The Google Panda Update’s Impact on Your SEO
Google is releasing updates to its search algorithm slowly under the Panda (or Farmer-Panda) moniker. In a series about Google’s algorithm— which was not so much about the massive equation itself, but what the equation seeks to accomplish and how a business owner or webmaster should work to develop “findable” content for all search engines— I touched on fundamental best practices for honest SEO. The changes Google rolls out will surely be adopted in some way by the other major search engines, so it becomes important to also consider them in your SEO mix.
In the SEO world, cries of “SEO as we know it has changed forever!” are sounding across the Interwebs. The first changes began in February 2011 and started to really take hold in June. Google is on a quest to make the web into a more fun, interesting, and informative place for all users by returning a higher quality of search results. That’s why their algorithm weighed out components like meta content, site structure, linking strategies, and the creation of fresh and relevant web content. This practice tried to weed out crappy websites, link farms, phishing websites, irrelevant search results, poorly written websites, websites leveraging black hat SEO techniques like scraping (defined below), and anything else that ultimately results in a poor search/web experience for the user.
Scraping: stealing content from other websites to post on your own, just to gain more indexed pages and credit from search engines. Many people create multiple awful sites with no purpose other than making money from ads, so they steal other content in order to gain traffic.
The Panda update now weighs website usability and content quality more heavily when deciding a site’s search results performance. This is one more step toward truer results, meaning websites that are found to be valuable and trustworthy will perform better and show up more frequently than websites that just play the SEO game. Now, site owners cannot create tons and tons of “relevant” content just for the sake of having content and search friendliness.
The idea now is that the web experience has to be great. There can’t just be voluminous information on a subject if it is boring and poorly laid out and not executed well. All the things I mentioned that help build SEO still factor in, it’s just not enough. Now your site has to be fun, informative, insightful, rich, and in a structure that is smart, engaging, shareable, and lends itself to a quality user experience. As Rand Fishkin, one of the SEO godfathers from SEO Moz, put it, “the job of a search engine optimizer has been upgraded to a web strategist.”
Webmasters can’t just play the SEO game, they have to take it further, beyond tricks that please the algorithm, and, as I mentioned many times before, create content and an experience that pleases your end user.
Google is doing this with a mix of man and machine. They literally have armies of Quality Raters, people that gauge a website’s usefulness, credibility, trust, quality, etc. These raters sort sites into piles of “great” and “not-so-great.” Then, an algorithm known as a machine learning process reviews the results of the human testing along with other traditional SEO indicators (links, meta data, etc.) and site metrics like traffic, time on site, average page views and other things you may be familiar with from Google Analytics. The data is compared and scaled for search result predictions.
Now the primary focus is on design and user experience, followed closely by content quality and site metrics. So a site that does most things right from a textbook perspective— it has a lot of links, tons of relevant pages, and things like that— may not fair as well as it did before if the overall experience is not deemed to be a high quality one.
Copywriters must continue to create content, but it must be relevant and engaging to take into account the human element. This should give them more room to be creative and evocative and also to use more varied media to deliver a message. SEO experts must work even more closely with information architects and designers to create a user experience that is memorable, and webmasters in general must be mindful of the purpose, execution, and engagement level of content and pages.
So Google’s new push asks websites to create useful, fun, and insightful pages that will develop an online brand that people love, trust, and share. All the basic SEO means still apply, but they apply to a much more organic (and human) end.
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