After some sites have been seeing ranking fluctuations, speculation is starting to build about a potential new Panda update from Google.
We're certainly intrigued as to what a new Panda update could mean for small businesses and content marketers. From what we have learned, it seems that the update will be less of a quality penalisation (which we have previously seen) and more of a quality assessment, where Google is re-assessing what it sees as good and bad ranking factors and encouraging sites to up the quality of the content on their site.
It is expected that Google will:
The new update highlights the need for truly valuable content; content that is useful, relevant and engaging for the target audience. Now is the time to really focus on and invest in creating high quality content.
There are two top-level actions you can take as the owner or manager of your business:
After speaking with a contact at Google, we've learned that Google wants online marketing to be an even more integrated part of a company's marketing function, where online marketers and SEO experts work together to devise strategies and produce content that is highly detailed and relevant to their audiences.
But Google is also aware that many digital marketers don't have long-term content plans and that one-hit-wonder content ideas don't build on a wider digital marketing strategy.
The Panda update will affect a wide range of business types, it's not just content aggregators that are going to be affected by the update.
Consider how the update may impact your business and industry. Are you selling a service? Ensure that all of your services are represented throughout your site with well-written service descriptions and structured supporting content.
Are you selling a product? Think about your product pages – are they well-written? Product descriptions should be unique to your site and have strong levels of information, if they don't, then you may see drops in rankings.
We believe that Google's strong focus on content is going to continue well into the future. If the search giant is going to retain their very large market share, then they need to continue to provide the highest quality search results. Meanwhile, business owners must invest in an effective online marketing strategy, regardless of algorithm updates.
Google recently announced that it would be slowly rolling out an improved Panda algorithm. As Google gets up to speed with its latest updates, so should you with your website.
Here are some things to consider:
One of the big changes Google has implemented with Google Panda 4.0 and 4.1 is its tracking down of poor-quality or "thin" content. If you publish short pieces of content with next to no useful information in them, the chances are that Google will not rank you very highly. So if your website is image-based and doesn’t share much in the way of useful, relevant content, now could be the right time to change that. What used to work for SEO may not work any longer.
Google says that it considers over 200 factors when ranking a website, and one of those that has become more influential recently is website and page loading times. Not only have people lost patience with slow-loading web pages, but they are also less like to convert if they visit a website that takes an age to get where they’re going.
It’s not just people you need to consider; Google’s spiders don’t appreciate the time it takes to crawl your pages. Use one of the many online tests to find out how fast your website pages load.
If your current website is a bit outdated or you’re starting from a blank canvas then it is a good idea to address the design of your site. It should be easy to navigate for both visitors and Google’s spiders. Try to include internal linking to speed up the customer journey and make navigation as clear as possible.
It is also important to test your website on a number of browsers (including Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer) to ensure it performs the same on each one. You can do this using BrowserStack.
Another thing Google considers is the amount of time each visitor spends on site, so although aesthetics can play a part in reducing Bounce Rate, the overall design and navigation is important.
An algorithm update might not always be a problem to some businesses, but for others, the changes will work against them. This recent update could have an impact on your visitor stats and if they have begun to decline or suffered a drop, then you know it’s time to make some changes.
Traffic to your website and pages is a good indicator of performance and by using analytics, you can usually see what has gone wrong. So keep a keen eye on your stats over the coming weeks to see if your website needs tweaking.
Copyright © 2014 Thomas Stocks, Varn Media.
Read Rory MccGwire’s blog on how Google is finally rewarding the right websites on the Atom Content Marketing website.
The world of search engine optimisation (SEO) has changed. Websites that tried to trick Google are now reaping what they have sown, with disastrous results. Instead of getting lots of traffic and making lots of sales, their SEO tactics have led to the exact opposite result. No traffic and no sales.
The sad thing is that the owners of these websites often had no idea what their SEO agency was up to. The owners were offered “No.1 ranking” in return for cash, and simply handed the money over.
Typically that cash was used to pay ‘link farms’, based abroad. These are the bad boys of the SEO world. Many of them use automated systems to ‘scrape’ content from respectable sites such as the Marketing Donut and upload it onto a series of new sites. They then sell links from these new sites, to boost the ranking of whichever web pages those links go to.
But Google algorithms are always getting smarter. And Google also has a small army of humans who search out and penalise such ‘black hat’ SEO practices. Well known websites such as Interflora and Halifax — and more recently the law firm Irwin Mitchell — have found themselves removed from the Google rankings. In 2013 Interflora only reappeared in the rankings once the company had already missed out on millions of pounds worth of flower sales over the crucial Mother’s Day period.
Noisy Little Monkey has been brought in to sort out several such messes and in one case we found no fewer than three million spammy links in place — none of which the website owners knew about, as they had simply trusted the SEO agency to get on with improving the rankings.
Google eventually has to reinstate big brands such as Interflora, as so many people search specifically for the brand name and Google has to serve its users. But the same is not true of a small business. In some cases you cannot even re-use your old content on a completely new website, as Google treats it as the same website that was given the penalty previously. At this point businesses are better off jettisoning their website and starting afresh with a new URL and new content.
All of which is irrelevant if you have always followed the guidelines that Google publishes. These guidelines can be summarised in two words: Don’t cheat. If you do anything that is not ‘natural’, it is probably cheating. Paid-for advertorial that has a link back to your website is cheating, as that link would not be there unless you had paid for it. So if you want to do advertorials, make sure that any links in the content are ‘no-follow’ links.
And we can all recognise a spammy link when we see one. For example, those annoying website comments: Great post! Paul Paul’s Office Furniture [with an optimised link to a page on Paul’s furniture website]. Unless the comment and the link are contributing to the discussion, the purpose of such comments is as obvious to Google as it is to the rest of us. ‘Low value’ links like this will not help your website’s rankings at all.
Proper SEO in has always been about optimising each page. The easy wins are the same as they have always been. Choose one or two key phrases that you want a page to rank for. Mark up the HTML carefully. Optimise the page title of each page. Make full use of high quality online directories such as Google+ Local, Yell and maybe your local chamber of commerce (ie those directories that people use to find things) and make sure that your contact details are identical, including even the spaces in your phone number — which ideally should have a local code and not an 0845 code.
Above all, you need to have high quality content, because that is what Google and the other search engines are all about. Put yourself in Google’s shoes. If someone searches for ‘Solicitor in Bristol’, there may be 50 firms to choose from. Which one would you rank at the top? It would be the site that has traffic, that visitors spend time on, and that people link to and mention in blogs and in social media — all of which adds up to a winning digital footprint. It would not be a site that people arrive at and then quickly leave.
Finally, if you are using an SEO agency, make sure you know what they are doing. Google Webmaster Tools is free and is easy to use. If nothing else, just look in the messages section. Any really bad news from Google about your website will be in there.
Listen to this cry of anguish. It came from someone commenting at the end of a blog post about Penguin 2.0, which (as I will explain) was an update that Google made to its search ranking algorithm.
To paraphrase: "For eight years I have been trying to follow the twists and turns of what Google wants websites to do. Every time I finish making changes, Google changes the rules again. I am trying to make my ecommerce site successful, but I cannot. I have lost my life savings on this business. I am not going to bother changing after this. If Google moves the goalposts again after Penguin 2.0 they can go **** themselves."
That was in May. Later in the summer Google released the Hummingbird update, a change to the algorithm that was an absolute whopper.
While I completely sympathise with the person whose savings had run out, there is a positive aspect to the changes that Google endlessly makes.
Consider these changes over the last ten years, each one given a name rather like the way hurricanes are named:
2003: Florida update penalised websites that were stuffed with spammy key words.
2004: Brandy update penalised too many synonyms (eg wealthy is a synonym of rich).
2005: Bourbon update hit duplicate content; Big Daddy update hit low quality reciprocal links.
2009: Vince update rewarded news authorities and recognised brands.
2010: Mayday update rewarded specialised niche websites.
2011: Panda update tackled “content farm” websites full of SEO-based content. And as well as algorithms, Google used human testers to identify low quality content.
2012: Penguin update further penalised spammy links.
2013: Penguin 2.0 hit spammy links and other SEO deception activities even harder.
Yes, put simply, Google is trying to penalise the tricksters and reward those of us that provide good, honest, high quality content.
Now Hummingbird moves beyond looking at the mere words in a search; it attempts to understand the full meaning of the query, so it can then deliver search results to match. So you can expect websites that answer lots of questions to do well.
The poor guy who spent eight years losing his life savings on an ecommerce website will have known all along that Google would gradually improve its search techniques, but meanwhile he had to compete using the techniques that were delivering the best results that month. Alas there was no easy option for him, even with the benefit of hindsight.
We are now getting to a point where all of us can focus on content that meets the needs of the website user. The Donut websites have done this all along — because our revenue is not advertising-based and so we do not rely on high traffic figures. So ironically we have ended up with better traffic than sites that may have invested huge sums in SEO.
Rory MccGwire is the chief executive of Atom Content Publishing, publishers of the Donut websites.
“Increasingly, the internet has become the place where we live our lives. But in the end, a small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world.”
A lot of our clients are struggling with the speed of change — in social media, in marketing and in customer behaviour. They are also struggling with innovation.
A friend (thanks Alan Boyd) recommended Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. Boy am I impressed. It is a book that covers the impact of the introduction of personalised search. My search results on “soccer” will be very different than yours — and that has all kinds of consequences.
This book touches on privacy, data, innovation, culture, the role of news, democracy, marketing, selling, tracking and much more.
What this book shows is that Big Brother has arrived and he is called Acxiom (billions of data profiles), Bluecavia (database of every computer, mobile device, piece of hardware), Google and Facebook.
Thanks to this book I have learned lots of new terms and concepts, including: attention crash; click signals; retargeting; advertar; and information obesity. I have also learned some interesting facts — for instance, did you know that:
We are literally becoming what we click. As with food, you are what information you consume (information obesity). The ultimate consequence is the threat of monoculture (1984).
Through manipulation, curation, context and information flow, you can be managed. Imagine a world where Google searches, Facebook likes, your e-mails, your documents (Google docs!), your DNA, your location data from your smartphone, radio frequency identification (RFID) on all the items you bought, the data from cookies on your computer and more are all combined and are then used to: sell, manipulate and influence.
Increasingly, the internet has become the place where we live our lives. But in the end, a small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world. Protecting the early vision of radical connectedness and user control should be an urgent priority for all of us.
The lessons for business; opportunity, threat, be aware, take a position.
Back in February I wrote about the growing fashion to buy up multiple keyword-rich domains — like “big-grey-widgets.com”, “small-grey-widgets.com” etc — in the hope of gaining higher rankings on Google. There was some evidence that this type of domain could indeed rank well, without requiring many inbound links. At the time, though, I cautioned against this approach. Google has a history of acting against such practices by de-emphasising the spammy element and wiping out any benefit gained. Since then, we have seen it do just that with links on article sites.
Now it seems that the big G may indeed be preparing to act against spam in domain names. In March of this year, Google spokesman Matt Cutts slipped the news into one of his popular YouTube videos. You can watch the whole video here.
So if you are one of those who bought up a raft of keyword-enhanced domains, now is the time to prepare for their disappearance. If you’ve being considering doing it, don’t bother.
This recurring pattern of action and reaction by website owners and Google does raise an interesting question. What will happen when every ranking factor that could be spammed, has been spammed, and Google has de-emphasised all of them? Theoretically we should end up pretty much back where we started, except that the whole web will be stuffed with spam.
It’s always tempting to look for the magic bullet that will fire you onto the top page of Google, and the potential rewards are obvious. Forty percent of external traffic to websites comes from search (source: Outbrain), and in the UK over ninety percent of that comes from Google. But to build a sustainable online business with rankings that will stand the test of time, you need to provide good quality site content that is useful to your customers; and invest in building a network of links from good quality and relevant sites.
Anything else is vapour.
Read more about SEO here: