these brands are large enough that they never resort to the keyword stuffing, anchor text over-optimizing stuff that so many SEO professionals try to use.

2) Create a Good User Experience

Along the lines of taking your focus off of rankings, Google has been pleading with the SEO community to take their attention to actually delivering quality experiences for users. The search engine wants to deliver great sites that users will enjoy being on, not low quality pages with the most optimization. To achieve this, the engine made site quality more important than link profiles and has been refining their guidelines to push for faster sites with better content.

For marketers and optimizers, this can be a little confusing. Who exactly defines a “high quality site” and what are the criteria? Well we know the faster your site is, the better off it will fare. But, there are many more amorphous factors to deal with. The only real way to find out exactly what your users will like and how to make the highest quality site for them is testing. Run every type of test you can. Do user testing. Do split testing. Research your market.

3) Preserve Your URLs

It is a little bit of an outdated practice at this point, but it remains true that old URLs still rank the best. The only reason you should resort to changing your URLs is to fix an absolute mess of site architecture or absolutely have no choice. But, if there is any way you can avoid it, do. Canonicals and 301s reduce equity that you’ve built up, and new pages have to start all over again.

Instead, bigger companies like Apple use the same page for every new product launch, unless they release an entirely new product like the rumored upcoming smartwatch. They simply update the existing page to reflect the new product, while the old iPhone gets pushed to a new page. This way, you can take advantage of the equity you already have.

Conclusion

Focusing your SEO efforts on rankings isn’t sustainable any longer. You may shoot up the rankings more quickly than those creating a high quality campaign, but you’ll live in fear of every algorithm update, and eventually you will get hit. Chances are, you probably already have been penalized once, unless you’re walking the straight and narrow.

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