Why the Google Penguin hates SEOs

Let me introduce you to our first guest post by Lewis Bassett. Lewis is already enjoying the benefits of hosting with us, and has some interesting thoughts to share with you regarding the recent Google Penguin updates (Penguin Update 3 was just released this month, so read on!).

Unless you live in cave, you’ve probably heard about the Google Penguin updates over the last few months.

Webmasters and Search Engine Optimisers (SEOs) around the world have been waking to find their websites relegated to page five of the Google search results – from the top of page one, almost over night.

If this happened to you, you’re probably wondering why.

Many of these websites are very well optimised. Yours was too. So what gives?

In my opinion, this seismic shift has been a long time coming. And the reason so many SEOs and webmasters are left confused is because most don’t understand how – or more importantly why – the Google search engine works.

What Keywords Really Are

Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it accessible. Their entire business model depends on searchers being able to find what they are looking for.

In other words, when a searcher enters a search phrase (I’ll use the term “keyword”) into the search engine, Google needs to understand exactly what they are looking for.

Most SEOs and webmasters go wrong because they don’t understand what a keyword represents and how they should use it.

They identify keywords that are commercially attractive and use various techniques to convince Google that their website is relevant to that keyword. In other words, they engineer their website around what Google is looking for, rather than what the person searching is looking for.

They are completely ignorant that keyword matching is merely a transport layer between searchers, Google and websites.

A keyword is merely a placeholder for something more deep and profound: the mind-set of the person searching and the conversation they are having in their head.

When you engineer your website around a keyword, it only really engages Google. But if you engineer your website around the conversation behind the keyword, you engage the searcher.

(And because almost every website now uses Google Analytics, Google knows which websites engage searchers and which websites don’t.)

How the Google Search Engine Works

Consider this.

A person, let’s call her Sara, keeps getting headaches. The pain is unbearable. But even more unbearable is the worry. She’s worried that her frequent headaches may be a sign of something more serious. So she decides to search the Internet for more information.

She grabs her laptop and enters “headache causes” into Google.

Now, she doesn’t enter “I keep getting headaches and I’m worried that I might have a serious illness; what’s causing these headaches?” into Google. Because she knows that she has to enter a more general term in order for Google to find relevant information.

So she enters “headache causes” instead.

Thousands of people enter that same term every month, and Google has collected a lot of information about what websites they stayed on the longest and came back to (and so found most useful). Not only does Google know a lot about the websites on this list, but Google also knows a lot about the sort of information that someone entering “headache causes” is looking for.

So Google serves a list of websites that it thinks is relevant to the conversation that the searcher is having in their head, ordered by relevance.

Now consider two different hypothetical websites.

The first has been engineered around the keyword “headache causes”. The owner’s SEO has done some research and has found that this keyword gets a lot of searches per month. And all the other competitors that advertise for this keyword must be making a pretty profit, because they’re willing to pay a lot for advertising.

The SEO does a little bit of research and writes some content about all the different causes of headaches. And he makes sure the keyword “headache causes” is in the title and header of the homepage. He also sprinkles it throughout the content too, but sparingly.

This website is written to the keyword. It has plenty to say about the causes of headaches, but it doesn’t really engage the person searching. It doesn’t answer their most pressing concern, mainly: “Do I have a serious illness?”

It adds very little value to the conversation that the searcher is having. It isn’t really that relevant.

The second website is different.

The owner had the wisdom to hire someone to research the conversation as well as the keyword. So the owner knows loads of things about the typical person that searches for “headache causes”. He knows their approximate age, their gender, what they’re most concerned about and the language they use.

Most of all, he knows and understands the mind-set that the keyword represents and what the searcher is really looking for, and why.

Instead of being engineered around the keyword, this website is engineered around the conversation behind the keyword. And as a result, it engages the person who searches “headache causes” much more.

This website does add value to the conversation. The searcher finds the exact answer they are really looking for, the implicit reason behind their search: “Are my frequent headaches a sign of something more serious?”

The Biggest Mistake That Almost Every SEO and Webmaster Is Making

The biggest mistake almost every SEO is making is that they are optimising their websites around keywords, rather than conversations.

Google uses keywords to represent conversations. That’s because it is practically impossible to match conversations, as they can be articulated in so many different ways. But a single keyword can only be articulated in a few different ways.

But searchers are not interested in keywords; they’re interested in conversations. They want to bring a third party into their conversation – via Google – who can contribute valuable information.

And Google’s mission is to make that information available to the searcher.

Keyword Matching Is Just a Transport Layer

The keyword matching algorithms that they use is just a transport layer. And these algorithms are always changing.

Google released the Penguin updates to enhance its ability to match websites to the conversations that searchers are having in their heads. In other words, they updated their keyword transport layer.

Websites that are engineered around these conversations have benefited from the updates.

Those shallow websites that are engineered around keywords alone have been rightfully relegated to their proper place.

It’s the conversation behind the keyword that is important. Not the keyword itself.

Google already understands this. You need to understand it too.

Immunise Your Website against Future Penguin Updates

You can immunise yourself against future penguin updates by working with Google’s search algorithms, rather than trying to game them.

Invest in understanding the conversation and the mind-set behind the keywords you want to rank for. There are several very effective research techniques that will allow you to see inside the mind of the typical person searching for that keyword.

Engineer your website so that it engages the reader in terms of that conversation, rather than just the keyword alone.

Finally, use the keyword sparingly to give Google a helping hand; its keyword transport layer has not yet been perfected.

Do these things, and Google will spend its R&D budget helping you get found easier.

Copyright © 2012, Bassett Providentia Ltd

About the Author

Lewis Bassett is an online marketing consultant and speaker. He used to be a software developer; now he helps software companies to increase their revenue.

Bassett Providentia Ltd is his consulting practice.