Published January 20, 2012
Business owners have been reeling from Google's one-two punch last year in changing the way it ranks searches online. The good news is that there are effective ways to optimize your online content to make the best of the changes.
First, Google unveiled "Panda," a major change to its search algorithm that puts a higher priority on what it considers high-quality content. The search giant updated its algorithm again in November, giving greater priority to "fresh" content that it finds most relevant to recent events and timely topics. The rationale: People seeking information on the latest news and events will likely want the most up-to-date content possible.
It's important to note that not all searches are affected by the new freshness guidelines. For example, someone looking for a list of past U.S. presidents doesn't need the latest information about, say, John F. Kennedy. Google knows this and estimates that the freshness change will affect about 35 percent of search phrases. Specifically, the types of searches that are being ranked according to freshness include:
• Recent events or hot topics that have begun trending on the web.
• Regularly recurring events such as annual conferences or the U.S. presidential election.
• Information that is updated often but isn't necessarily a hot topic or recurring event.
Even though not all searches will be affected by this update, you can still benefit from Google's algorithm change. Here are three steps for optimizing your web content for Google's freshness rankings:
Step 1: Create a publishing calendar. One obvious result of Google's freshness update: The more often you post, the greater your chances of getting picked up and displayed in search results. So consider creating a publishing calendar to help you set more ambitious posting goals and then stick to them.
In general, you can get the best results by putting new content on your business website at least two or three times each week. You don't need to know exactly what you'll be posting each time, but take the time to schedule the days you'll publish content a month in advance.
If you run your website on the WordPress blogging platform, plug-ins including the "Editorial Calendar" can be useful. If not, you can add your posting deadlines to whichever "to do" list management system you use.
Step 2: Stay on top of the news in your industry. Now that you know when you're going to post, it's time to come up with some timely topics to write about. Keep in mind that with the new freshness guidelines, the content of your post matters as much as the frequency.
To qualify as "fresh" content, you'll want to create posts that comment on topics and events in the news. Of course, some news and events will be more relevant than others to your particular business. But you should find at least a few opportunities each week to play off current events in your web content.
Remember, you don't need to write novel-length analysis on newsworthy items you come across. Time-crunched business owners should aim to write 400- to 500-word posts that summarize the news and offer analysis on how it might affect your industry.
Step 3: Be a first mover on industry issues. If you're the 100th blogger writing about an industry news story or an upcoming conference, you probably aren't providing the fresh content Google is looking for. You should aim to be among the first to post on it.
To get the first-mover advantage, it's imperative to stay on top of news as it occurs in your industry. You can set up Google Alerts for certain target keywords. Also, spend time each day on news aggregation websites for your industry.
It will take extra effort to monitor news and trends and to be among the first to comment on them. But such vigilance can pay off big if your fresh content skyrockets to the top of a Google search results page.