Where Google Moved Your Digital Cheese

May 28, 2013

Anyone who’s been in the corporate world within the past decade-and-a-half has likely been exposed at some point to Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, a slender allegory by Spencer Johnson about dealing with change, summarized by Wikipedia as a tale featuring:

Who-Moved-My-Cheese“Four characters: two mice, ‘Sniff’ and ‘Scurry,’ and two littlepeople, miniature humans in essence, ‘Hem’ and ‘Haw.’ They live in a maze, a representation of one’s environment, and look for cheese, representative of happiness and success. Initially without cheese, each group, the mice and humans, paired off and traveled the lengthy corridors searching for cheese. One day both groups happen upon a cheese-filled corridor at ‘Cheese Station C.’ Content with their find, the humans establish routines around their daily intake of cheese, slowly becoming arrogant in the process.”

When the cheese eventually runs out, the mice and the miniature human characters deal with their new cheese-less situation in different ways. The mice, “Noticing the cheese supply dwindling… have mentally prepared beforehand for the arduous but inevitable task of finding more cheese.” The humans struggle more with their reality: “Angered and annoyed, Hem demands, ‘Who moved my cheese?’…Starting to realize the situation at hand, Haw thinks of a search for new cheese. But Hem is dead set in his victimized mindset and dismisses the proposal.” The point of the tale is to promote productive approaches to dealing with change.

With its Panda and Penguin algorithm updates over the past couple of years, and most notably the recent Penguin 2.0 update, Google has been busy moving the cheese for many marketers, webmasters and SEO professionals.

SEO practitioners who cling to outmoded tactics like keyword stuffing and link buying are likely to react like Hem, feeling victimized by their loss of cheese. Same goes for those SEO software and service providers still tout their ability to help create thousands of links through link exchange partners.

On the other hand, SEO pros who’ve always practiced white hat tactics are like the mice in the story; though they may still have a lot of work to do, they are well prepared to find new cheese. For the many who have seen their rankings and traffic devoured by Penguin, here are three places to look for new cheese.

Content marketing. This is where Matt Cutts officially says you should look for new SEO cheese. Produce great content, it will attract “natural” links, and your site will end up on page one of Google. The problem, of course, is that in highly competitive search term markets—like marketing automation, real estate, auto repair, social media monitoring, or SEO services—no matter how compelling or unique your content is, it’s unlikely to be seen (and therefore to attract links) if it doesn’t rank on page one of Google, and it’s unlikely to rank highly if it doesn’t have a lot of relevant, high-quality inbound links. Call this Catch-22 cheese.

The point isn’t that producing helpful content isn’t a fantastic idea, only that content marketing is not enough. In this way, Penguin seems to favor the same publications, A-list blogs, and name-brand websites that already dominate most searches.

AdWords. This is where Google would really like you to go, because it’s how the company makes money. There’s no question AdWords can be an effective component of online strategy—it’s controllable, immediate and finely measurable. But it’s also expensive. Call this gourmet cheese.

Web presence optimization. A web presence optimization (WPO) approach may be the most effective way to tame Penguin and Panda. By incorporating owned, earned and paid media, WPO optimizes your overall web presence, not just your website (though that remains the ultimate target destination). Cross-channel marketing metrics in WPO help to optimally allocate marketing and PR resources.

This is akin to the way grocery stores usually sell cheese: standard cheese varieties in the dairy aisle, exotic cheeses in the deli, organic cheese in the all-natural foods section, etc. Call this a distributed cheese strategy. Grocers do it because they sell more cheese by offering different varieties in multiple locations throughout the store than they would by stacking all of it in one area. The same approach can be effective in optimizing your company’s overall web visibility, regardless of Google’s ongoing algorithmic attacks on traditional SEO.

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8 Responses

  1. Tom, thanks for the insight on latest Google SEO “rules.” What do you consider the top three tactics for achieving WPO?

  2. Tom 

    Thanks Karen. Hmm, top three tactics…

    That question was initially addressed here a while back in Web Presence Optimization, Reloaded.

    Updating that post slightly, the top three tactics today are:

    – Start a blog (if you don’t already have one). It’s the best vehicle for creating and sharing fresh, unique and compelling content.

    – Develop social media relationships. Broadcasting doesn’t work on social media. Getting a core group of industry influencers to share and link to your content, by establishing real relationships with them, does.

    – Obtain relevant, high-authority links through a professional PR strategy (e.g., not just writing fluffy press releases and distributing them through free online services). Real PR requires an investment, but does pay off.

  3. Strategy requires great amount of patience in planning the right approach and having the right discipline and mindset in dealing with future situations. Thanks for these amazing insights, will have to share. Cheers!

  4. Tom 

    Indeed it does Matt. But Google’s recent moves indicate that it will reward long-term strategy over quick-fix tactics. Cheers to you!

  5. This is an interesting way of putting it, but Google are not out to get us, they just want quality results for users who want quality too, so give them what they want.

  6. Tom 

    Not exactly “out to get us,” no, but – while I have no sympathy for those who knowingly engaged in manipulative practices (e.g. link buying), it doesn’t seem right for Google to now penalize sites that were optimized using what were considered (even by Google) to be legitimate, white hat tactics at the time they were used. Rather than forcing webmasters and SEOs to guess which links to “disavow,” Google should just ignore links it views as low or no value. Regardless, the point is that all need to be more strategic about online visibility going forward.

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