No I am not referring to the cute critters we all adore or Po (from Kung Fu Panda) that my daughter loves. The panda that I am referring to impacts almost every business with a website and is no way near extinction. On February 24, 2011, Google Panda was born to enhance the quality of search results by prioritizing rankings of websites that focus on “user experience”. The goal was to favor rankings of websites that are active, feature quality content, have minimal advertizing and employ user retention strategies. In fact, this was a major update to Google’s search algorithm and it had a significant impact on high traffic websites. Many businesses were ticked off because this not only meant reshaping their search engine strategy, but it also required restructuring their website to make the Panda smile.
Overall, the benefits were great. Gone were the websites that had clusters of links and auto-generated content enticing visitors to click. Websites that were using duplicate content pages to target specific keywords were penalized. Less priority was given to keywords in actual domain names and more weight was given to website content. All this resulted in a win-win situation by generating quality search results for users and a level playing field for online marketers.
History has shown that drastic changes spawn innovative ways to overcome challenges that occur as a result of those changes. The aftermath of Google Panda is that businesses have started to take search engine optimization more seriously and have prioritized their focus on user experience. Hence in the past two years, there has been more advancement in A/B testing and analytical tools that track user behavior than ever before. When my team is working on a website project, before we even commence the design I find that it is critical to analyze user behavior before so we can determine the current flaws and come up with a more effective, goal-orientated design. Great websites need to be beautiful but also functional.
Taming Google Panda
Google Panda will continue to evolve as it gulps websites and processes more content. In the most recent release of information during the SMX West Expo (March, 2013), Matt Cutts from Google trickled some details on what is to come later this year and how you can tame the Google Panda. Following is a strategy I would use:
1. Analyze Traffic
Extract the least performing pages on the website and analyze user behavior. Through Google Analytics you can see how much time people are spending on each page. In addition you can use mouse movement and click analysis software to view if users are even looking at the content below the fold by scrolling. Once you have some data, you can add content and redesign it to create more value for the page, or redirect it to a better and higher performing page.
2. Increase Quality Content Score
There are extensive guidelines just around content and the type of industry you are in. As a general rule, grammatically correct content that is interesting to read for the user is critical and should appear right from the start of the page. You can also incorporate social media sharing capability so interested users can tag it in their choice of social media platform. Finally, having rich media content such as video is a great way to retain traffic and address lazy people. All this would result in users spending more time on the web page.
3. Eliminate Empty Pages and Duplicate Content
Empty pages are like open graves waiting for the dead. They add no value and are considered a red flag indicating an inactive website. Duplicate content is normally used to target variations of keywords and is considered a borderline black-hat strategy. There are ways on how you can shape content so that it looks original, but technically isn’t. The Panda has brains to detect this now and will start penalizing websites that use this strategy.
There are many other elements that need to be factored in when it comes to ranking your website more effectively. For those of you interested in learning more, check out our blog posts on SEO.
This article was originally published in the April/May 2013 edition of the Business View.