This post is more of an observation than a data driven SEO article as we usually post on Linchpin SEO, but I think it holds some weight when it comes to SEO in general for big companies. The post will be centered around the following quote by Charles Darwin (English Naturalist and Author of the theory of evolution by natural selection. 1809-1882), which in my opinion speaks volumes to when large companies not only fail when it comes to doing SEO well, but also why most big brands might not want to take the time to invest in it.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change – Darwin
Let’s dissect the quote from Charles Darwin into 3 parts
The first is “It is not the strongest of the species that survives”.
As we have seen, Google takes little mercy on large brands. It does not matter how big of a company you are, how much money you have, if you don’t follow Google’s rules you will get caught. Most recently JCPenny was called out by the NY Times and was punished by getting their rankings dropped off the first page, but over the years others such as BMW, Overstock.com, and other large brands have circum to the same fate (of a loss in rankings) for not following the rules.
The second is “nor the most intelligent”.
Many of the top companies and even SEO’s have tried to outsmart Google by taking part in gray or black hat practices such as buying links, creating link schemes, or creating a mass amount of low quality content to take advantage of the loop holes in the algorithm (such as the content farm boom of 2007-2011). What we have found out is that these high reward, high risk, and short lived tactics do not align themselves to a ethical, long term approach to building a business. They offer the website utilizing these tactics little comfort that the next update won’t be the one that takes them out.
Finally “It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.
As we know Google has made upwards of 400 updates each year to their algorithm to combat spam (most are small tweaks to the weights of the variables that we don’t hear about, but some make quite a bit of noise). The spam that Google is trying to eliminate can be in the form of content spam, link spam, and soon will be in the form of social spam. Below are some of the well known updates over the last 9 years and the type of spam they intended to help combat.
November 2003: Eliminates spam with simple linking and other features ensuring that tightly optimized and cleanly linked sites do well in the SERPs.
February 2004: Emphasizes quality content and the importance of Latent Semantic Indexing.
February 2005: Identifies spam sites that rank high in the search engines by encouraging users to give feedback about low-quality sites.
May 2005: Responds to spam complaints and re-inclusion requests and improves the search process by switching from old data centers to new ones.
August 2006: Google updates its backlinks index to more accurately determine a site’s popularity and relation to trusted sources.
Big Daddy Update
February 2006: Changes how websites are crawled and determines PageRank by the relevance of their incoming/outgoing links. Sends spam sites into a supplemental category.
August 2009: Reported as a complete rewrite of Google’s search infrastructure, changed how Google collects, store and serves their data.
May 2010: Implements long-tail algorithm change for sites that are losing rankings on long tail keywords.
Panda Update Update
February 2011: Designed to hit large content farms, thin content, or content that had been scraped or syndicated from other websites, by lowering the rankings of those web pages. This update affected 11.8% of all Google search queries and Google now uses user-based metrics (CTRs, bounce rates, etc.) and machine learning to discover what content users are actually finding valuable.
Rolled out February 24, 2011 and has been updated several times since.
- Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011
- Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011 (about 7 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011 (about 4 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.3: July 23, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
- Panda Update 2.4 End of August 2011
- Panda Update 2.5 End of September 2011
- Panda Update 2.5.x
- Panda Update 3.1: Tiny weather report: Minor Panda algorithm data refresh (affects <1% of searches)
- Panda 3.2 on about January 15th
- Panda 3.3 Feb 28, 2012
- Panda 3.4 on March 23, 2012
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. – Matt Cutts, Lead Spam Engineer at Google
These changes make it imperative that companies can adapt to the ever-changing landscape of SEO. What I have found in my travels down SEO lane over the last 8+ years is that most large companies have a hard time turning on a dime due to politics, release cycles, and lack of resources. Or as Michael Scott would put it Adapt. React. Re-adapt. Act. There is also a great book called How The Mighty Fall by Jim Collins that I suggest every business person read.