In an earlier blog post entitled “In layman’s terms: Search engine optimisation, marketing and Google Panda” I briefly outlined traditional search engine optimisation techniques and how the Google Panda update had modified the way in which websites are indexed and ranked by Google. Ultimately the Panda update was a much needed clean-up of the websites in Google’s index; a digital spring clean to rid Google of duplicate sites, websites with similar affiliate content, spam websites and sites built simply to make money through click through advertising revenue. This was done in several different ways, but mainly by analysing content and website metrics.
The Panda update cleaned out many spam sites, but it also had a huge impact on website traffic and rankings for a considerable number of genuinely popular websites (some being removed from the index altogether, others plunging down the results pages to positions that seldom see the light of the sun; a fate often referred to by webmasters as “Death by Panda”). Despite this upheaval of the Google index, many spam sites and websites featuring duplicate content seemed to get away without penalty (or even appeared to perform better). Cue “Death by Penguin”.
Google Penguin is essentially a follow up to Panda, engineered to root out any spam sites and dodgy websites that feature poor or duplicate content, particularly those that stuff their website pages and inbound link text with far too many keywords. Amongst other things, Penguin looks out for low quality inbound links that are laden with keywords, and as a result sites with suspicious link building activity have been hit and seen a reduction in traffic as a result of lower ranking (and this is not to be confused with manual link warnings that appear in Google Webmaster tools, as these warnings have more to do with buying links and link networks). With Panda and Penguin on the loose there is nowhere to hide, and comments and tweets from Google have indicated that there will be a lot more “jarring” updates to come which will continue to stir up website rankings and traffic in a bid to ensure only the crème de la crème of sites are ranked highly by the engine.
You may be thinking that if your website features genuine content, no spam, no duplicate copy, no affiliate links, a high text to advert ratio and your content and links aren’t stuffed with every keyword imaginable, then Google Panda and Penguin have nothing to do you with. Unfortunately this is not the case. Although the updates were designed to clean out the web and ensure that only good quality websites feature high up the rankings, the net result of the changes mean that the bar has been set much higher for ALL websites. You may have a nicely designed and well optimised website that features several pages of original content, but if you want your website to perform well in Google then the chances are you need to enhance it by integrating with social media, developing and evolving more unique content, improving functionality and interest, then making certain that all these things improve visitor metrics and keep people on your site, as well as returning to it time and time again.
When I meet with prospective new clients, or existing clients interested in making more of their website’s marketing potential, I’m often asked about SEO/SEM (search engine optimisation/search engine marketing) and inevitably I mention the Google Panda update. If you can put up with some technical jargon, this video is a very helpful and detailed explanation of just what the Panda update is, why it was put in place, and what it means for anyone who wants to promote their business effectively online.
As I’ve said before (and I’m sure to time and time again) business websites must be viewed as an investment, not just financially, but with regards the thought and time that goes into them. Anyone can bash together a cheap website and submit it to a few search engines – but in a month or years time what will that cheap website have achieved? Nothing. Nichts. Nada. Jordan’s IQ. The reason for this is simple. Leading search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) are only interested in showing their users good quality content. If every time you used Google you had to trawl through unrelated sites, websites that didn’t format correctly, or duplicate websites all with the same content you’d get pretty miffed. Search engines use mathematical computations, or algorithms, to work out how effective any given website is. In a nutshell they look at the following:
The quality of coding behind the site
Page load time and server response time
Originality and depth of content
Quality, range and number of inbound links
Numerous other things I won’t mention in case I do myself out of a job
By analyzing sites in such a way, search engines can begin to place all websites in an order for any given search term, so if you search for “blue paint” the best website selling “blue paint” will appear top. Why? Because it will feature good quality code (preferably validated and accessible), will be hosted on a quick reliable server (costs a little more but is worth it), the site will be filled with original and helpful content (which requires time and thought) and will inevitably have hundreds if not thousands of inbound links from other websites, directories and blogs (which can only be acquired with a bit of good old fashioned elbow grease after the site has launched). For this reason, you will never see a cheap website that’s been bashed together on the first page of Google. Fact.
What does it matter if a website isn’t on the first or second page of Google? Everything. Approximately 94% of Google users find what they want on the first page of results, with only 6% venturing onto page two, and around 80% of users only click on the first three results. Why just references to Google? Because the vast majority of people use Google for search, so if you don’t get it right with Google then you won’t have much luck with Bing and Yahoo.
What about the bamboo munching ball of fur? What does Panda have to do with this? Well, it basically makes it even harder to get your website on the first page of Google’s results. If search engine optimisation and ongoing website marketing wasn’t already a hard enough sell, Panda just made things ten times more difficult. The Panda update (named after the guy that created it, not China’s most endangered bear) added a whole load of extra requirements on top of traditional SEO techniques, as well as re-ordering many existing results (to the extent that entire businesses were wiped out overnight by a catastrophic drop in traffic, and in turn, turnover from advertising commission and/or bookings). As the video detailed above points out, the growing number of websites now in existence means that search engines really have to work hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and ensure they provide the best results for your search.
In addition to traditional SEO techniques, businesses need to further invest in their website marketing to ensure the following:
None of your website content should be duplicated (across your own web pages or any other websites), and it must be as original and enticing as humanly possible. Using management speak you may need to do “blue sky thinking outside the box”. If you have access to a unique video clip that relates to your business, photos of your work or services that show something special, the ability to write a blog or produce informative articles, you should get these things on your website to show Google that you have something special, and that your site is worth making note of by visitors.
Your visitors metrics (behaviour or analytics) must be positive with a low bounce rate, so the design and content arrangement ensures site visitors stay on your pages and engage in your website. If visitors to your site leave shortly after arriving, only look at one page, or look at a few pages but are gone within seconds, your metrics will suggest that people don’t like your website. If you get your content right (first point made above) you should naturally retain visitors longer and you will end up with much improved metrics.
Your website must feature references on a range of different media platforms, so instead of just inbound links from other sites, blogs and directories, you have a presence on social media as well. When Google initially developed its algorithm to work out how to gauge the usefulness of websites and where to rank them for search requests, it needed to work out how popular a website was. For this it looked at the overall number of inbound links, working on the basis that a website with 100,000 inbound links must be more popular than a similar website with just one inbound link. That worked well for ages, but along came social media. The web is now littered with people tweeting about websites on Twitter, liking websites on Facebook, and chatting and commenting on numerous other social media platforms. In addition to inbound links to your website, the Panda update now means that Google also takes into account links, comments and the overall number of references to your website in the world of social media. You may not have time to do it, you may not have any interest in getting involved, but getting your business and website involved with social media is now a key part of online promotion and is heavily interlinked with SEO/SEM.
The Panda update goes way beyond what I have time to mention here, but if you’ve reached this far into the article without falling asleep and stotting your head off the keyboard, you will have realised the importance of continued search engine optimisation, website promotion and online marketing. Now, more than ever, business websites must be viewed as an ongoing investment if they are expected to succeed as a useful marketing tool.