What Google Panda Means to your Website and SEO, and 3 Things You Need to Do Today

Have you noticed a change (for better or for worse) in your search engine ranking lately?  Google introduced an update earlier this year (Google Panda) that may have something to do with that.  If you search for Google Panda, you’ll find a lot of great articles where you can learn about the very technical side of the change but extracting what you need as a business owner or manager out of a technical article can sometimes be difficult. 

What is Google Panda?

Panda is a Google update that was first launched earlier this year, and version 2.2 was introduced within the last 10 or so days.  The basic intent of Panda is to focus search results more on quality content and less on sites that are nothing more than content farms (sites that piece together content from all over the web into what is sometimes a barely readable article for the sole purpose of high search engine rankings) and scraper sites (sites that republish original content on their own sites).  Both content farms and scraper sites make money from advertising revenue.  Their main focus is to continually publish content that ranks high in search engines to get as much traffic as possible to their site because traffic translates into page views, which translates into ad views, which translates into revenue.

A New York Times blog posted yesterday (“Google’s War on Nonsense”) explains in great detail how content farms work and how Panda directly affects them.

What do the Panda Changes Mean?

Panda brings a human element to search results, with human quality testers evaluating pages and Google then translating how actual people view pages into a complex algorithm.  This brings factors like site design, engaging content (vs keyword optimized content), site usability, and metrics into the SEO discussion.

Site Design

Does your site have a high-quality design?  Can site visitors easily find relevant content?  Do you have too many ads that may overwhelm visitors?  Is content displayed in a very readable format? Does the site design encourage visitors to stay or send them running back to other search engine results?

These are all questions that now have to be answered in any conversation about search engine optimization.  Search engine results are no longer based simply on keywords and how often you use them – site design is finally playing a role.

Engaging Content

Have you optimized all content on your site around carefully researched keywords in order to improve search rankings and increase traffic? 

That may have worked in the past, but optimized content is not the only game in town now. 

Content needs to be written for people because people that will visit your site and people will decide to buy (or not buy) whatever your product or service is.  When was the last time a search engine robot signed a contract to do business with you?

Your content should be relevant and engaging to the people who visit your website.  Of course it should still reference the keywords you have targeted for a particular page, but content that appears to be written by a robot who is just trying to say a particular word or phrase as many times as possible is not content that people will typically find engaging.

There is a great explanation of how Google Panda changes content strategy here.

Site Usability

How easy is it for an average visitor to find what they want on your site?  How many pages are users clicking on while visiting your site?  Is it easy for visitors to consume content on your site, or are they interrupted by ads or content spread across multiple pages?

These are all now part of the quality measures built into Google’s complex algorithm.  Make your engaging content easy to find, easy to view, and easy to click through for higher site usability scores.

Google Analytics

Google knows what all of your site metrics are and now they are using them as a factor in determining the quality of your site.  How many pages do people visit?  How long does a visitor spend on your site?  Does a visitor bounce off your site right away or stay a while?  Where does your traffic come from? 

The answers to all of these questions now play a role in your search engine rankings.  Google wants to present users with search results that are valuable.  If you have a high-ranking for a particular page, but users quickly leave the page after clicking on the search listing, that may indicate to Google that the content was not necessarily valuable.  If you have a high search listing, but visitors leave after viewing only that page, it could indicate a design or usability issue.  The human experience element is what Panda is all about.

SEO Impact

Let us repeat the sentence above: The human experience element is what Panda is all about. 

This is a good thing. 

Google is taking direct action against sites who employ old-school SEO measures like keyword-stuffing, keyword repetition, and irrelevant link-building by pushing them down or out of search results, in favor of real sites that are providing useful and engaging content.  This process is not fool-proof and there have been a few casualties experienced by good sites, but Google is working to address these issues.

If your site has relied on old-school techniques, it’s time to adapt quickly and start retooling your site to be more relevant and engaging to human visitors.  If you are working with a company or consultant who is still pushing a keyword stuffing or link-building strategy, it might also be time to find some new help.

How do I Adapt My Website? 3 Things You Must Do

1. Check Google

First, review the guidelines Google compiled to build a higher quality site.  This article doesn’t give you Google’s secret recipe, but does ask the questions you should be asking yourself about your Website, including:

  1. Would I trust the information on this site?
  2. Do your pages provide original content?
  3. Are pages targeted to natural human interests of visitors or to search engine rankings?
  4. Are there too many ads?
  5. Is the content edited well?

From the entire list of questions, find the areas where your site may be lacking or under-performing and develop a plan to address each area.

2. Find a Buddy and Visit Your Site

It is hard for most business owners or managers to visit their own website and look for potential design or usability issues because we are too close to it.  The solution?  Find a buddy – a colleague, friend, mentor, family member or anyone you trust to give you an honest opinion.  Make a list of the top 3-5 reasons someone visits your site and then walk through a typical user experience with your buddy doing the driving (clicking).  If the paths through your site or call-to-actions are not intuitive to your buddy, takes notes on his/her experience and ask what you could do to improve it from a site visitor perspective.  Ask if the content is engaging.  If it is, take notes on why so you can continue to make it engaging.  If it isn’t, ask how you can improve it.  Ask about the design, and if it is inviting or distracting.

3. Install and Review Google Analytics

If you don’t have Google Analytics on your website, get it there.  Quickly.  The information available is invaluable to your business and marketing efforts, and it’s a free resource. 

If you do have Google Analytics, schedule a minimum of 15 minutes per week in your calendar to review the reports and make sure you understand the various sections, terms used, and the impact of each metric on your business.  

Bottom Line

Your site must be relevant, inviting, and engaging for human users.  For too long, many SEO consultants and Google have focused on elements that did nothing to enhance the human experience of a site (and in some cases, degraded the human experience).  It’s time to bring back the basics of strong design that showcases engaging content and invites visitors to stick around for a bit and see what you have to say on your site.