How Google’s Recent Changes Affect the Online Content World


There’s been a sea change in the world of search-engine optimization in the past year, thanks to Google.

In February 2011, Google changed its “Panda” search algorithm to penalize sites that focused on low-quality, poorly researched content. “Content farms” that pump out hundreds of articles each day saw a huge drop in search traffic. Mega-sites like, Demand Studios’ network, and Yahoo’s Associated Content were all hugely affected.

More recently, Google launched its social network, Google+, which displays search results that friends have “liked” above organic results.

Elements such as duplicate content on multiple pages, empty content page, articles that repeat the same information, a high ad ratio, and auto-generated content are all subject to Panda penalties, according to SEOMoz. Chances are, such content won’t get a “+1” from Google+ users, either.

Both these changes mean that sites with well-researched, high quality content—such as that provided by professional content writers—are likely to gain more traction in search results. Does it also mean the end of SEO as we know it?

Not necessarily, says Rich Brooks, owner of the web marketing agency flyte new media in Portland, Maine. “While Google+ and personalized search results are part of the mix on a search engine results page, they only flavor what’s already there, and only on specific searches,” says Brooks. “For now, you still need to focus on good SEO if you want to be found on the web.”

Social media is important as well. Brooks recommends that writers should focus on building up their own social media platforms by attracting followers on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and their personal blogs in order to become more attractive to online publishers.

“Most writers will tweet or otherwise share their stories with their audience, and even ask for comments and feedback,” he says. “That will definitely drive more traffic, and improve the social/search algorithm publishers need.”

In terms of the types of content that will rank well in today’s Google searches, there’s space for both news-driven blog posts and original long-form reporting.

“Companies like Mashable (multiple, news-worthy, short shelf-life posts) and Social Media Examiner (one longer, researched, “evergreenier” post a day) are both successful in their own right,” says Brooks.

What’s most important is creating compelling content that will attract links from authoritative, highly ranking sites. A focus on high quality work—with some attention paid to SEO keywords and social media outreach—will help your content climb to the top of the search results.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG /

Monetizing Your Blog with Affiliate Ads

batch of american dollars

If you’ve built a blog and are beginning to get some traffic, launching some affiliate ad programs may be a good way to bring in some extra income. However, affiliate advertising differs from traditional advertising in that you’ll generally only receive a paycheck if your ad results in a purchase from the affiliated site. In some cases, you may give tens of thousands of ad impressions for just a few dollars; in others, you might make hundreds or thousands on a single campaign.

I’ve periodically run affiliate ads on, the site dedicated to positive news that my husband Jeff and I have owned and operated since 2009, and the affiliate programs have brought in anywhere up to several hundred dollars a month in supplemental income. Here’s what we’ve learned about making it work.

Research affiliate programs carefully. You can sign up for as many affiliate programs as you like, but it’s more difficult to collect your earnings, since many have minimum payout amounts. Look into signing with two or three larger programs, and base your decision on the affiliate commission and the number of products you’ll be able to link to: We use Amazon’s affiliate service for just about everything, since you can link to any book, CD, toy, game, or just about anything else you can think of directly on the site. (However, some states have banned site owners from collecting Amazon affiliate income due to tax reasons, so make sure you’re in compliance before joining the program.) If you’re interested in promoting individual e-books and other online services, an affiliate program like CommissionJunction will have many options available.

Choose the right products for the audience. It may seem like common sense, but don’t run affiliate ads for hearing aids on a website aimed at teens, or promote candy bars on a healthy eating site. In our case, the ads that typically perform the best are those that fit our “good news” theme, such as books and movies featuring inspiring, heartwarming stories. Because our audience is heavily female, we also have been successful with promotions for women’s shoes and other femme-friendly products.

Pay attention to timing. Generally, people will be looking to purchase products connected to specific events at least several weeks in advance of the event. Wait until the week of Halloween to post your round-up of the best kids’ costumes with affiliate links, and you’ve probably missed your sales window. We’ve found that the month leading up to Christmas is our prime time for affiliate sales, and we’ve capitalized on this by publishing gift recommendations starting around the end of November.

Don’t forget to disclose. In December 2009, the FTC determined that bloggers and content writers must disclose when they have a financial relationship to a company they’re promoting in a post, even if they haven’t earned any money from it yet. If you frequently publish content with affiliate links, consider adding a disclosure page to your website, such as this example from the Affiliate Marketing Blog. Failing to disclose could cause problems: Witness the recent controversy over Pinterest profiting from user-added content as a cautionary case study.

Pybop’s Shelly Bowen on Website Content Strategy

Portait Headshots of Shelly Bowen for PYBOP.

Portait Headshots of Shelly Bowen for PYBOP.Building a great website is about more than coding—it’s also about developing and producing informative, helpful content that fits a client’s brand and needs.

The burgeoning field of content strategy is dedicated to helping businesses define their content needs and build websites that integrate those goals. Ebyline spoke with Shelly Bowen, principal of the San Diego-based content strategy firm Pybop, about her take on this innovative new field.

What’s your definition of content strategy? What does a content strategist do?

Ah, those are big questions! Content strategy is the practice of ensuring that your content aligns with and supports your business goals. At Pybop, we have a 5-step process that is customized to fit the brand, budget, and resources (both people and content) of the client. This includes:

  1. Audit
  2. Analyze
  3. Plan
  4. Execute
  5. Review and Repeat

Here’s an illustration of that process.

The content strategist works with whatever resources are available to ensure the best outcome. In my case, I do a lot of asking and listening, organizing, and rephrasing to make sure I’m able to share the client’s brand story effectively across platforms.

How do you market your services and attract the right clients?

The large majority of my clients are referrals from other clients. But some find Pybop through social media, search, and old-fashioned networking. My approach is not to advertise, but to be as helpful as I can to potential clients and the content strategy community through different channels. I share articles I’ve read or written, I draw pictures, I share stories. In May 2012, I’ll be speaking at Confab, the content strategy conference.

At what point in the web design/development process should a company bring in a content strategist?

As early as possible. Content influences design and development, and design and development influence content creation and. These people all should talk strategy. The content strategist should be familiar with the responsibilities of designers and developers and their process.

How does a content strategist collaborate with developers and designers?

We discuss our individual approach to different aspects of the project, keep each other in the loop, and get ideas from each other. Specifically, after any of us finishes a piece, we’ll share and provide feedback. That way everyone has a chance to discover opportunities early.

What types of writers are good candidates to get into the field of content strategy? What sort of background and skills are most useful?

Freelance writers who have a broad range of experience may do best in content strategy. These are writers who have worked on many types of content — from advertising to whitepapers and everything in-between, who love to collaborate, analyze, troubleshoot, and organize, and feel comfortable presenting recommendations persuasively to different shareholders, including CEOs, marketing managers, and developers. They need to be flexible and change the gameplan on a dime, based on data and the people involved.

It might be helpful for writers to look at this list of content strategy deliverables to see what kinds of work they might be diving into as a content strategist.


Finding the Ever-Elusive “Real People” for a Story

New York Times Newsroom 1942 - Majory Collins

New York Times Newsroom 1942 – Majory Collins

Every freelance journalist dreads being told to quote a “real person” in a story. Experts are easy to find and love to talk on the record—but how are you supposed to find a random woman who’ll cop to the fact that she still sleeps with a teddy bear at age 50, or a man who’ll admit to an embarrassing medical condition like excessive drooling? Here are a few ways to track down those ever-elusive “real people.”

1., a mailing list with more than 80,000 potential sources, is the easiest place to start. Send out a query that states who you’re looking for, and you’ll almost always get at least a few replies: Some sources’ responses may be largely off-topic, and some may be focused on publicizing their own businesses, but by and large, you’ll generally nab a few people who fit with what you need for your story.

2. Ask within your own network – While HARO reaches a broader network than you can target on your own, you’re likely to have friends or friends-of-friends who will be willing to discuss a personal experience for your article. Consider starting a private email list that you can use to ask friends, family members, and business contacts for help tracking down sources. Don’t overdo it, though: No one wants to receive emails every single day asking for help finding a hairdresser in The Bronx to talk about perms.

3. Use social media – Building strong networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can do more than help you increase your own personal connections—these profiles can be valuable when you need to find “real person” sources. When you’re searching for a source, post a detailed message with the criteria of the person you’re hoping to find, and ask your connections to share the message with their own contacts. Chances are, even if one of your immediate connections isn’t a fit, someone you know like a fellow article writer will track down a willing source.

4. Post on forums – Looking for a classic car collector to quote for a story? There’s no better place to look than a classic car forum. Although you’ll probably need to register to use forums, you’ll be able to write a detailed post stating exactly who you’re looking for. If you’d rather not announce yourself and risk getting off-topic responses, you can browse the boards until you find a likely candidate, and then send that person a private message asking for an interview.

5. Ask professionals for referrals to their clients- Are you looking for a patient with a rare medical condition to speak on the record? Explain your article topic to a few doctors who work with such patients, and ask for their help. Any good doctor will refuse to give you his patients’ confidential information, but, if your article seems promising, he may be willing to pass your contact information along to his patients so that they can get in touch if they wish to be interviewed. Doctors aren’t the only professionals that might be helpful: “When looking for people to fit a certain demographic, real estate agents can be a great source,” says Joan Caplin, a freelance journalist and researcher from New York City. “Outside of accountants, no one knows more than real estate agents about a clients’ finances, marital status, taste and sanity.”