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I attended kindergarten at Zena Elementary School in Kingston, New York, where my teacher was Ms. Silvernail. Back then, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) didn’t yet exist. Search engines didn’t exist because the web was not yet invented. Mainframes dominated the computing landscape and PC's were a decade away from invention.
Despite the lack of tablets, apps and the web, I sure learned a lot in kindergarten. It was my first formal setting with other kids my age and Ms. Silvernail taught us a lot about manners and other social norms. When I look at today’s “white hat” SEO strategies – that is, those that follow search engine rules and guidelines and focus on the “human audience,” I see a lot of similarities with the concepts I learned back in kindergarten.
Let’s consider how kindergarten helped give me the foundation for today’s SEO practices.
Respect authority. “Listen to what the teacher says.”
Prior to kindergarten, we learned to respect the authority of our parents. In a school setting, we had to learn how to respect our teacher, along with other authority figures at the school.
With SEO, the search engines are authorities who hold a lot of “power.” In fact, they determine your effectiveness, in the same way that teachers determine your grades. For optimum results on Google, for instance, a good first step is to use Google Webmaster Tools.
Google will use this tool to send you “Messages” about your site’s availability, as well as instances where it suspects that link spam is pointing to your site. If a teacher asks you to sit up straight, you do it. If Google finds link spam pointing to your site, you investigate and resolve it.
“If you GET something that’s not your’s, give it back.”
A classmate hands me something that’s clearly not mine. I’d tell Ms. Silvernail, explain that it’s not mine and she’d take it away from me. There’s a similar arrangement with SEO. Let’s say Google finds links to your site that violate their quality guidelines. You’ve never heard of the site linking to you and don’t understand why they’d want to do so.
You can use the “disavow links” feature in Google Webmaster Tools: “In other words, you can ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site.” (read more at Google’s disavow links page). For expected turnaround time on the disavow, Google says this:
“It may take some time for Google to process the information you’ve uploaded. In particular, this information will be incorporated into our index as we recrawl the web and reprocess the pages that we see, which can take a number of weeks.”
“Play within the rules.”
Whether it was in the classroom or on the playground, we played by Ms. Silvernail's rules. If we strayed from the rules, there were consequences to pay. Google has posted its own rules: a detailed Webmaster Guidelines that includes a number of sections. Pay close attention to the “Quality guidelines” section.
Also, have a look at a useful video from Google’s Matt Cutts regarding the Google Penguin 2.0 update, which deployed on May 22, 2013:
Alternatively, read a summary of the Cutts video, posted by Search Engine Land.
Truth be told, I can’t recall whether the concept of cheating surfaced in kindergarten (for me). But it was certainly introduced during elementary school. Google has a page detailing link schemes, which “includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” Carefully review the “forbidden” practices listed in this article. And know that for SEO, it never pays to cheat (Ms. Silvernail said so).
“Be honest. Say what you feel.”
We were taught to be honest in kindergarten. The web, on the other hand, has seen shady practices that were implemented to “game” the search engines. For the most part, these practices are no longer effective: keyword stuffing, unnatural anchor text, etc.
Write content for your audience (of human beings) and not for search engines. Write clearly and “say what you feel.” Read your page content aloud to confirm whether it sounds natural. Search engines now reward quality content over “crawler optimized” content.
If you’ve been punished, correct bad behavior and let the teacher know.
Let's say your website traffic fell off a cliff. Perhaps you can trace it back to May 22, 2013, when Google deployed Penguin 2.0. Just as in kindergarten, you work on correcting the “bad behavior,” then let the teacher know.
While a teacher explicitly tells you what you did wrong, the search engines aren’t nearly as direct. So the biggest challenge may be identifying the (perceived) bad behavior. Titan SEO has a good article on the “road to resubmission” that lists things to investigate. The article notes that after correcting issues, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google.
While the details of search engine optimization may seem complex, they’re based on principles that we learned in kindergarten. Follow guidelines, avoid tricks and be honest. And if you do stray from the guidelines, correct past wrongs to get back in the good graces of the authorities.
Unlike kindergarten, the rules and guidelines of SEO are constantly changing. Google makes more changes in a given day than your kindergarten made all year long. So keep up to date with changes from Google and the other search engines.
And if you’re reading this, Ms. Silvernail, I hereby disavow the free lunch that I received from the cafeteria on the first day of kindergarten.
Titan SEO did a webinar titled “Google’s Latest Algorithm Update! What You Need to Know.” You can register to view the webinar replay. In addition, we’ve included the webinar slides below.