Once upon a time, search engine optimization (SEO) seemed pretty straightforward. The formula stayed the same article after article. Choose a keyword people were looking for that was even slightly related to your site or article. Use that keyword over and over a set amount of times, use it in a heading or two, add a bit of code, some meta data and wave a magic wand. Your site would rank great in Google. Then, a new animal arrived on the scene…
Not So Gentle Panda
Pandas are supposed to be cute and cuddly right? Not always. It would behoove website owners to remember that pandas have claws and so did Google Panda. Many content farms saw their traffic drop by the millions during the early implementation of Panda and some innocent bystanders got caught in the resulting tsunami. While the positives and negatives of the changes can be argued (less poor content, better content for site visitors), it won’t change the fact that SEO as we knew it is gone forever. As website owners, we can adapt or be scratched to death, and Panda wasn’t the only change Google has made or will make. In fact, Google reserves the right to continuously change their algorithm and you can be almost certain they will do so to keep advertisers happy as advertising is where the revenue comes from.
A Look at Changes in the Last Year
While the initial Panda changes back in 2011 were probably the most drastic and hit website owners the hardest, there have been a whole host of changes in 2012 and already in 2013. Studying the features Google has looked at can help you predict what changes might be upcoming. Here are some of the things Google looked at with each new update:
- Image searches and if the image was of quality and matched the keyword, relevancy of site links, quality of webpage descriptions. Google also took a new approach to pages with “top-heavy” ads or ads above the fold.
- How fast the page loaded, when it was last updated and if spelling was correct weighed into ranking. Yes, they even looked at spelling! Google also integrated “Venice”, which looked at local content and if it was relevant or not.
- In April of 2012, Google rolled out Penguin or the “Webspam” update. In other words, if your site has too many ads, your site is keyword stuff or you are trying to sell without offering valuable free content, your site will be penalized. Webmasters also figured out that parked domains are given less value with Google’s systems.
- Google changed their algorithm to give a boost to a site that uses sources from reliable or trusted sites. This might include an educational institution or government website, for example.
- Exact-match domains are no longer given premium ranking. In other words, you can’t just buy a domain name like perfectsitename.com and take advantage of search engine traffic without adding valuable content as well.
Some Inside Information
Were you aware that Google hires outside companies to put rankers to work evaluating websites for Google? While it is uncertain whether this information is used to actually rank the site or to make changes to the algorithms, I was able to take part in this activity. While I can’t share details exactly, due a non-disclosure agreement, I can tell you what I’ve changed on my own sites since that time that has been successful for me (wink, wink). I also work for a lot of sites that have what I like to call “extreme SEO experts” and I use the tidbits I pick up from them.
- Add regular content that is of high quality.
- Forget keywords for the most part because they no longer work the way they once did. Of course there are some exceptions to this, but don’t focus so much on the keywords as trends in what people want to read.
- Check out what others have written and write more, different, better content.
- Reduce the advertising on your site to no more than one or two ads per page and put them below the fold (top third of your page).
- Remove links to any outside sites that are not ranked high with Google.
- Check your backlinks, too. Are there sites that are spammy or low quality linking to you? You can be penalized for this. E-mail the website owners and ask to be removed.
- Make sure that your images are tagged properly and are high quality for the search (alt text) terms.
- Spell check and then have a friend check again for you (remember that you will be penalized for spelling errors).
- Design and navigation is important.
Recovering from Panda’s Trampling
If your website saw a huge traffic drop and you’re still trying to recover from the raging panda Google unleashed, take it in stages. Because the way people conduct business online changes from year to year anyway, you must first learn to be flexible. The marketing that worked back in 1995 (including participating in listservs) no longer works in 2013. You only have so many resources and so much time, so focus on a handful of changes that can increase your site ranking and traffic and let the rest go.
- Add new content at least once a week, but it’s better if you can add more often. Make sure that content is well written (spelling, good quality, etc.). Link to authoritative, high quality sources. Make sure it is something your readers want to read.
- Start a mailing list and newsletter. Some people visit your site, enjoy it and then never return. Change this. Stay in touch. Give them a free report for signing up for your monthly newsletter. Once you have people on your mailing list, you are less dependent on Google for traffic, since you’ve created a repeat visitor of your own.
- Edit old content to match it to current algorithms or delete it if it is no longer timely.
- Seek links from quality sites, but only when it makes sense within an article.
The Future of Google Panda/Penguin/?
What does the future of Google’s Panda, or whatever they are calling it these days, look like? One thing is certain. The algorithm can and will change, probably tomorrow. When you look at the changes made since 2011, it is readily apparent that Google frowns upon poor content, content farms, sites that seem too spammy or self-serving.
Do your site and your SEO a favor and focus on giving your readers quality. Offer highly relevant content, articles that are the right reading length for online (600 to 1000 words is ideal for most sites), provide images that make sense for the article, check for spelling and grammar errors and strive to improve your site visitors’ experience. If you focus on the quality of your site, you’ll soon forget about the stresses of SEO and figuring out what Google is doing. Instead, you’ll wind up with a site that is so fabulous that it won’t matter what changes Google makes. Visitors will flock back time and time again and this alone can help improve your ranking.