Google’s ‘Florida’ Update:
How I Learned to Love the Dance
A note from Ian (12/29/03): Well, now that the shouting’s died down a bit, it looks like Google has restored quite a few rankings. Most of our clients are now back in their original spots, with a few pluses and minuses, but for the most part everything averaged out. The moral? Stick to the basics, don’t try to get fancy, and generally you’ll get through the Google Dance just fine. Read on….
11/26/03: Over the past two weeks, many of you may have noticed your Google ranking for some keywords jumping up and down faster than a frog on hot asphalt. Google is ‘dancing’ – these periodic updates let the massive search engine adjust rankings, and the algorithms used to obtain those rankings, across its many worldwide data centers.
This Google Dance, which started around November 15, has been particularly trying for folks. Legitimate, content-rich sites previously ranked in the top 10 have completely disappeared or are ranked so poorly they may as well have, while seemingly irrelevant pages are leaping to the top spots.
So what’s going on? Is Google broken? Is this a plot by the alleged SEO-haters at Google to undermine the search engine marketing industry? I don’t think so. The Google Dance and the ranking algorithm changes that often accompany it is a fact of life, not a conspiracy or a keyword-driven apacolypse. I do believe that the search engine is changing the way it ranks web sites, though. So a coping strategy, not an arcane sacrifice, is in order.
Here are four rules to survive the latest Google Dance with sanity and site rank relatively intact:
Stick to the basics. We know that certain things always help your site’s Google rank: Clean, well-written HTML code, good content, and a good internal and external linking structure. Read more about SEO strategies in this article. If you emphasize HTML code optimization and good content, you can’t go wrong. If you try to improve a slipping site rank by resorting to content cloaking or other sleazy SEO tactics, you can’t go right.
Optimize first, keywords second. One thing that’s definitely true of the Florida update – sites that heavily optimize towards a single keyword or phrase are losing ground to sites with larger bodies of useful, relevant content that include naturally occuring instances of the same phrase. Focus on clean, optimal HTML code first, and let the search engines figure out where you fit into their indices, keyword-wise. Then add good, well-written content that focuses on the keyphrases for which you want to improve your rank. If neither of these strategies work, then consider tweaking existing content, just a little, to improve keyword-richness. I wrote a bit about optimization vs. keywords last month.
Diversify. 20/20 hindsight, I know, but never rely 100% on search engine placement for traffic. Make sure you employ a complete Internet marketing strategy, including true opt-in email marketing and all the tenets of Conversation Marketing. That way, when one area doesn’t deliver for a few weeks, you can maintain solid traffic.
Don’t Panic. Finally, don’t start checking Google every day, grinding your teeth down to nubs as you wait to reappear in the rankings. That’s our job! Seriously, Google has ‘danced’ before, and the rankings typically return to normal after several weeks. And remember that change is a constant in the world of search engines – if your site does lose ground after the Florida update is complete, all you (or we) can do is work to regain your previous rank. Either way, if you’ve stuck with an ethical, sensible SEO strategy, your site will come out OK in the long run.
I’m not trying to be glib – I know how stressful it can be to watch your site go from #1 to #99, believe me. But Google has changed its algorithms before, and rankings have been jostled many times in the past. Over the long haul, sites that rely on a diverse strategy, good content, good HTML and solid link popularity always come out ahead.
About the Author
Ian Lurie is an Internet marketer in Seattle, WA. He started his web design and marketing firm, Portent Inc, in 1995. Portent offers complete Internet marketing support, including search engine optimization, email marketing, and web design and development. Ian has a law degree from UCLA and has successfully avoided practicing law for almost ten years.
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