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Search marketing: How has Google’s Panda algorithm update altered the industry?


By The Drum Team, Editorial

May 11, 2012 | 9 min read

As part of The Drum’s special report on search marketing, we speak to a number of agencies operating in the space to gain an insight into the key issues surrounding this heady topic.

In a series of features, we’ll be looking at the industry’s responses to the questions we posed, to determine the challenges and trends facing search marketing in 2012.Here, we’re asking search marketers their views on the recent changes to Google’s algorithm and the resulting impact on the search marketing industry. How has Google’s Panda algorithm update altered search marketing, and how can marketers ‘fix’ Panda?Kevin Gibbons, director of strategy, SEOptimiseThe panda algorithm update, in a nutshell, was about penalising websites with low quality content – and rewarding those with high-quality content. That means that if you have a site with 100,000+ indexed pages of average content – it’s likely that it won’t be ranking as highly right now as it was a year to 18-months ago. The only real way to fix this is to have a clean-up. SEO used to be a case of the more content and pages you had, the more keyword opportunities and traffic you will have. This really isn’t true anymore. So my recommendation would be to review those pages which aren’t generating any traffic and either rewrite them in to higher quality content, or delete and redirect them onto relevant pages within your site.Likewise, when link building, don’t over-optimise anchor text. If you have 90% of your links to a page using a competitive keyword, it’s very unlikely to be a natural profile and it’s a clear sign to Google. Mix it up, keep it branded – and again, maybe it’s time for a clean-up – if you’ve got a spammy link profile, it’s possible your effort will be best spent in removing low-quality links, as opposed to building higher quality links (of course, you should do that too though!).With the rollout of Google authorship, this is a signal of writer quality. For example, if you have a blogger who has an authoritative Google+ profile, then that is going to benefit you in organic search, as Google will trust content written from the individual source, as opposed to the site it’s coming from.Gavin Boyd, SEO manager, Equator There is no doubt that the over optimisation penalty and the recently released web spam algorithm update has certainly sent a few shockwaves through the SEO industry with the web spam algorithm update alone said to be affecting just over 3 per cent of English Google queries.It could be argued that historically, some SEOs focussed on quantity, however these changes to the ranking algorithm will reward (or at least are less likely to punish) those sites that have unique and quality content, which should lead to a better user experience. There is no way to ‘fix’ Panda; however there are guidelines and practises that if followed, can help webmasters avoid penalisation, such as:
  1. Provide users with unique quality content
  2. Add unique quality content regularly
  3. Have significantly than a 50% ratio in brand related links
  4. Ensure the strongest five anchor text links pointing to your site are brand related
  5. Only gain links from relevant/quality sources
It’s still early days for the penalty, but we can see the effects it is already having on the search results. One thing we are sure of is that those who do not follow the simple rules are those most likely to find themselves in trouble. Matt Bullas, managing director, Click Consult I think that Google's Panda update has altered search marketing for the better. Our industry has, in the past, been accused by some corners of 'polluting' the SERPs with low quality content and websites. However, the Panda algorithm update now means a lot more emphasis is placed on the quality of a website, and this has resulted in a lot of bad websites falling out of the results pages. This is great news for Google, for legitimate search marketing agencies, and more importantly, for the search engine users who are getting a better experience.I wouldn't really even say there is a 'fix' for Panda, to recover requires a change in philosophy. You can no longer rely on filling pages with boilerplate text and stuffing ads above the fold, or by producing really obviously low quality content that could have been spun by machines. If you have been hit by Panda, you have to say, "Okay, I sacrificed content quality in favour of text stuffed keywords to improve ranking" or "I favoured more profitable ads over user experience", and you have to be willing to change that. It might mean starting from scratch, but that's what it takes if you want a website to recover from a Panda penalty. Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director, LBi bigmouthmediaSearch marketers will succeed in the post-Panda world by adopting techniques that help sites and brands earn algorithmic authority, trust and relevance. The four tenets of modern SEO are:
  1. Take a multi-signal approach – it’s not all about the links, not all about social signals, not all about content, but it is all about getting that mix of multiple quality signals that Google needs to see.
  2. Engaging content – content needs to be more than just keywords. Content needs to be engaging and trustworthy if it hopes to be Panda proof and shared socially by customers and taste setters.
  3. Click through optimisation – Google’s results are now far beyond 10 blue links and as the engine rolls out greater personalisation, contextual, multi-media and author integration there are significant wins to be had by deploying SEO techniques that can increase the amount of qualified clicks a search result enjoys even if its average position remains the same.
  4. Voice – The ability to say “Look at this engaging content” to customers; the ability to reach out to a blogger or a site owner with some interesting news, or to have a dialogue with a taste setter, etc. SEO campaigns should be designed to work with whatever Voice the brand or the agency can muster and to help increase Voice for the next campaign or round of engagement.
Bryan Adams, managing director, Ph.CreativeThe Panda updates have been introduced in a bid to improve the customer experience of a website and so new key metrics, such as load speed, bounce rate and social recommendations, are now more important than ever. Google has made over 80 changes to the algorithm in the last three months alone, which is unprecedented. To avoid tweaking a website each time a change is made, we’d strongly advise businesses to focus on achieving the final outcome that these updates are working towards - i.e. providing real value to visitors by offering unique, engaging content which satisfies their immediate needs. In terms of best practice and improving search rankings, acquiring ‘real’ external links, won on merit, will prove to be most fruitful going forward. In short, Google is making it harder for companies to cut corners, but if businesses play by its rules then they won’t go far wrong. It’s not easy and it does take hard work, but why should it be easy? The days of buying links are fading away very quickly and the result will mean better content for the 300 million people searching Google on a daily basis.”Tina Judic, managing director, FoundThe aim for all marketers should not be to ‘fix’ Panda, but to aim for Panda to fix their site, their business model and their SEO efforts. The rollout of Panda was to provide even greater user experiences for customers who engage through Google and to further eliminate poor quality, content-poor websites from search rankings. It is now even more important than ever to update sites regularly with great content - not just okay content – but really great content. With the Panda updates having a considerable effect on low quality-designed websites with farmed content, it is also more important to have well respected authors who regularly contribute articles to your site. Adam Skalak, SEO Director, iCrossingThe Panda update was implemented in the UK in April 2011 with several updates rolled out since its launch. Google’s goal with this update was to weed out sites that provide very little, often poor quality, content which results in poor user experience for the searcher. The Panda algorithm was designed to identify mainly onsite factors however a large part of Google’s algorithm is based on offsite factors such as hyperlinks from third party sites. So, while Panda has been dealing well with poor quality pages since April last year (affects 12% of all queries), a few months ago Google started working on a different algorithm. This “over-optimisation” algorithm was recently launched (24th April) and is designed to target SEO spam tactics such as keyword stuffing and artificial link schemes with no or little editorial weight.When both of these updates are implemented, in order to maximise search experiences, marketers need to ensure that their vita landing pages contain unique and high quality content. The question every marketer needs to ask is: “If a searcher lands on my landing page, am I answering customer queries or satisfying their needs? Is this the case for all my landing pages that I am promoting?” At iCrossing we conduct page level analysis and score all pages that our clients are looking to promote through SEO. The second question to ask is: “Do I have enough interesting content available on my website for people to link to?” When you are building new pages, put yourself into blogger’s shoes and ask: “What is unique and interesting about this page that bloggers would find interesting to link?”To download a copy of the full report, click below.
Google SEO Search

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