Google’s new guidelines impact PR, social, affiliate marketing and SEO

In New York it is Search Week. Mayor Michael Bloomberg put his name to the proclamation that cites a strong tech community, digital growth and the goal of being the world’s premier digital city.

The announcement coincides with Danny Sullivan’s SMX East; the search conference running in the city this week. New York are not the only ones to time announcements to match up with SMX East – Google has too. A blog post on the official Webmaster Central Blog last night announced an updated version of the Quality Guidelines.

The Webmaster Quality Guidelines govern what sort of practise Google considers good and what sort of activity is bad enough that it may result in punishment.

PR and Social

Google recommends monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as quickly as possible and the also recommend against allowing user-generated spam. That’s right; if you don’t moderate your blog comments well enough and collect enough spam (often left by cowboy SEOs) then your site may be penalised.

Google explicitly rules out the freebie review culture.

”This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

Of course, it’s still possible to send review items to bloggers – but it becomes important to ensure that those bloggers use nofollow links in their post if and when they mention you. Legally, you should ensure they offer a human viewable disclosure too.

Later on, Google stresses the importance of working with bloggers.

”Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliates have long wondered whether Google is out to get them. In the updated guidelines Google has a whole page to discuss this and, yes, plenty of affiliate activity can get you in trouble.

Google “helpfully” suggests that a site about hiking in the Alps might want to consider an affiliate deal with a merchant that sells hiking boots. The interesting twist is that if Google feels the affiliate program is misaligned to the subject of the site then there may be problems. The hiking tips site had better stay clear of office supply merchants.

Curiously, Google VC backs a company called VigLink which specialises in the automation of affiliate links inside editorial content. If a hiking tips blog was running the VigLink code then, technically, it’s possible that a Google supported company might put in a link to an office supply store.

That seems unlikely to happen, though, unless the hiking tips site explicitly mentioned a brand or happened to use an office supplies money making keyword in a post. I wonder if there would be any natural overlap around maps and mapping.

New SEO

Google’s rich snippets are a success in that they’ve taken off. Businesses see the value in being able to include review stars in their search results, or recipe data, dates and especially author markup. Generally they mean more clicks, more traffic.

The SEO industry has also had its eye on the apparent growth of rich snippet spam. Some companies claim multi-star review rating when the only evidence seems forged and other times the rich snippet is earned by something irrelevant to the rest of the page.

This is new – and with the updated guidelines this is now officially spam. Is a competitor doing this? Google suggest please let us know.

As you would expect, there is further crack down and clarity on what counts as a good link or a bad link. We know editorial links are welcomed but links thrown into articles with little coherence are now explicitly spammy.

Google gives us an example that could have come from one of thousands of low quality article sites or blog networks.

most people sleep at night. you can buy cheap blankets at shops. a blanket keeps you warm at night. you can also buy a wholesale heater. It produces more warmth and you can just turn it off in summer when you are going on france vacation.

Overall

There are some new elements to these Guidelines but nothing the community did not expect. The most significant change to them is that they now include examples. This post is just a summary; I recommend a thorough reading of the guidelines too.

Andrew Girdwood is Media Innovations Director at LBi.