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Google have recently rolled out a new update which they are calling Panda. The update aims to tackle, in Google’s own words, “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”. So what constitutes a low-value site? Well here are some examples:
• Sites that mass produce content, sometimes even copying text from external sites or using computers to auto generate it (know as content farming – hence the ‘farmer’ update). These sites offer little in the way of value or authority on a subject and make a profit from small amounts of revenue from a vast array of pages and subjects. Examples include about.com or mahalo.com.
• Sites that have lots of ads. Adverts are a natural part of the web but Google is trying to de-value those sites that just bombard you with ads rather than providing a useful and informative browsing experience.
• Sites that users don’t like to visit. This is a hard one to track but Google doesn’t want to show sites that users just don’t want to spend time on, which points to the fact that the site is low-quality.
So what happens if a site is deemed low-value by Google? Well any sites ‘caught’ will simply drop down in the search results for the queries it ranked for. Below is a chart created by Sistrix based on mahalo.com’s rankings before and after the update.
There is a clear shift in rankings from a fairly even spread of rankings across pages 1 – 10 pre Panda, to post Panda where the majority of rankings are on page 7 – 10.
Naturally the next questions you will have are will I be affected and what can I do to avoid being de-valued? Even though this is a relatively large update, unless you are copying content, spamming users with ads or have thousands of pages with no one visiting them, then you probably won’t be affected. That said there are stories of legitimate sites loosing rankings as a result of the update so it’s a good idea to take precautions.
Content is King – This one may be slightly obvious, but if Google is de-valuing sites that copy or auto generates content then write unique, useful and valuable content. Be a source of information about the subject you want to rank for, this has always been a primary SEO tactic and one that Google’s Matt Cutts has always recommended. Not only will it avoid your site falling in the low-value category but it will help your rankings and attract visits.
Ads Come Second – In line with content is king, make your adverts secondary to the content of the page whether it be the amount of ads, positioning or size. It is easy to improve ad revenue by making ads bigger, more central or simply by increasing the number of ads on a page but users come to the site for the content not to browse the ads. Make your content the primary feature of each page, whether is text content, a video or images.
Interaction – Get your visitors interacting with the site; make it easy to use and nice to look at. Allow for user generated content such as comments on blog posts. Link up with Facebook and Twitter and interact via social media to get a community feel to your site. Let Google see that users like to spend time on the site and are willing to interact via comments or Facebook. Below is a screenshot from an SEOMoz blog post, SEOMoz are excellent at user interaction and building community.
The recurring theme is to simply make your site better. Give it more value, make it easier to use, be a source of information, a community and an authority within your industry. These are the qualities Google are looking to reward with premium positions.
Personally I think the update is a step in the right direction for Google, it was becoming too easy for websites that had no real user value to rank competitively. Sites that where genuinely useful and informative were being out ranked and this update has addressed that issue. I have no doubt that there will be a new and inventive way to pollute search results but Google will of course complete the cycle by bringing out another update to tackle whatever that might be.
Google’s new ‘+1’ feature is the latest attempt at making search more social. The basic idea is very similar to the Facebook ‘like’ button – when you like something, in this case a search result; you click the Google +1 button. This is then visible to all your friends connected to you via your Google account. The benefit comes when you are searching for let’s say a new camera; you go to Google, type ‘digital cameras’ and click search. As you are scrolling through the results you notice the +1 button next to dpreview.com because, for example, your photographer friend +1’d it previously.
Apart from the obvious benefit of having users +1 your site, if +1 catches on it would be inevitable that Google would include +1 as a ranking factor, however the question is if it catches on.
In essence I think +1 could be a really useful feature, when I am researching a product or looking for information on a particular subject it would be great to see what my friends recommend. But my friends are not in the mindset for promoting, removing, starring or +1ing results when using Google – they just want to get to where they are going. This has been the critical flaw in all the Google voting / result editing offerings, people don’t want to edit results, they want Google to do that for them.
Google have a shocking history when it comes to social search, remember Buzz and Wave? No? Well not surprising considering their short and uneventful lives. We also had SearchWiki which allowed us to promote, comment on and remove results, there was also SideWiki and then stars in search for marking your favourite results – all of which have flopped.
So will Google +1 succeed and become a part of how we search? In short, I don’t think so. Google should stick to what it does best, providing unrivalled web search - sharing, bookmarking, voting and social features are best left to Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Delicious and the like.
For those of you involved in e-commerce, here is an interesting idea for your Facebook strategy. Whilst there is no denying that Facebook has its place in engaging users and sharing content, this article comes from a different angle and explains that Facebook needs to be much more hard hitting.
Research shows that it’s all about the deals...read more.
Source – statistics from eConsultancy
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