Back in February of 2011, Google unleashed a sweeping change to their search results ranking algorithm known as Panda, all in hopes of downranking “junk” and “copy-pasted” websites while boosting the visibility of better, more useable and unique sites.
Big surprise: it didn’t work perfectly. Although the algorithm changes indeed altered search results (in some cases for the better), the search giant was met with a backlash from many site owners accusing it of everything from poor quality control to putting its own corporate interests over those of the websites they help internet users find.
If you run a website or blog, there’s no getting around Google Panda. Instead, you’ll need to adapt and adjust, which in many cases will mean improving the overall quality of your site.
Here are seven ways to do exactly that:
1. Create More Content, and Don’t Worry About Length
If you read too heavily into SEO guides (many of which are outdated by Panda, by the way), you may think that every single page on your site should contain no more than 300 to 500 words of content. Although there’s certainly a case to be made for short, punchy, to-the-point posts, the reality is that Panda calls for the best possible user experience, which in turn calls for content that’s only as long as it needs to be. You might have one page that makes its point in 200 words, while another may exceed 1,000.
Of course, there are some common sense limits to this. If a single page of your site exceeds, say, 2,000 words of content, you may want to think about how it could be restructured or broken into two or three separate pages that obviously deserve dedicated areas of their own. The old advice about breaking up lengthier posts with plenty of pictures, lists (when applicable and needed) and subheadings still applies, too. Always write user friendly content that can attract more viewers to your site.
2. Make Your Content Valuable and Non-Redundant
If you’ve had some sub-par content sitting and rotting away on the outskirts of your site, now might be a great time to clean it up. Although this type of content may have been seen as a neutral factor in the eyes of Google pre-Panda, especially if the rest of your site was high quality, it’s now viewed as a serious detriment that could drag down the rest of your site along with it. Anything that even remotely resembles spam will fall into this category.
Here are a few tips that go beyond the basic advice of writing
- Update pages whose only purpose is to link to other pages. Roll them into other pages that have content, or write some new valuable content for them.
- Place plenty of original content above the fold, in the area immediately visible upon landing on the page.
- Don’t plaster every page with ads. Having some ads is still fine, of course, but they shouldn’t take up more real estate than your actual content.
- Never use auto-generated content. This simply won’t fly anymore with Google’s new algorithms.
3. Aim for a Natural Link Profile
Let’s say the purpose of your site is to discuss wireless internet services. You might link to a bunch of broadband providers, and possibly some mainstream media articles regarding the same topic. What you probably wouldn’t do, however, is link directly to competing sites trying to fill the same niche. In a post-Panda online environment, this is a mistake.
Panda is all about delivering the best possible experience to the user. Your site can do that by linking to other sites solely based on the value and relevancy of their content, regardless of whether they’re competing for your traffic. Your readers will appreciate it, and hence, Google will too.
4. Build Your Empire by Creating More Assets
When Google looks at your “brand,” they want to see more than just a single website that looks like a buoy in an ocean. Modern internet users want more than just pages with pictures. By creating more assets for your site, such as email lists, interactive forums and Facebook pages, you build a community around your brand. In a post-Panda environment, these are the types of sites that Google will prioritize in search results.
Get creative: is there some aspect of your site, or facet of your content, that could be better conveyed with an ongoing, regularly updated video series instead of just text? Seize the opportunity to use increasingly affordable multimedia to beef up your site/brand.
5. Select More Natural Keywords
Outdated SEO advice went something like this: pick one or two keyword phrases most closely related to the topic you’re covering in a post, hammer them into the content as heavily as possible, and make them even more obvious by bolding them and putting them in every subheading as well. Google’s new algorithms see right through this, and treat it as nothing short of a devious tactic.
Of course, you still need to include the keywords you’re trying to promote, but the key is to let that happen naturally. Write about the topic in a thorough and insightful way, and you’ll probably notice upon proofreading that you automatically included several variations of the keyword phrase without even really trying. It’s less work for you, and Google actually appreciates the effort by ranking you higher. These keywords will automatically increase your website position in google search.
6. Pay Attention to Navigation
No amount of excellent content will be worth anything if your users can’t find their away around your site. This one’s rather basic: keep menus consistent and logically arranged, use internal linking whenever appropriate, and don’t bury anything on your site.
7. Skip the Short-Cuts
Lots of site developers and SEOs are claiming that they circumvented the downranking effects of Panda through what basically amounts to a tricky short-cut: moving pages and sub-domains from a “pandalized: domain to a new one, and suddenly recovering the search rank and traffic they experienced before Panda even happened. Sounds like they just beat the system, right?
In reality, these types of short-cuts may work for a few days, at which point Google’s search-bots will finish analyzing your “new” pages only to penalize them yet again. The only real way to get your ranking back post-Panda is to shape up your content, cut the duplicate copy and give your users a thoroughly better and more valuable experience.