Google's Panda Updates Make SEO Easier

Date: Aug. 22, 2011 By: Georgia Joseph Topic: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What if Google could read your mind?

google-panda-updateWhat if every time you performed a search, you got exactly what you wanted the first time?

  • No hotel results when you want to visit a local historic landmark 
  • No consultant sites when you want a writing template 
  • No recipe lists when you want a single recipe

Better yet, what if your web pages landed at the top of the results every time the information on them was exactly what the searcher needed? Those days are here.

Bringing new visitors to your website is now easier than it's been since the invention of the search engine.

Approximately once a month beginning in February 2011, Google has been releasing a series of changes—called Panda Updates—to its search algorithm. Using machine learning, the updates incorporate human value ratings into a website's ranking. If you ever wanted to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) without a lot of experience or specialized knowledge, your time has come.

How does Panda work?

Panda is all about the user. Panda works by filtering out websites that provide a poor experience for their visitors.

It's like commercial fishing. If the goal is a tasty salmon catch, the time it takes to remove ratfish from the trapnet costs the business money. Junk sites are the ratfish of the Internet: bottom feeders with a mushy, unpleasant taste. Panda learns from the sites that are "thrown back" by human raters, and adjusts the algorithm so that fewer and fewer of these are caught in the "net" on following searches.

Why should I care about algorithms?

At Five Q, we work primarily with non-profits and Christian ministries. If you're reading this, there's a good chance your website exists to change the world for the better.

People want answers to the burning questions of life. How can I be a better wife? Husband? Parent? Does God care about me? Why did my friend die? If you are grieving the death of a loved one, do you want a list of funeral homes or a thoughtful reflection on Psalm 23?

People want to contribute. They want opportunities to serve. If you see a homeless person on the street and want to help, do you need a social research paper or the address of a local shelter?

What are the "gotchas"?

Non-profits and Christian ministries are often short on resources, which means that website content can easily become stale and outdated because no one is available to keep it fresh and current. Sometimes a staff member will quickly drop a short paragraph or a list of links onto a page, planning to improve it later, and never get back to it. In the Panda world, these pages are a poison pill for the entire website.

Non-profits and ministries usually have depth of expertise that does not get translated into depth of content on the web. This is unfortunate, because Google values expertise, and Panda will allow them to get better and better at recognizing and rewarding it on websites.

What are the keys to success?

The first and most important key to success is intimacy. You don't have to be an expert in artificial intelligence or mathematical algorithms to successfully rank well with Google Panda. You do need to be intimately familiar with your audience, your audience's needs, and how you can uniquely meet them.

In addition, a basic understanding of some SEO editing practices will help.

1. Web Page Editing

What: Use visitor behavior to identify valuable content.

Why: "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife." People type queries into search engines for specific reasons, and they know when they've found what they want. The math is going to get increasingly better at discerning when that has happened.

How:

  • First, identify your website's top performing pages and use your "audience intimacy" to pinpoint why the pages are successful. They will have: 
    • Higher time on site/page 
    • Lower bounce rate 
    • Lower exit rate 
  • Next, identify your website's poorly performing pages and compare them with the top performers, noting obvious and subtle differences. 
  • Improve or remove the poor-performing pages. 
  • Monitor results, remembering that an effective and necessary page may be visited briefly because it exists as a roadmap to guide your visitors deeper into the content on your site.

2. Web Content Development

What: Beware of pages that contain only a sentence or two, or that consist of a collection of links to other websites without context.

Why: It's like a spice rack with plenty of paprika, but no pepper. Panda is penalizing websites for having thin content on just some of their pages (even though there is excellent content elsewhere on the site).

How: 

  • Remove pages that provide little value to the reader until you have the time to edit or rewrite the page so that the content is unique, authoritative, and compelling. 
  • Don't create pages only for links (such as "Our Partners"). Put them in context and let your visitors know why they are important.

3. Keyword Placement

What: Avoid a neat and tidy approach to keyword distribution and density.

Why: It's like a teenager's bedroom, where the badge of authenticity is its random disorder. Machine learning is going to allow the web spider to develop a much more accurate grasp of "natural language"—the way people actually speak and write.

How:

  • Make sure the keyword phrase is relevant to the page, and appears frequently enough to be effective, including having a prominent spot at the beginning of the body copy. 
  • When in doubt about keyword placement, err on the side of natural language. If a page is not appearing as high in the results as you think is should, try removing one or two instances of the keyword phrase.

4. Meta Tag Writing

What: Concentrate your meta tag writing efforts on what the visitor will see more than what the visitor will not see.

Why: It's like a sign on the interstate that previews the services available at a given exit. Meta tags work this way for both users and search engines.

How:

  • Place your targeted keyword phrase in the title tag and the description tag as close to the beginning as is natural. This generates clicks due to the psychological effect of seeing your search query in the results. 
  • Place your keyword phrase in the ALT text, so that visitors with disabilities have the same access to information that other users do. 
  • Place your phrase in the headline (the h1 tag). After all, it is what your page is about.

5. Technical Excellence

What: Pay as much attention to the mechanics of your website as you do to the design.

Why: It's like an aircraft: it flies because of the excellence of its engines, not because of its paint job. The paint job is there to let people know if they are on the right plane.

How:

  • Work with your web developer to ensure that the source code is clean and that it doesn't force the web spider to wade past hundreds of lines of code to get to your content. 
  • Insist that pages load completely in one or two seconds. 
  • Budget for information architecture. Confusing site structure = poor user experience.

What else should my website offer?

  1. Media. Why? Because rich media offers a unique experience. Panda is all about providing the best possible user experience.
  2. Design. Just because design shouldn't be emphasized at the expense of technical excellence doesn't mean it isn't important. Great design is a key factor in great experience. 
  3. Relevance. Give your visitors a reason to stay that is better than any of the other ten results on the page. 
  4. Anticipation. Offer something fun, diverting, or intrinsically fascinating to do next.

Conclusion

A local radio station recently ran this promo, "We won't force you to listen to our music, but only because the technology for that hasn't been invented yet."

When people first come to the web with a question, they don't know what they don't know. If Google has its way, its search engine will increasingly be able to "force" what searchers want to the top of the results, despite the unavoidable knowledge gap that exists.

With Google's Panda Updates, if your website has trustworthy information, practical experience, and expertise, your chance of being one of those results just got a whole lot better.

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