Marketers have long invested in search – both natural and paid – to improve their standing on lists displayed to consumers who are looking for everything from new ski boots to a pickup truck. Periodically, clever engineers develop code and strategies designed to beat the system.  And this results in marketers complaining about their low list placement. In return, search giant Google regularly implements updates. The latest update has implications for some marketers who will again be forced to revise their strategy.

Early SEO experts realized that the more sites that link to a site, the higher the parent site scored on results list. Other strategies have been employed, sometimes by major retailers, which are known as ‘black hat’ optimization. A story broke recently on how JC Penney ‘gamed’ Google’s system for months with its use of a complex linking system that drove its site to the top of the list.  Sites with many links to other sites, often low-quality, have been called content farms and these have become the target of Google’s latest action.

The most recent Google fix, released earlier this month, is called Panda. In an interview for Wired magazine, writer Steven Levy  prodded Google’s top search experts Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts to discuss how the latest code change will affect marketers. The new algorithms in Panda have been specifically adjusted to push higher quality content to positions of list prominence. In doing so, Google considers details such as the numbers of ads on the page, number of links to the page and page design. Google engineers,  in some cases, reportedly are trying to assign value to content in a site.

The new Google algorithm reportedly affected 12% of all sites.  As evidence of their improvements, they point to search results on multiple sclerosis which now features government sites in a higher position than content farms. But not everyone experienced the expected results because of this change. While the content farms have seen their positions drop, other sites like PR Newswire have also experienced a drop.

Of course, SEO is only part of any marketer’s advertising strategy. But to get the most out of this investment, marketers will be looking at their content and who they’ve been linking to in an effort to regain any lost ground  Google’s changes may have caused.

[Source: Sullivan, Danny. SEO Remains a Viable Marketing Strategy for Anyone. Searchengineland.com. 6 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2011; Couts, Andrews. How JC Penney gamed Google. 12 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2011; Levy, Steven: TED 2011: The Panda That Hates Farms. Wired.com. 3 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2011; Videos. Webpronews.com. 11 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2011]