Though it might sound like something from Animal Planet, Google Panda is just as serious a matter for online marketers now as it was when it first released in 2011. As has been well-documented, Panda is a change to Google’s search results algorithm that Google continues to update regularly, with the expressed goal of lowering the rank of low-quality sites with thin content (e.g. “content farms”), while placing higher-quality sites near the top of search results. Google expects to roll out about 500 search algorithm improvements this year alone! The effects are wide-reaching, so in addition to webmasters staying alert, we as marketers can directly affect how our respective websites perform under the Panda framework.
Almost immediately after the initial launch of Panda, there were some interesting ramifications for online marketers that continue to hold very true today. For example, some news and social networking sites experienced a rise in their rankings, while many spammy, ad-heavy microsites dropped off the map altogether. Here are several important factors online marketers should keep in mind regarding SEO in a Panda-influenced landscape:
Authoritative, engaging content is essential. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing to see how many companies get hung up on the latest SEO discussions and threads without ensuring that their respective sites have truly good, useful content. Google analyzes numerous onsite metrics that indicate user engagement in your content, so it only makes sense that your content should compel visitors to spend more time on your site, interact with your content, and return regularly.
Ensure that links to your site are natural. Panda likes links from quality sources but will come down hard on you (and may even exclude you from Google’s search results) if your site is inundated with overly targeted links, especially if they are sponsored. Some career Web domainers learned this the hard way, but it’s clear that Google is looking to essentially reward companies and marketers who make a concerted effort to populate their sites with authoritative, useful, and shareable content.
Clean up site errors. Having users click on a link that leads to a 404 error is a very poor user experience. So be sure to perform maintenance on your website regularly. This means fixing any broken links, using the proper redirects, making sure your site can be crawled efficiently by Google’s bots, and more. Your website should run smoothly enough that user engagement with your content is not interrupted by any errors.
And now for some specific things to avoid:
Don’t pay for inbound links. It surprises me that there are marketers out there who still insist on trying to make this work. A paid link strategy is simply unsustainable, and Google is quickly improving its ability to spot paid links. Acquiring links naturally to authoritative, insightful content is both preferred by Google and highly effective.
Speaking of links, pay attention to warnings. If you or your clients’ sites receive a warning from Google along the lines of “You have a series of un-natural links,” you could be shut out of search results if you don’t change course quickly. There are a couple of options here One is to contact the webmasters linking to your website directly, with a request to take the link down. If that’s unsuccessful, then you can send a text file to Google’s disavow tool to let Google know that you don’t want those links to affect your site.
Avoid complicated sitemaps or navigation. With Panda, Google has pretty consistently made it clear that simple navigation is best; websites that require too much digging to find desired content could be negatively affected. In short, make your navigation simple! It will result in a better experience for your users and keep the SEO potential positive.
When Panda initially launched, there was a lot of trepidation surrounding its potential effects. While there have been some headaches along the way, I see its impact as primarily positive and the best practices as easy-to-understand. For marketers, it’s great to know that we can take the lead in ensuring that our clients or our own websites are adhering to practices that generally create a better user experience.
By Brian Rauschenbach of Add3.com