Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Panda – You Must Do Things Google's Way

Since February 2011, the way in which webmasters and site owners build site traffic has had to focus to a far greater extent on high-quality, useful and innovative content rather than traditional SEO. This is thanks go Google's ironically named Panda algorithm, which was the first of a string of new search algorithms which transferred many of the top positions in the results pages away from sites which are persnickety with SEO parameters to those with dependable and useful content. Of course, SEO tweaks are still quite important alongside important site improvements, but dealing with this shift and with the regular tweaks which Google releases are a fundamental part of maintaining site traffic.

The Site Killer

When the first Panda Algorithm was released, it affected the search ranking of 11.8 percent of all US search queries, shaking the business structures of many companies who's models depend on their web traffic. For example, sites with lots of links and advertisements but very little real content – which used to rank well with the right work – would be regarded as 'shallow content' and would loose out. Further to this, sites with separate pages which were specifically designed to flag search results according to their names, rather than performing a real function on the site, would get punished. The qualitative change, about which Google was vocal, is that SEO was to count for less and originality for more. As a direct result of this, sites like took a large hit, while dependable authority sites like broadcasters and large institutions benefited.

Surprising Mistakes

No algorithm is perfect, of course, meaning that it is possible for Panda to mistake an honest and dependable site for one which is trying to exploit the system. As SiteProNews observed, a few mistakes can mean that great content is missed by Google because of other facts about a site which look suspect – meanwhile, competitors who have their SEO-houses in order will gain the traffic. SiteProNews observed how a certain website which provided original and quality content and an honest service was loosing out, due to a variety of Panda's particulars. For example, the site featured a number of pages which were intended for authorized distributors of their product – featuring little more than variations for state and country parameters. It appeared that Panda was mistaking these pages for Doorway Pages: sparse pages (stuffed with keywords) which dubious sites use to attract hits then redirect to other places on their domain.

The site also featured 89 testimonials, each with its own post – this sounds great for customer relations, but Google would see this many separate posts, with no headings, no images and not that much content, very 'thin' indeed. As a response, the site put up a 301 redirection on each of these posts and aggregated them into a widget, embedded into the sidebar of the homepage. This enabled them to get the benefit of each review, while not making it seem like they were posting thin content. After these adaptations the site recovered its popularity, in one case jumping 55 page ranks.

Action Plan

So, any site owner who wishes to get great results will have to set about uploading some unique and useful content. Obviously, if this is your vocation then it shouldn't be a problem; if not then there are plenty of businesses to which webmasters can outsource the creation of unique material. It is important to remember that Google is providing a service to it's users, they seek to provide a page of search results which features a range of information from page to page, meaning that if a user doesn't find what they are looking for after their first click, they can go back, click elsewhere, and are likely to find what they seek in the end, this isn't possible if the content on all of the pages is similar. As a result, sites which upload content which resembles existing content or which is generic in nature will probably rank low because it will not provide new information to users. Moreover, it is not enough to be subtly different from competitors; an artificial intelligence is making the decision, so the distinction must be impossible to miss.

SEO is clearly still a necessary part of a webmaster's strategy for creating a popular site, but the era in which site owners could manufacture hits through playing the search engines is gone. In many ways SEO is now about making it so that a site doesn't hurt itself by offending one of Google's algorithms – this, alongside a few keywords, should be enough to let great content do the work.

This is guest post written by Lisa Patterson

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Cygnis Media said...

Thanks for the heads up on Panda. I hadn't heard there was going to be another update. I wasn't hit by the previous Panda/Penguin updates, but then I try to post information that people want to read first, then optimize it second. Best not to get these priorities confused if you want to stay on Google's good side....

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