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Emma North

Will Google Zebra Hit Social? Speculations Of A New Google Algorithm Update

8th Jan 2013 SEO, Social Media | 47 Comments


New Google Algorithm Update - Google Zebra?Google Panda and Google Penguin are two of the biggest and hardest hitting algorithm updates Google has ever released. With rankings slashed literally overnight after each update, it is clear that the search engine giant will stop at nothing in its efforts to provide the highest quality search experience for its users, in keeping with its mission statement; “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Google’s stern stance on quality now means that link building and content strategies have been completely turned on their head, with once acceptable methods of building rank becoming obsolete in an instant.

To recap, Google’s mission statement, clearly accessible on the Google Company page, reads:

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

However, Google’s mission will never be complete and many speculate that another major update is already in the pipeline.

Sometimes referred to as Google Zebra by many in the world of web (more on that later), the next algorithm change could completely transform what we know as SEO. However, at this stage, the fundamental concept behind the next update is still nothing more than speculation.

Here is my best idea on what Google might have in mind for its next algo-bomb-drop.

Possible Target: Social Media

Hand Holding A Social Media SphereSocial media is the big fish of SEO today. Its importance has increased dramatically over the last few years. It is believed that Google considers social signals to be a strong, natural indication of site authority and uses this in its ranking algorithm. If everyone is talking about your brand or following your profiles on social networks, there’s a good chance that people will want to see your site over your competitors in relevant searches.

However, this sounds an awful lot like another idea we all once had: that if your site is listed on and linked to from lots of website directories, you should rank highly in search. Even Google seemed to share this belief, as directory listings were treated as backlinks beneficial to websites’ link profiles. This once standard SEO technique is now largely worthless, with the links devalued beyond recognition.

So how long before spammers, now on the back foot after algorithm changes, clog the social platforms for link building purposes? How long can it possibly be before the balance of genuine-vs-spam social profiles tips and fake profiles are filled with bogus mentions and recommendations? Perhaps in the scheme of things, where the art of SEO changes daily, quite some time. Social giants Facebook and Twitter certainly still report strong statistics when it comes to accounts it believes belong to real people. It may be that social media will remain a viable link building technique for several years.

But surely the time will come where social signals will become less and less reliable in the eyes of a search engine and when that time comes, the robots will need retraining.

Enter Google Zebra (maybe).

Considering the above, a good argument could be made that Google will, at some point in the not-so-distant future, introduce an algorithm update to down-rank sites it believes are using fake social signals to deceive them.

So what can we do to future-proof our social strategies?

The best advice is to steer well clear of fake social media accounts, reviews or followers. Encourage genuine engagement and grow your following of real people with real opinions. Keep on top of negative comments about your brand, involve yourself in conversations to resolve any issues as they arise and don’t try to counter negativity with bogus spammy brand glorification.

If we continue to use social media the way it was intended, we may eliminate the need for Google to ever act. Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.

And how else can we build quality backlinks?

Well this is a whole new topic of its own, and one I may well cover in the coming months. But as a long story cut short; link building strategies should include many different channels, not just social media. Hopefully, you would already know that. But in SEO, perhaps it’s time we got a bit more creative with our link building efforts to secure genuine high-quality links.

Here is a good article by Corey Eridon to get you started.

It’s all about thinking outside the box. By putting in more effort to secure high quality links over quick wins, you are taking the first step to future-proofing your link building strategy.

The Dark Side of Google Authorship

One of the newest SEO opportunities arrived in the form of Google Authorship. Author Rank, believed by some to now be more important than the long-standing Page Rank, is a new tool used by Google to measure the authority of blogs and websites. With organic traffic and rankings disappearing overnight as a result of major algorithm updates, Authorship has provided the industry with a new tool to get back on the map.

An example of Google Authorship as it appears in search results:

Authorship Snippet

However, while Google Authorship is generally well-received and little-abused at these early stages of its life cycle, it isn’t a very big leap to predict that the system could be used by SEOs looking to game the system.

The idea behind authorship is for real people within organisations to be credited for their work so that people writing high quality content that readers engage with are rewarded in the rankings and that Google users get the added functionality of being able to view works by their favourite writers.

So, let’s imagine an organisation has twenty members of staff contributing quality content to the company blog. If implemented properly, Google Author Rank would be attributed to each contributor based on their individual content quality. This would benefit the organisation as they would have twenty people with good Author Rank contributing to their blog and Google may start to take this into account when considering rankings for the website and blog.

But depending on Google’s algorithms, some organisations may believe there is a better way to receive ranking rewards from quality blog content. Rather than listing twenty contributors on the blog, what would happen if their blog only had half a dozen listed contributor profiles with the content written by all twenty people. By distributing written content among a handful of handpicked author profiles, would six ultra-strong quality Author profiles be better than twenty more diluted in quality?

Maybe, or maybe not. Google’s ranking algorithms concerning Authorship are still very much subject for speculation. But if there is one thing we can say for sure it’s that if there is or will be a way to cheat to the Authorship programme, there will be people out there who will. We can only hope any future Google algorithm updates would deal with them accordingly.

And lastly, “Zebra”? Really?!

No, not really. Well, not definitely. With a Penguin and a Panda already checked off, some analysts believe Google will continue the “black and white” animals theme in its algorithm naming process, but it is all speculation at this stage. By that standard, I believe these are the most logical names for the next major release.

Google Zebra

Zebra has been floating about the internet for months now and may be the safest bet at this stage. It is, of course, a black and white animal but it doesn’t follow the “p” theme.

Google Panther

It sounds nice and is in keeping with the “p” theme but being a black animal it may be unlikely as it may been seen to represent black hat techniques.

Google Polar Bear

This is not as obscure as it may first seem. Using black and white animals could be seen to represent black and white hat techniques. If so, surely it’s time to signal the end of black hat and what better way to do so that with a big white polar bear. Simple.

Google Killer Whale

It doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue does it?

Google Pony

Maybe, I guess…

Google Badger

Surely not?

Google Skunk

I just don’t know any more…

Your thoughts?

What do you think Google has up its sleeve for the next big algorithm change? Do you have any other name predictions? Comment below to share your thoughts!

Image credits

Zebra Image from Bigstock
Social Media Image from Bigstock

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About the author

Emma North

Emma has more than 5 years’ digital marketing experience and has worked on dozens of websites in a wide range of industries. She has a passion for both SEO and PPC and is driven by the need to develop her digital skills and knowledge. She is always exploring innovative solutions for new problems encountered in the ever-changing digital world.

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