-Google has developed Panda as a filter for low quality Web sites
-This change impacts publishers and sites focused on advertising more than standard business sites
-Best Practices continue – build great content and have a functional site
Google’s most recent update to their algorithm, Panda, launched in late February. Panda, at its core, is a new ranking factor designed to better assess the overall quality of a site. It’s utilizing additional usability metrics, such as time on site, pages visited, etc. in conjunction with click through rate and bounce rate – metrics that have already been in use as ranking factors. Google has a variety of means to collect and analyze this date – the Google toolbar, Chrome, Google Analytics – and in analyzing these metrics, it’s using some pretty hardcore processing power. As a result, the impact of this ranking factor is not happening in real time – it’s happening in a series of updates that “crunches the numbers” and then applies it as a ranking update – four to date since February.
This update caused some concern around the Web when it was initially launched due to the inclusion of these elements as ranking factors – importantly, some sites received significant “dings” in position and as a result, and there was some publicity around the issue. Any time Google makes a change to its algorithms, and importantly when they start including heretofore unutilized data, people get nervous. “What haven’t I covered???” tends to be the consensus. And for many SEOs, they had reason to worry – many of the sites that got dinged did so because they were built with a pure SEO focus. As such, they delivered a fairly poor experience to the user which was reflected in their analytics, and resulted in their decrease in positioning. Further, the fact that immediate (and positive) changes to the site went “unnoticed” by Google further rattled SEOs, as no change would be noticed by Google for a few weeks until the Panda “ran” again. A good comprehensive experience is Google’s goal – by providing good results, they provide their audience with a resource worth coming back to. As they can evolve this, they will – and all elements of the site need to be considered.
The reality of the situation reinforces 15miles’ approach. We often tell our clients that a Web site cannot be built for just SEO, nor just for a customer experience – the SEO elements need to be tied into the user experience – by paying attention to content, structure, ease of access, and quick pathing. As with Google Panda, it’s always been a best practice to not only pay attention to the position, but pay attention to the visitor metrics. Content must be functional – not just keyword rich – so that the site visitor has a strong affinity to the site. Architecture must be usable – for search engines to properly index the site, as well as allowing the site visitor quick and easy navigation around the site.
Panda is an indicator of where things are going in the evolving space, but not a terribly surprising one. As Google attempts to automate the indications of how someone feels about a site, they’re going to look more and more at these metrics and perhaps soon, incorporate them in a real time manner (once they get the computing power). As Web Marketers, SEOs need to always pay attention to all the elements that go into marketing – traffic, sales, time on site, customer interactions – not just positioning if they are to win the war on Search Engines, not just battles of positioning.