Here’s the scoop on guest blogging: Google doesn’t appreciate paid links or content published just so you can “win” a link. However, if your guest post is informative, genuine, and helpful, including a relevant link back to your website is a great way to improve your exposure and relevance.
Is guest blogging a worthy investment?
It no longer results in the skyrocketing SEO as it did before Google started evaluating placed links more thoroughly.
However, guest blogging still affords some pretty sweet rewards:
Exposure to the blog and brand’s audience (hopefully including promotion on their social media and email list).
Increased authority and reputation.
Opportunity to expand or blog just outside your niche.
Possibility of capturing secondary or tertiary audiences where they live.
10 Keys to Writing Great Guest Blogs
If you’ve determined the blog presents a good opportunity for you, it’s time to create your guest blog. Let’s cover the basics of how to get it done.
Guest Blog Writing Key #1: Read the Guidelines
Quite simply, your guest post has the best chance of being accepted if it conforms to all the guidelines set forth by the editor(s). Ideally, you should read the guidelines before you even pitch. Guidelines usually include rules about:
Images (including acceptable sources).
Author biography and headshot.
How many links you are permitted to include in the post.
The editor should also be able to provide you with stellar examples of content published on the blog.
Surprisingly, guidelines are often vague – even when editors are picky. In this case, don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Guest Blog Writing Key #2: Let Your Expertise Shine
Expertise isn’t just about what you know – it’s about what you do with it. Through successes (and failures) in webinar presentations, I’ve learned that audiences respond most sincerely to application and innovation. Anyone can look up how to do something, but knowing how to apply it to a particular problem is especially important. The best content connects the dots and enlightens processes for readers.
You don’t have to give away every detail behind your process or way of thinking, but provide a window into your world.
I speak often about merging the personal and professional brand – something you can do carefully and successfully if you decide it’s the right fit for your business and your life. When I decided to merge my personal and professional Twitter accounts in a “Twitter wedding,” I documented the process and received positive feedback about the transparency of the post.
Depending on your audience, you’ll need to display expertise through a combination of:
Story (how you did it).
Data (proof that you did it).
Example (the final product).
Each guest posting opportunity presents a challenge to find the right balance of story, data, and example, so make sure to communicate with your editor or point of contact to ensure clear expectations.
Guest Blog Writing Key #3: Let It Flow
When it comes to keeping the reader engaged, flow is what makes your post stick. Your entire post should read as though it was written by one person in one sitting (even if took you days to put it together). Each tip or idea should connect to the next, and if it’s a how-to post (like this one), the order of steps should make sense.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Learn the 10 key steps to writing an awesome guest blog post over on @ExpWriters!” quote=”Learn the 10 key steps to writing an awesome guest blog post over on @ExpWriters!”]
Guest Blog Writing Key #4: Apply Search Engine Friendly Structure
Google prefers a certain structure for blog posts. Best practices are as follows:
Do not use H1 header tags except for the post title – use H2, H3s, and so on to neatly organize your post.
Use short, clear paragraphs.
Bullet point for clarity when applicable.
Number your how-to instructions or recipe steps when appropriate.
This also saves your editor time. If they can copy and paste your formatting, it makes their job much easier.
Guest Blog Writing Key #5: Focus!
While many copywriters are accustomed to writing for “keyword density,” you’ll find a more natural inclusion of a desired keyword occurs if you strive to use a focus keyword. Use your focus keyword in your:
Body copy (a couple of times).
Meta description. (Note: As a guest blogger, you may not be required to submit a meta description, but it’s a kind gesture and only takes a few minutes.)
If you’re writing for a general keyword, consider using a more specific long-tail keyword as well. For example, this post focuses on “guest blogging” (a very general, high-competition keyword) and “how to write a guest blog” (a specific question or search phrase).
Guest Blog Writing Key #6: Add Appropriate Backlinks
While you want to put a link back to your own site in the piece, don’t forget to link to other authoritative sites, especially those with a high domain authority or Alexa ranking. Chances are you know some reliable resources on your choice topic, and including credited statistics and other citations with links back to those sites will help.
It’s also best practice (and kind) to include an internal link – that is, a link to another blog post or page on the website for which you’re creating the post.
Guest Blog Writing Key #7: Include Images
Editors are used to receiving walls of text. Even properly formatted copy can start to blur together when it’s the tenth piece an editor has seen in a day. When guest bloggers provide visuals, however, it helps their copy stand out and shows they put some extra time into the presentation.
Furthermore, it creates less work for the editor (as long as the images work in their approved format or layout, and come with all necessary permissions).
Ideally, you should have some sort of visual break every 300 words or less. That can mean a custom image, a stock photo, a click-to-tweet, or an embedded audio or video.
Julia employs clear headers, short paragraphs, and a bulleted list to clearly explain her point.
She also breaks up the text by placing facts in a storytelling image and including a “click to tweet,” which also encourages readers to share her advice.
Remember to only include images you have permission to use. Provide a permissions line, credit, and a link to the source if requested or required.
Guest Blog Writing Key #8: Proofread Your Work
Editors will look over your copy before it goes live, but you can prevent embarrassing mistakes and increase your chances of acceptance by proofreading your work or asking someone else to do it for you before you submit. Aside from checking for spelling and grammar, a good edit analyzes flow and also checks all the links.
If you’ve relied on other sources to create your piece, make sure you run it through Copyscape to ensure uniqueness. You don’t want to get rejected for plagiarism because you didn’t reword your cited sources enough.
Guest Blog Writing Key #9: Write with Authority
You are guest blogging on a topic because you’re the resident expert! Avoid phrases like “I think,” or anything that will make the reader doubt your expertise on a given topic. Note how I say in this piece what editors will and will not do – not what they may think about doing. Having been a website editor for so long, I have the authority to offer these tips in a decisive way.
Guest Blog Writing Key #10: Include a Call to Action (CTA)
At the end of your post, tell your reader what they should do. Are there more on-site resources for them? A place where they can learn more about your services?
Your CTA will largely depend upon the tone of the piece and the editorial guidelines. It’s always safe to ask your readers to comment with their thoughts (if the blog has a comment section), as that will drive engagement and please the editor. If you do this, make sure to follow up and respond to the comments on the blog.
Like most writers and many content marketers, I’ve been a natural storyteller my entire life.
Over the years, I’ve practiced my storytelling skills in a variety of ways: by earning an English degree some people branded ‘useless;’ through active participation in theater groups as an actor, crew member, and playwright, writing collaboratively with others I trust, and by creating and participating in LARPs (live action role playing games).
Even as a recent college grad at a self-publishing company, I realized the thrill in completing and marketing work – especially when a long-term success pays off.
It’s not just about having a story, but selling it.
Each media – theater, collaborative writing, formal scholarship – has taught me something new about storytelling, but LARP is the culmination of these skills. The medium itself is also flexible enough to warrant explanation and innovation. Scroll past the infographic for the full story by Tara!
What is LARP & 7 Ways It Made Me a Better Brand Storyteller (Infographic)
What is LARP?
LARP stands for “live action role play.” In this interactive medium, participants create a story collaboratively while representing a character in the LARP, sometimes to a very immersive degree. LARP covers a variety of genres such as medieval fantasy, sci-fi, western, and post-apocalyptic. Some games include boffer or ranged weapon combat; others focus on personal interaction and emotional intensity or a combination of the two. Styles vary greatly depending upon genre, region, and participants’ preferences.
Like a consultant might encourage participants to role play sales and customer service scenarios, LARP is also a very effective educational tool. It’s used heavily in schools in Scandinavia and it can be very similar to military combat simulations. Depending on the LARP, you might do something similar to Model UN – or you may feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings.
Young LARPers explore their creativity as they portray characters in a cyberpunk LARP. Photo by Matthew Wright, courtesy of the Wayfinder Experience.
There are several ways in which LARP helps participants hone their storytelling skills:
You drop any pretense of the ‘real world’ (except for physical and emotional safety). As adults, we’re often encouraged to focus on reality. LARP sparks your imagination and allows you to focus on building a story with others. This is not unlike how a marketing team can function at a brand of any size.
As in real life, LARP worlds and scenarios often feature problems and solutions. Innovation helps you get things done, complete objectives, and reflect on your progress – almost like a more natural agile marketing process.
LARPs do not always have a beginning, middle, and end format, but they can. Participants often reflect upon their role in that story. LARPs may provide the opportunity for you to be less rigid and confined in how you tell your story – and that’s a great lesson to take into the business world.
By portraying someone else, you can become more empathetic (deliberately or not). Imagine if you could understand your readers this way – or your customers!
Through LARP, participants can discover unexplored sides of themselves by portraying characters. Photo: Joshua Heath: Vampire: The Masquerade Grand Masquerade: Blood and Betrayal 3
I’ve been an active LARP participant for a decade – that spans most of my career in publishing and marketing. I’ve participated as a player, non player character (NPC – a scripted character who helps the game master tell the story), and as a game designer, marketer, and staff member.
7 Major Lessons for Brand Storytelling from LARP
When it comes to storytelling, LARP has taught me seven major lessons that I deliberately apply to business:
1. Just Provide Setting: The Secret to Community
Successful marketing brands like HubSpot know that building a community around your brand requires a long-term strategy and an investment of time and money. They do it because it works.
This LARP takes place in a cyberpunk setting. Photo taken and edited by Mark Chadbourne for Oblivion LARP.
While brands can and should provide spaces for enthusiasts and customers to discuss their brand, ultimately the community usually works best with guidance instead of harsh motivation.
At Seventh Kingdom IGE, a medieval fantasy LARP in New Jersey, a small staff handles the logistics of events. But with extensive lore and an ongoing story, players also take responsibility by taking on leadership roles in game. In the real digital world, existing players are to credit for a great deal of recruitment, which usually happens by word of mouth and by players posting about their positive experiences on Facebook.
While players love the game and its brand, what they crave most is the ability to be the hero (and villain) in the game world – similar to a video game or a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons.
2. Customers Invest in Experiences
When you sell a LARP ticket, what are you selling? The game may include basics like lodging and meals, but people are really investing in the story and in the experience – and, if your LARP is particularly impactful, in a person’s transformation and education.
“Endgame,” A LARP by Hans Olai Martinsen and Anne Marie Stamnestrø – Run for The Art of Storytelling Through Gaming group. Photo by Aaron Vanek.
Experience means you’re selling them the experience; transformation means you’re flipping non-fans into fans or even altering their worldview with their product. As LARP can be a very social and personal experience featuring high levels of immersion, participants often enjoy both the experience and the transformation.
As internationally renowned professional game designer Claus Raasted said, “I’m not only an experience designer, but a designer of transformations.” That’s storytelling full-circle.
What would change about your business and how you market it if you took this approach?
3. Play Your Own Story
We all know that employee engagement is necessary and enthusiastic employees are the most productive advocates – but what about the management? Are you playing your own story?
A LARP could be a week-long epic battle scenario or a two hour experience at a convention. One thing I’ve learned about successful game masters and game designers is that they play their own story.
Sure, this happens out of necessity sometimes – just like a business, the game can be short-staffed or someone calls out sick and upper management needs to fill in. However, I advocate for intentional insertion into the game world (or business) you’ve created. With a small investment of time, you’ll possibly learn more about your LARP (or business) than you would by conducting various customer experience surveys. Here’s a LARP example of how that can work:
At New World Magischola (a LARP about being a student at a magical college), the game designers recently participated in their Yuletide events. The Yuletide events took place in a smaller area than the usual college campus the game requires, and it allowed the designers to more actively participate in the game.
This allowed them to not only gently guide scenarios and pay attention to safety (like when we were outside in the snow) while still allowing players to make decisions, but it showed they were a part of the community. They were also able to experience their game design first-hand.
As a former staff member at a fantasy boffer combat game, I’ve also noticed a wider gap in communication between players and staff when staff members aren’t out there on the field fighting on the same side as the players.
If your customers don’t see you fighting alongside them, they might not hang around for any rough transitions you face. Do they view you as a partner, or someone potentially fighting against them?
4. Your Goal: Innovation
If you’re a successful marketer, you understand that your brand needs to offer something that your competition doesn’t. You’ve probably worked on your USP (unique selling proposition) and have determined how to express that as your brand. Once you’ve established that, then what do you do?
Like business and entertainment niches, LARP is centered around innovation that is quite literally game changing. Through online communities and by supporting new game designers, innovation is an intrinsic part of the LARP community. From new hobbyists to professional LARP studios, getting involved means giving and gaining a great deal in terms of how you impact the hobby as an influencer.
While this may look like a charismatic and engaging leader conducting a business meeting, this is actually a LARPer contributing to a collaborative story. “Unheroes” by Joanna Piancastelli run in Hilton Hotel restaurant in full public view. Photo by Aaron Vanek.
Related to that are the LARPs themselves. Most LARPs involve problem solving, creative thinking, and portraying a person who is different than yourself. These are the cornerstones of collaborative storytelling as the character is the basis of a LARPer’s interaction with the game environment and other participants.
If you didn’t have the restrictions of the real world, what kind of spell would you cast? What kind of fortress would you build? Who would you be? Deliberately embodying this way of thinking by regular LARP participation has changed me as a person and as a professional.
Similarly, we constantly adapt and innovate to serve our customers better at Express Writers. The other day, a customer asked me about a service we don’t offer. After speaking with our CEO and expressing that I am able to execute this product, we built out the service and quoted the customer. This took less than 48 hours.
That’s not just agility and teamwork, it’s innovation that only happens through:
Trusting your employees
Listening to your customers
Analyzing budget and ability
Responding to customer needs.
5. Most People Crave the Opportunity to Be Loyal
It’s clear that LARP has allowed me to identify and pursue changes in my life – and applying that to business development skills has been especially useful. After LARPing for so long, I’ve also noticed that the wide variety of characters I play have something in common: they crave loyalty.
People love to belong to a group. I enjoyed playing a member of Maison DuBois, a group in New World Magischola. Photo: New World Magischola / Learn Larp LLC.
It’s not just me, either. Many LARPers enjoy portraying people who are devoutly loyal to various factions, religions, political causes, corporations, families, and school affiliations in game worlds. This is an appealing aspect for people to explore without the ramifications of expression real-world political beliefs – and if you can figure out how to provide rewards for that craving, you’ll have loyal customers for life.
6. Creativity is Worth Something: Money
The arts are spectacularly undervalued. Earlier, I mentioned how I was told that pursuing a degree in English wasn’t the best plan for my life, and this lack of value for the arts certainly relates to why many people feel that way. I feel vindicated now that ‘storytelling’ is such a marketing buzzword, but that doesn’t eliminate the problem of society viewing the arts as a waste of time or education.
That’s stuck with me. Like other writers and artists, sometimes I still find it hard to believe I deserve compensation for my work, even though I do – while other writers are tough on people like me for allegedly lowering the value of content based on rates.
Fellow LARPer Kathleen Burns (right) works at SEMrush. We make a great team in part due to the leadership roles we take on in LARPs. Here we are celebrating Halloween as our LARP characters. Photo: SEMrush.
In LARP worlds, the arts are generally valued. Who else will create songs and epic poems about the adventures and exploits of tavern-dwelling townfolk? Who keeps a detailed chronicle of the events that transpired? And who relays news and tells songs and stories at feast? In most LARP settings, bards in some form are appreciated – and often compensated – for their work. I try to internalize this as often as I can.
In LARP communities, artistic talents are extremely valuable. Costume creation and customization, boffer weapon creation, propsmithing – most LARP communities need these talents, and most other players will pay for them.
Storytelling in practice at Mystic Realms. Photo: Mystic Realms.
In my role at Express Writers, every so often I’ll get into a tough spot with a prospective client: they don’t want to put value on high quality content. I dislike having to justify the exceptional work of our vetted writers and editors – and sometimes I find that it’s best to leave this potential business relationship on the grounds of incompatibility.
Quality content has value – and if the customer isn’t willing to pay the full price, they’re not worth the investment of your time.
7. Embodiment is Empowerment
People want to transform their businesses and themselves. Through LARP, it’s possible to learn more about yourself by portraying various characters. If you’re able to genuinely appraise your experiences in this way, you can really grow as a person. LARP has enabled me to feel more confident in sales and public speaking and to continually sharpen my storytelling skills across a variety of genres in unique ways that set me apart from many of my content marketing peers.
That’s me on the left. I’m creating a collaborative, magical story with three talented friends who also support my personal and career development in the real world. Photo: Darren M. Fitzgerald Photography.
In business, that level of empowerment isn’t something you find by hiring one full-time content writer to handle all of the work your business or agency requires. Instead, invest in the labor of a subject matter expert to ensure your message clearly captures your brand’s expertise and enthusiasm.
Bring a Little LARP into Your Content Marketing
Most content writers can tackle the basics: SEO-friendly copy, proper grammar. We know all about how this helps your search engine ranking. However, human-focused content now takes the lead when it comes to search results.
I recommend adding the LARP BASICs to your content marketing. Always remember how you can be:
Whether you’re out killing goblins in the woods or taking a more active interest in imaginative play with your child, keep these tips in mind when you want to create a more engaging and adaptive marketing strategy. All LARP photos used with written permission of copyright holders.
I’m here with another installment of our ongoing #howtowrite series, sharing a guide to cornerstone content.
When you started your first blog, did you know about cornerstone content?
I didn’t. As a more informed SEO blogger, I’m now transitioning my digital property to include cornerstone content strategy.
When I started my blog in 2013, I grew it naturally: I wrote about the niche I liked, interacted and promoted in my niche, and enlisted other writers to grow the site. In 2015, I started to clean up and improve my SEO; I also began using the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin. This plugin told me all about cornerstone content and how to more effectively structure my site.
What is Cornerstone Content?
Cornerstone content is strong, informative content on a keyword or key phrase relating to your site’s niche.
This is the page you want to carefully, naturally, and deliberately rank in SERPs (search engine results pages), and most other content points to it (via links) and relies on it for sustainability.
“Cornerstone content should be the content that is closest to the mission of your website. I think you should take some time to think about what it is you are doing and which posts or pages on your website are the most important. If you are to point three or four texts on your website, which texts would that be? I think you should extend and improve upon those pages and posts and really make the most out of these pages.
Your text and the ideas in your text should be totally unique. Of course, keyword research is essential. You just have to make sure you are using the words that your audience are using.”
I couldn’t run an effective WordPress blog without the Yoast SEO plugin. When I blog and schedule posts on my site, Yoast frequently suggests choosing a different focus keyword because the one I have selected is already being used as a focus keyword, often for a post that ranks well. Yoast advises me to check out their piece on cornerstone content for more information.
This has caused me to rethink my content strategy – but it’s raised more questions than answers. If I’m going for a comparatively low-competition keyword like “LARP,” should I really diversify my focus keyword selection?
I’ve since started paying more attention, and although I haven’t mapped out a detailed strategy, I’m going for long tail keywords like “LARP tips,” “LARP interviews,” and “LARP costumes” as they apply.
I created my website about women in geek culture before I got serious about my SEO game. I wrote SEO copy well – and naturally – but was using a free WordPress theme with lots of bugs and limited tools. Every week, I spend time writing and revising titles and meta descriptions that the Yoast SEO plugin identifies as nonexistent, weak, or duplicate. Little by little, I improve my SEO.
However, there’s another SEO problem: I didn’t build my site from the ground up with cornerstone content in mind. Yoast SEO encourages me to think about this whenever I use an existing strong keyword on my site. Van de Rakt offers some advice about this situation, since many looking to improve their sites are in a similar situation:
“Cornerstone content is the content you would like to rank the highest with. The content you’re the most proud of. But in order to make sure that it’ll rank the highest you should make sure that the internal linking structure of your site is awesome. We are working really hard to get more features in Yoast SEO which will help people to improve their site structure. In our Yoast SEO 4.0 update, we’ll start with adding such features and we’re planning to do much more. I hope these features will really help people to get their most precious content to rank highest!”
Example of Cornerstone Content and Related Topics
1. Resource Libraries
Keep your keyword strategy in mind as you build out resource libraries. Your on-site resource libraries are excellent inbound marketing strategies, so your on and off-site blog posts on related topics should direct readers to them.
2. Article Series
If you’re like me, you may think that building out a huge content strategy is a little intimidating when you don’t have many resources. However, even a solo act can focus on cornerstone content via an article series.
This #HowtoWrite content series, for example, is written and created by a small team. In the future, we’ll point back to this useful content, hopefully helping the #HowToWrite series pages rank as cornerstone content.
3. Evergreen content
While it’s always best practice to update your content as things change, evergreen cornerstone content is a solid strategy. If you’re going to invest time in pointing search engines towards specific content, you want it to hold value in the long run.
Should You Compete With Your Own Content for a Keyword?
What if your niche is pretty specific? What if you already dominate it? I rank pretty well for specific niche keywords, and the Yoast SEO plugin always tells me to rethink my focus keyword because one of my existing pages already has that focus keyword. I kind of want to be greedy. Why settle for the top search result if I could get more than one on that first SERP? I asked Van de Rakt if it’s better to rank multiple pages in a long tail niche keyword, or expand into ranking a more competitive keyword using cornerstone content.
“I think you should do both. If you are dominating, you could aim to rank for more ‘head terms.’ Long tail niche keywords remain important though,” advises Van de Rakt.
Long Tail or Short Tail for Cornerstone Content?
This depends on your business goal, your content spend, and the amount of competition in your niche. A careful analysis can help, but ultimately, you know your business and field better than anyone.
I aim for 75% analysis, 25% heart – that means most of my strategy is based on hard data about what works, but I leave myself ample room to explore the content and communities I’m passionate about. This is where experimentation and innovation happen – and it’s a great way to bolster less risky cornerstone content with relevant links.
Do You Need Help With Cornerstone Content?
Express Writers can help at any stage of cornerstone content creation and execution.
Cyber Monday is the one of the biggest sales days of the year for most e-tailers.
On Monday, November 28, e-commerce is expected to generate billions in sales in the US alone.
Is your online business ready to compete?
3 Simple Tests You Can Do to Help Your E-Comm Site Prepare for Cyber Monday
1. Check Your Product Descriptions: Are They Unique?
Unique product descriptions are essential to your success. If your site includes manufacturer descriptions, Google will view those as duplicate content – and you may be punished in Google search rankings.
While it can take time for Google to adjust rankings based on content depending how often it crawls your site, that margin is closing.
What you can do now:
Check Copyscape to determine whether your product descriptions are unique to your website.
Perform a word count: are your descriptions 200 words or more for each product?
Ask a friend for an objective evaluation of your product description copy. Is it helpful to the consumer? Does it contain phrases or keywords people would look up to find your product?
A solid product description will include specifications about the product in a clear way. It should help assist the buyer in making a clear decision.
Here’s a look at a Christmas light product, from Christmas Lights Etc.
They provide basic details about the product with a link to technical specifications in a lightbox:
Effective web copy draws your customers in through inbound marketing practices. The best web copy isn’t just searchable, but informative and relevant to your prospective customers’ interests and queries.
Google loves providing searchers with relevant information. People want a behind-the-curtains look at your business, and they’re looking for a hint about the humans behind the site.
This personal touch is something you can accomplish with warm and informative copy: it’s essential for building trust with your new customers.
3. Does Your Copy Answer Questions?
How do users find your site?
If you’re like most e-commerce sites, it’s likely a combination of:
Paid advertising on other sites and social media
Word of mouth or recommendations on social media
Web browser searches (organic search)
If you’d like to get a glimpse of what sort of questions you should answer, check out Answer The Public. Just select your region, enter your niche or industry, and submit. That crotchety old guy on the front page will reveal what types of questions people ask about your provided keyword. It’s a very powerful content generation tool most effective for useful blog ideas.
Here’s a look at the results:
With an online presence of any size, you should never underestimate organic search potential. The holiday seasons is a great time to start answering questions in the form of blog posts. If you do this well enough,
Google may even use your answers as a Knowledge Graph source. In the below example, Wikipedia is the source of information.
Has your e-commerce site passed our Cyber Monday readiness tests?
If not, there’s still time to invest in the quality of your site’s web copy before Cyber Monday hits!
At Express Writers, we offer a 72-hour turnaround on most services, and we’re here and ready to assist you with great content. Check out in the Content Shop, and use coupon code holidayshop5 for an instant 5% off.
This post, a full history on Google’s SEO content algorithm updates, has been updated by our team in May of 2017.
Infographic: A Timeline History of Google’s Major SEO Content Updates (An Actionable Retrospective for Users, Publishers, and Content Creators)
We’re used to Google updates and announcements now, but do you recall the old days of improved search? Panda, Penguin, and even Mobilegeddon really shook things up for content creators, publishers, and Google users.
Content writers have had to adapt considerably: not only do we have to know about past and upcoming changes, we must advise our clients on inbound content strategies that benefit the end user in current times.
About Our Google Updates Timeline
This timeline shows not only the Google SEO and algorithm updates, but how they affect content creation and content marketing.
This list also includes unofficial updates, during which users noticed fluctuations, but there was no official Google statement or announcement. Users affectionately branded these updates “ghost,” “zombie,” etc. Perhaps we’ll get vampires and werewolves soon, too!
I did not include each and every unconfirmed update, though I did mention them in some instances.
What: Analysts noticed search engine ranking changes, but Google remained quiet on the details. Google’s Gary Illyes said the update targeted aspects of already published guidelines, but observers specifically noticed the targeting of low-value content. Other algorithm updates preceded Fred, but details are sketchy and it’s unknown whether they are related to Fred.
Users: Better quality search results.
Publishers: As always, you need to be on top of your content game. Now is a great time to go back through some mediocre content and improve quality.
Content Creators: Work on restructuring and improving previous content to maintain or improve ranking.
January 10: Intrusive Interstitial Popup Penalty
What: This Google update penalized sites with intrusive pop up ads.
Users: Google is more likely to lead users to sites without annoying pop ups.
Publishers: Publishers must reconfigure sites to function and funnel traffic without pop up ads. Rely on persuasive content to meet your goals.
Content Creators: What is the purpose of the ads formerly appearing on the site for which you’re writing? Consider this strongly when you construct calls to action (CTAs) and the content itself. Use streamlined graphics to accomplish this task.
September 23: Google Penguin 4.0
What: Google’s algorithm began updating in real time and providing page-specific analysis, which was more specific than its previous incarnation.
Users: Outdated site changes and website hacks will affect your search results less often.
Publishers: Your pages may index faster when you publish or update content.
Content Creators: Even if it doesn’t hit Google News, your timely content has more value. You’re still competing with social media, but you can create a live blog that updates as time goes on, just as news sites do during major events. This is creating a liveblogging trend on regular blog platforms like WordPress – it’s not just for microblog sites like Twitter anymore.
In September of 2016, many site owners reported penalties and promotions in SERPs (search engine page results)
May 12: Mobile Friendly (Boost) Update
What: This boosted mobile-friendly sites in the SERPs beyond the existing preference.
Users: If you’re on mobile, this will serve you more posts that will display well on your device.
Publishers: There’s a further emphasis on mobile. If Mobilegeddon didn’t wake you up, this should do the trick.
Content Creators: Mobile-friendliness includes a lot of factors, not all of which are disclosed by Google. Mobile-friendly content contains short paragraphs, bullet lists (when applicable), and immediate information.
February 23: AdWords Update
What: Google axed sidebar ads. Instead, you got another ad at the top when you search (total four).
Users: Be aware of which results are ads (there’s still an ad box to the left of the result to indicate that it’s an advertisement). If you’re on mobile, ads will take up most of your screen initially after your search.
Publishers: If you’re not pouring money into advertising, direct your content efforts towards appearing in the Google Knowledge Graph.
Users: This helps you have a better search experience. RankBrain may not only learn about audiences in general, but you specifically, especially if you’re signed into Chrome as you browse. While that’s creepy, it’s also useful.
Publishers: RankBrain means your site needs to be geared towards usefulness, even if you’re selling a product. If you’re selling gardening equipment, your free garden planner and your how-tos should be front and center – NOT your latest sale item.
Content Creators: You’re officially writing for the people, not the search engine. You’re not in the race to rank unless you’re also taking the time to be the most useful.
There may have been an update/incident on October 15. This was an indication of what was to come – and also of the new normal, which means small tweaks and unannounced algo updates every now and then. People call this one the “Zombie Update.”
August: Local 3 Pack / “Snack Pack” Update
What: Google began showing three local map results instead of a list of seven.
Users: Google’s more integrated with its maps app now, so while you’ll get less results without having to scroll, you can click on any of them and easily navigate or call the business. Google will also tell you the hours of the business and other important info you need on the go.
Publishers: If you have a local business and want to know where to spend your advertising dollars to rank in SERPs, this may be your answer. There’s not a lot of real estate for local search results, especially on mobile devices, which people use most when they need something immediately. Make sure you have your business listed on Google and ensure your biz page and your website both list accurate hours and locations.
Content Creators: Check out the competition for local keywords. If you’re in a crowded spot (let’s say you’re writing for a Chinese restaurant in New York City), it’s not likely you’ll rank in the top three. Instead, you’ll want to focus on long tail keywords instead (consider “24 hour Chinese Takeout NYC” or “fast Chinese delivery in Brooklyn”). The future of search is also social, and it looks like Google’s going in that direction. If you can encourage readers to check in as your CTA, you’ll put the business ahead of the game.
May: Phantom 2 / Google Quality Update
What: This was another unannounced update that Google confirmed after the fact. Webmasters reported significant fluctuations. (I run a small website with quality content and noticed a positive change around this time.)
Users: You don’t have to worry much about this one; this just made it easier for Google to serve you useful results.
Publishers: This is indicative of a continual focus on quality. Publish better content, even if that means you have to do it less often.
Content Creators: Quality is increasingly important to Google. Aside from being informative, your posts must be polished: that means expert flow, short paragraphs, flawless grammar, and natural, authoritative links to more resources.
What: Google announced this one well in advance. Sites not mobile-friendly were severely penalized in the SERPs following this update.
Users: You can use your phone more! More sites are mobile-friendly for you.
Publishers: If your site isn’t mobile friendly, don’t even bother investing in SEO or content. You need to fix your site first so that it’s ready for mobile devices. You should know that mobile use has overtaken desktop use, and mobile usage rates are even higher in countries like India, where some internet users use phones and tablets exclusively. When it comes to UX (user experience), makes sure your site’s mobile version allows navigable menus and spacing between links for ease of use.
Content Creators: Think about how your content will look on a mobile phone. Infographics need to be responsive and vertical; you should also remember to keep your paragraphs short. Are you linking to mobile-friendly sites, or ones that will only frustrate your reader?
October: Penguin 3
What: This update tightened up the Penguin algorithm update. It’s reported that Google also rewarded sites that improved since the last Penguin updates.
Users: This update helps you get better quality search results rather than stuff link-spammed to the top.
Publishers: Take out your spammy links! It’s not worth it.
Content Creators: Continue to be mindful of the links you include in your posts. Make sure to check their domain authority and Alexa rating.
September: Panda 4.1
What: Google refined Panda, which penalized sites with low-quality content and bolstered some smaller sites with high-quality content.
Publishers: I was lucky enough to start my small website in 2013; I immediately noticed an upward shift in the SERPs after Panda 4.1. Good content gets a boost here. This one’s a win for the underdog, so keep publishing genuine, useful content.
Content Creators: At this point, many larger businesses are really committing to high-quality content because Panda isn’t going anywhere. Remember all that freelance work you lost as a result of Panda hitting ‘content mills’ and citizen journalism sites? Now that very same algorithm update will start to result in high-paying gigs from independent clients. It was a tough few years, but things are looking up for a talented writer.
What: Google issued “thin content warnings” to people who had sites with content that had little or no value. What did they have in common? They were mostly PBNs, or large networks of interlinked blogs meant to game the system.
Users: This helps you find sites with more genuine links and quality information. You’re less likely to come across an article that will lead you astray (to a gambling or porn website, in particular, if that’s not what you were looking for).
Publishers: If you’re using an SEO service, make sure they’re using white hat and grey hat (at worst) techniques. You really don’t want unnatural links in there. It’s a risky, short-term strategy that will only hurt you in the long-run. Make sure you thoroughly evaluate an SEO pro before hiring them. With old school tactics, you’re just paying to get hurt. Invest in a clean site structure and content instead.
Content Creators: Create pithy content and don’t stuff with fluff. Make sure your blog posts are 350+ words and cut the garbage to avoid penalties. Always use reputable links.
August: Google Ends Authorship
What: Google Authorship allowed authors to claim their digital identities and connect their posts to it. In search results, the author’s name and photo appeared near the result, potentially adding legitimacy to the post.
Users: Removing Authorship wasn’t a smooth move for you. If you read a lot of content in the same niche, you’ll probably recognize your favorite authors and know to click on their posts because they’re reputable. This update removed that ability.
Publishers: Make sure your site’s blog posts contain bylines. If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, set this to display the author’s name.
Content Creators: This isn’t a great move for you, because Google Authorship could help you build authority quickly. You should start your own niche blog, even if you update it infrequently (but regularly) to increase your authority in any given area. Consider a portfolio site as well. I recommend Pressfolios.
August: Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Boost
What: Google gave updates to sites with SSL, a security feature. Though the boost was minor, this was their way of encouraging SSL usage.
Users: This makes the web slightly safer for you, ranking secure sites above those that aren’t.
Publishers: SSL is best practice, so it’s something you should have anyway. Contact your web host provider and upgrade to SSL if you haven’t already. This is especially important if you have an e-commerce component to your site.
Content Creators: This shouldn’t affect you too much, but you can check to see if a potential client’s got an SSL site. If they don’t and they’re accepting money for services online, it’s an indication that they probably have no idea what they’re doing or that they’re very new to online commerce.
July: Google Pigeon
What: This update affected local search. This means it included not only local factors, but quality / organic factors as well. Google began looking at whatever website was linked to your Google Local page and integrated with Maps.
Users: This update helps you find better local stuff faster.
Publishers: Your Google Local (now Google Business) page will take tumble in the SERPs if your site isn’t up to speed.
Content Creators: Local content is increasingly valuable, and your client’s Google Business page will suffer if you don’t make the location clear on the content of the website. This includes not only copy, but also alt-tags, meta info, and photo captions.
In July, Google also removed photos from Authorship, so only the author’s name appeared. This should have been a warning sign about Authorship’s untimely demise. (We miss you, Authorship </3 ).
May: Panda 4.0
What: This algorithm update messed with rankings temporarily. For a short time, it took more than a month for changes to affect ranking. Sites that were too heavily optimized took another penalty here.
Users: For a while, you may not have gotten the most up-to-date information when searching, but it’s all fixed now.
Publishers: Avoid over-optimization. If you’re going for local results, don’t spam your location keywords. At this point, it only hurts you!
Content Creators: Focus on natural content. If your copy sounds unnatural, it’s better to use the keyword less and focus on genuine copy.
May: Spam Targeting
What: Technically a separate update than Panda 4.0, this update focused on queries that had a lot of spammed and keyword-stuffed sites in the SERP results.
Users: This kicked some of those Spammy McSpammerson sites to the curb!
Publishers: If you’ve got a non-spammy website in a legitimate but oft-keyword-spammed industry like law or casino gaming, you’re in luck! The spammy sites took a beating, and your site probably rose in the SERPs.
Content Creators: You might have noticed that certain industries still hired you to write some keyword-stuffed content. That’s about to change. This was an ideal time to re-brand yourself as a social media specialist, editor, or creator of high-quality content.
February: Page Layout 3
What: This update targeted sites with multiple ads above the fold. (Digitally speaking, that’s the first desktop view of page without scrolling.)
Users: You get results with less of those annoying ads crowding the top of the page.
Publishers: Time to change up your ad locations. Stop putting so many of them above the fold.
Content Creators: Focus on creating strong ledes and introductions in your blog posts. If you’re writing for a site that makes its money through ad revenue, your future income could depend upon making sure that reader stays on the page long enough to scroll down. Hold the reader’s attention so that they scroll down to see the ads and don’t bounce off the page right away. You should also include an internal link to another page on the site to encourage a lower bounce rate and better site structure.
December: Authorship Decrease
What: Google stated that Authorship wouldn’t be as important as a ranking factor. It’s the beginning of the end for Authorship.
Users: This may have changed the SERP results order just a bit for you, but not much.
Publishers: Authorship isn’t as important anymore. If you blog as your brand name, strengthen your About page to mitigate an increase in brand authority.
Content Creators: This is the beginning of the end for the glorious Authorship. It’s a good time to claim your own personal brand with your name as the URL. While you’re at it, snag a free about.me page and make sure you link all your social media from it.
In October-December, there were some DNS errors in Webmaster Tools and an announced Penguin 2.1 update. The consequences of Penguin 2.1 were not overt or noticeable.
What: Announced after its release, this update was an improvement on the query side, helping the algorithm understand what people search for.
Users: Google will give you some more relevant answers, make sense of misspelled words, and more.
Publishers: It’s time to take a hard look at what search queries drive people to your site. Keep looking, because the more Google refines its Hummingbird qualities, the better information you’ll get. Take note of what people aren’t looking at to find your site and adjust your content strategy to suit.
Content Creators: Start thinking about answering questions accurately. Write from the perspective of an answerer to a query. People look up “Chinese Restaurant San Francisco” and “What Chinese Restaurant has the best General Tso’s Chicken in San Francisco?” You need to make content addressing both of these questions.
August: In-Depth Articles
What: Google began highlighting long-form articles, or content it identified as going deep into the details in response to a user query.
Users: Want detailed information about something? This will help you find it.
Publishers: People crave in-depth knowledge about your niche, which means Google is thirsty for long-form content. Extend the length of some the content you publish, even if that means publishing less frequently.
Content Creators: Get good at long-form content and get used to making it – its importance is now noticeable. Your esoteric knowledge is becoming more and more valuable as time goes on. Now it’s time to shine.
July: Knowledge Graph Expansion
What: The Knowledge Graph grew. It began providing more information.
Publishers: What does the Knowledge Graph reveal for your topic? Make sure you update your site so that it presents all of the requisite Knowledge Graph data.
Content Creators: Make sure you’re thorough with the topic of your blogs and articles. Answer queries in your posts. If someone queries: “Where is the best place to buy organic apples in Louisville, KY?” then your content should be “Our Farm LLC is the best place to buy organic apples in Louisville, Kentucky.”
July included a crackdown on spammers and a confirmed multi-week update. There was also a confirmed Panda update of little consequence.
June: Multiple Panda Rollouts
What: Matt Cutts announced more regular Panda rollouts and updates.
Users: Searchers might have noticed sudden changes in search results if they looked up the same thing repeatedly.
Publishers: In some instances, sudden changes are reflected in Google Analytics.
Content Creators: Most industries aren’t too affected, but if you’re writing in the insurance or loan industries, it’s time to clean up your act and create quality copy.
June: Algorithm Update Targets Spammers
What: Porn, payday loans, and other categories frequently keyword spammed received specific focus in this algorithm update.
Users: If you’re legitimately looking for loans or pornography, you may receive more legitimate results.
Publishers: Keyword stuffing isn’t going to work for you anymore, especially in these categories. Adult content site Pornhub shifts organic efforts to produce targeted and educational content.
Content Creators: If you’re writing for a site in one of these categories, this is a time for your legitimacy to help you stand out. You can leap ahead in the SERPs by producing informative and educational content instead of just spamming keywords.
May: Penguin 2.0
What: Between 2 and 3% percent of English language queries were affected by another Penguin update.
Users: You’ll get more accurate search results but probably won’t notice a major shift as a result of this update.
Publishers: Ranking changes are generally slight, but possibly noticeable.
Content Creators: This is yet another clue to Google’s path and preferences – Penguin is here to stay.
May: Domain Diversity Update
What: This update allowed for a greater variety of domains to show up in the SERPs.
Users: Ever look something up only to find 10 results from the same website? This update will give you more options.
Publishers: Diversify your content and consider long tail keywords if you want to continue dominating SERPs. It’s a good time to invest in cornerstone content to strengthen your strongest page for a given keyword.
Content Creators: Use more internal links to create cornerstone content. You need to tell Google which page it should pick as Google’s now limited for each term.
December: Holiday Panda Update
What: Google rolled out a Panda update right before Christmas. They promised not to do a major update so close to a holiday again.
Users: Since this happened on December 21, it probably didn’t impact search results for most of your holiday shopping. This also happened well after Hanukkah, which ended on December 16.
Publishers: Your SERP rankings might have changed right before a major holiday. Your SEOs, web developers, and content writers may have been on vacation.
Content Creators: You were probably (hopefully) on vacation. Maybe you returned to work only to find a bunch of panicked emails about SERP ranking. It was altogether terrible timing.
Users: Autocomplete becomes more useful (and also more hilarious) as Google auto-suggests search terms more comprehensively in the search field.
Publishers: As Google fine tunes the algorithm, it’s apparent that accuracy is more important, as is search history. Build up your reliance on long tail keywords.
Content Creators: User intention improvements gives you a bit more leeway to write for the user and not the search engine. Google starts to recognize synonyms in a more useful way, so you can cut down on the keyword spamming.
September: Exact Match Domain Changes
What: This Google update lessened the impact of exact match domains (EMDs). EMDs are domains that match keyword searches; prior to this, “best shoe shop London” might automatically match “bestshoeshoplondon.co.uk”
Users: Your searches will be more relevant rather than just lead you to relevant-sounding domain names.
Publishers: Having the keyword in the domain name is still useful, but you really need to back it up with authoritative content.
Content Creators: This could result in more work for you. Publishers can’t rely on a domain name to draw in viewers; inbound marketing just became more relevant.
August: Limited SERP Results
What: For a limited amount of queries, only seven results showed on the first page of the SERP.
Users: You’ll get less results for certain queries, but they should be especially relevant.
Publishers: This means competition’s a bit tighter on the SERP. Relevance is key.
Content Creators: Some of your page one content could be on page two now. You could repurpose or significantly update the existing content to help it sneak onto page one. Improve, improve, improve.
What: Google began to penalize sites commonly accused of copyright infringement to comply with DMCA.
Users: You’ll get less results that lead you to pirated and illegally uploaded media.
Publishers: Don’t publish pirated or copyrighted material or Google will penalize you.
Content Creators: It’s time to really check yourself when it comes to copyright. Do you have permission to publish that song, clip, or photo? Always credit appropriately and don’t use something if you don’t have permission.
June: Inorganic Backlink Signals + 39 Updates
What: Google improved a lot: hacking detection, multi-language support, mobile autocomplete, news ranking, audio file support, SafeSearch, freshness, and “recent” feature on mobile.
Users: You’ll find an easier experience on mobile or tablet searching, and if you’re using an Asian language, the whole thing will make a lot more sense.
Publishers: Newsworthiness becomes more relevant – if your content qualifies for Google News, make sure you consistently use it (but only if this applies to your content).
Content Creators: Those organic backlinks mean even more, so consider doing some more guest blogging. This update helped Google better detect spammy links, which clears the path for natural links.
May: Knowledge Graph Implementation and 52 Updates
What: Knowledge graph began differentiating people, places, and things. It also began serving up some basic information about any given topic without requiring the user to click through to a website, but it did list a source.
Users: You can find basic info with one less click, thanks to Knowledge Graph.
Publishers: Updating low quality content doesn’t work anymore. If the content is low quality, you can no longer exploit its freshness for SERP ranking.
Content Creators: Answering user questions becomes even more important. You want to earn that Knowledge Graph spot so users click through for more information. Be sure to answer the question generally in the beginning of your content. If the question for which you want to appear in the Knowledge Graph is “What color is the American flag?” your content should say “The American flag is red, white, and blue.” A public domain image accompanying it may also help you rank in Knowledge Graph.
April: Google Penguin
What: This update penalizes SEO spamming, link networks, and purchased links.
Users: You’ll get more relevant search results, and hopefully, less spammy content.
Publishers: This is it – no more paid links or link networks. You need to rely on your own charm (and content) to win a SERP ranking. If you have content without these things, you should rank higher in the SERPs.
Content Creators: Don’t include shady links in your content and be especially particular with your links.
What: Google provides local search results even if you do not include a location.
Users: You’ll get relevant, local results. Searching for Italian food near you? You may get something in your neighborhood, even if you did not ask.
Publishers: This makes it easier for your local business to get found as long as Google can discern your location. If you have a brick and mortar location, make sure your full address is listed prominently on your site ASAP.
Content Creators: Make sure your content includes location information (city, state for those in the United States).
January: Ad/Page Update
What: Got lots of ads above the fold? Google’s not so fond of that anymore.
Users: You should have a better browsing experience with less ads in the way.
Publishers: Move your less lucrative ads below the fold to avoid this penalty.
Content Creators: Good ad copy is now more valuable than ever, as is knowledge about what makes an effective ad. Now is an ideal time to learn a little more about what kind of words make a digital ad work.
January: Google Plus Search Integration
What: Google uses data from your Google Plus experience to help you search.
Users: Don’t have a Google Plus account? That’s ok, Google will kind of force it on you and then use your data to improve your searches.
Publishers: Shareability on G+ is now a real factor. A G+ share button on your content/sites could go a long way.
Content Creators: Google is really paying attention to what people share. Your SERP position could rise or fall based upon shareability at this point.
Throughout 2012, Google also pushed out multiple Panda and Penguin updates, most of which affected 1-3% percent of queries.
→ Looking for history prior to 2012? Check out this thorough timelines from Moz and The Hoth.
How Have Google Algorithm Updates Affected Your Site?
Care to see how these algorithm changes may have affected your website? You can plot your Google Analytics data alongside this timeline.
Remember, various factors affect your website traffic as well, including virality of individual pieces of content, paid advertising, and more. Don’t forget to factor that in when you’re considering how algorithm changes may have affected your site.
As you improve and implement quality content into your inbound marketing strategy, keep a close watch on those analytics. Google Analytics will reveal information to make your copy more findable under the latest algorithm updates: such as affinities, niches, and demographics. Tailor your content to your audience.
Most website owners who employ inbound marketing see a lead in the quality of their traffic. You want people who hang around a while, consider you part of their community, and buy – not someone who found your site because you keyword spammed.
How Google Updates Affected and Shaped My Career in Writing, Editing, and Content Marketing (Authored by Tara C.)
Every web content writer has their own story and experience to reflect the complicated relationship between algorithm updates and writer. Now, we all know the key to bringing in valuable organic search traffic involves answering readers’ questions and providing them with genuine, informative, engaging content.
Strong writers who are writing in their native language benefit from this, and the value of high quality content is now much easier to prove – because it’s easier for searchers to find through the clutter, and it converts better.
During the economic downturn that began as early as 2005, I started writing at the now-defunct Associated Content (later known as Yahoo! Contributor Network) to supplement my income as a barista. My publishing jobs had been outsourced, so I figured it was time to go back to what I knew I could do.
The Era of Keyword Density: Part-Time Spammy McSpammerson
It was simple: you wrote and submitted it, they made an offer, and you could accept it. The offer was based on (usually evergreen) keyword acceptability and quality. Since keyword optimization and page views meant profit, I quickly learned how to write keyword-rich posts that were also interesting – I knew my growing social network factored in, so most of the posts were good enough that I could share them without feeling embarrassed. I had full-time jobs in publishing here and there, but I was always working at least part-time writing.
Enter: The Citizen Journalism Era
Soon I was writing for Examiner.com (that’s gone the way of the dinosaur) and CultureMob (also extinct) and even received a job offer to be a Patch editor. Soon I was making more as a freelancer than I could at a publishing job at my level, so I freelanced full-time.
Examiner was strictly newsy and third-person at first, championing local search and citizen journalism. They later crowded their site with interstitial ads and opened it up to first-person editorials as well. They also paid for referring other writers: I earned thousands of dollars over the course of three months by recruiting writers.
All my writing – from the semi-spammy stuff to the celebrity interviews – was affiliated with these large domains. When Panda rolled out, it was curtains for Yahoo! Contributor Network. Although Y!CN hosted some high-quality content, the older stuff and content users could publish at will (with no review and no offer) for page view money only was not necessarily high-quality. Those of us with largely quality posts went down with the rest of the S.S. Yahoo! writing ship.
I reached nearly 2 million page views before Y!CN closed.
I ended up in a full-time-turned-yet-again-freelance position writing small business websites, and during this time, it felt like Google algorithms and writers had an adversarial relationship. The algo hadn’t yet figured out to reward high quality sites; it had simply learned how to devalue spam.
At that time, it was hard enough proving value when it came to content, because there really wasn’t a high level of search engine and inbound marketing value for great content. This was life before online inbound marketing had taken off, and long before HubSpot proved content has value, helping the rest of us.
I wrote a lot of insurance and legal websites, but I also wrote copy for this psychic readings website.
Quality Copy and Personal Service
My gigs skewed independent and personal; my opportunities were more about book editing as CreateSpace took off and my background in self-publishing was of value. I helped businesses who didn’t care much about copy (they just knew they needed a website) and brands (including bands!) that needed persuasive copy to sell everything from franchises to proposals to records. In this respect, the value of content was starting to increase; people at least understood they needed to be more likeable and more findable than the competition as that was already the case for existing forms of advertising and branding.
That journey eventually led me more into a marketing space, and finally to Express Writers.