By now we are all familiar with Google’s aggressive push to improve the quality of its search results. So far, it has implemented ranking algorithm changes that sought to punish content farms, many of which published thousands of articles a week with the primary goal of ranking well in search results in order to display more ads.
While Google’s Panda update has effectively pruned back many of the major abusers, it will undoubtedly take time for publishers in the wider economy to refocus their marketing tactics on quality content. As we interviewed a veteran journalist for a content marketing position last week, he told the now-familiar story of the erosion of his client base to offshore keyword-stuffing copywriters.
I say that Google’s experiment isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely progress, and that quality content providers everywhere will gradually find themselves rewarded as Google fine-tunes its formula. For evidence, I present the disparate fates of three press release sites: PRlog.org, freepressrelease.com and free-press-release.com.
As you might gather, the bread and butter of these sites has been publishing press releases at no cost. The sites are used not only by small businesses with low PR budgets, but also as an ancillary wire service by larger companies, artists, bands, and others. Their traffic numbers are probably higher than you would imagine – free-press-release.com averages close to 500,000 unique visits per month, according to Compete.com.
As you’ll see by the traffic comparison graphs, all three sites have been impacted in hugely different ways by Google’s Panda update. PRlog.org has suffered a steady and steep decline since the algorithm change. FreePressRelease.com suffered a traumatic, sudden drop in traffic from which it has not recovered. But the site with the most difficult domain name of the three (two dashes? really?), free-press-release.com, actually appears to have gained about 5% in the past three months.
To quote SNL’s recurring skit of the same name, “What’s up with that?”
Taking a closer look at the three sites, we notice several features implemented by free-press-release.com that are likely to result in improved quality. First of all, the site is heavily integrated into social media, making it much more likely that quality content will be shared; social buttons allow readers to essentially “vote” for sites, thus creating links to site pages that are taken into consideration by search engines. Secondly, the site offers premium placement and promotion tiers, making it much more likely that the writers of this premium content will take more pride in their craft. In other words, this site has a real business model that is not completely reliant on advertising.
Finally, the site publishes original content in the form of a blog and a a journal that provide tips on topics such as “How to Make Yourself Newsworthy.” Who knows whether this extra effort actually improves the quality of its content, but it can’t hurt.
Is this site’s success likely to inspire a new generation of quality content providers? Not a chance.
Yet by analyzing its fate alongside those of similar sites, we can begin to see real rewards on the horizon for publishers that attempt to offer legitimate content and let visitors use social channels to tell them what is good and what isn’t.