Earlier this year, Google made some changes to the way they rank websites that they deem to be “low quality”. This update (dubbed: The Panda update) took out entire websites with one fell swoop by penalizing an entire site for the actions of some of its poorest performing pages. Google’s latest attempt to bring quality to the masses means that in order to gain traction online, your entire site needs to perform or you could see the backside of the Google hand.
Now, unfortunately, the word “perform” means something a bit different to us as marketers than Google’s definition of performance. While marketers want to see results, Google wants to see unique content that is thorough, well researched, and valuable to searchers. Quality is key. Good-enough; well, isn’t anymore.
Avoiding the Google smack-down: How do you figure out what Google might see as “quality”?
Since Panda, we’ve been able to glean that Google is without a doubt leveraging user data to populate its search results. What that means, is that Google is using its ever-growing list of products such as the Google Toolbar, the Chrome browser and other tools that many people use, to understand how people react to your content. While they still use the standard methods (via algorithm) to rank websites, they are throwing user metrics into the mix to further understand what real people see as quality vs. robots.
You can get a good idea as to where your site stands in terms of quality by looking at your analytics (you do have analytics right? if not, hop on over to Google and get it setup. It’s free and knowing how your site performs is invaluable). Once you have a decent amount of data built up (a couple of months at least) in your analytics software, take a look at these three key elements:
- Pages/Visit – This is the average pages viewed per visit to your website
- Time on site – Average time spent on your website in total
- Bounce rate – Percentage of people that left your website right away
Each of these three metrics are important pieces of information in the process of understanding how a visitor reacts to your website when they land on it. Content that engages its visitors is becoming increasingly important; as is website credibility. This means that visitors actually read your articles and are inclined to browse beyond that first page or even revisit your site later.
Post-panda best practices:
- Use page titles that generate interest
- Custom craft your page’s meta description. Make it accurate and intriguing, but be sure it matches the page’s content
- Offer related articles that draw visitors further into your website
- Use images and video where appropriate
- Write your first paragraph in a way that draws readers into your article
- Make sure your content is easy to share via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.)
You can tell if your content is engaging if your site shows a high page/visit ratio, time on site and low bounce rate. Monitor these metrics closely and aim for bettering your website’s statistics month over month. This will not only satisfy Google, but the marketer in you should be happy at the fact that you are building a resource for prospects to rely upon.
What to avoid, if you want to rank post-panda:
Avoid slapping things together just to have something on your website, because chances are it won’t get seen anyway. This includes:
- Boilerplate text and product descriptions
- Copied content
- Pages that are very similar in subject matter (if possible merge pages that are too similar)
- Pages with content that is not perfectly matched the page’s title
- Ads, ads and more ads (keep it clean and to a minimum)
Take time to look at each individual page and think about what a visitor would want to see there and make it happen. It’s a better idea to release an article that’s been thought out than to rush to have a ton of crap-content that no one wants to read. Now – Google knows when no one wants to read it and you can drag your entire site down by going that way.