The king of search engines, as everyone knows, is Google, making up over 65.3% of all search traffic (in October 2011).
Google’s goal is simple: to give their users the most relevant, high-quality search engine results as accurately and quickly as possible. So in early-2011 Google introduced an update to their search engine algorithm, dubbed Panda, as part of the company’s continual pursuit of that goal.
For those of you who are unaware, the Google Panda update reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results — more than any other update before.
Since then, Google has rolled out several other updates to Panda, dramatically changing how thousands of websites are ranked.
Those that were considered to be high-quality sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from ranking at the top.
So now, the obvious question is this: How can we make websites that are seen as high-quality in the eyes of Google Panda?
Read the following tips to make sure your site is optimized for Google Panda.
Design for Engagement and User Experience
To put it simply, Googlebot is starting to view websites more and more like humans. Thus the design of a site is going to start playing a much larger role in how it’s ranked more than ever before.
The Panda update is looking closer at several metrics to see how engaging and user-friendly a web page is. Some metrics that help quantify engagement and user experience quality are:
- Amount of time spent on the website
- Bounce rate
- Number of web pages per visit
- Page response times
- Conversion rates
These metrics give you a clue as to how good a website is in keeping visitors engaged. For example, a website with a high number of web pages per visit could mean that the visitor thinks the website is interesting and engaging.
Well-designed sites are typically more visually pleasing, easier to understand and often fare well in the metrics mentioned above than those with poor designs.
Thus, your goal is to craft a website with a great user experience that captivates your audience. In addition, make sure that the website is optimized for speed, as this also affects the user experience and the site’s usability. Remember that usability and SEO go hand in hand.
For tips on improving engagement and the user experience, read the following articles:
- Simple Strategies for Engaging Your Visitors
- Creating a Timeless User Experience
- Increase Your User Activity with Points, Badges and Status
- How Cognitive Biases Shape User Experience
- 10 Usability Tips Based on Research Studies
Spelling and Grammar are Important
This might sound obvious but you will be very surprised at how many websites suffer from poor spelling and/or grammar. Google does evaluate content quality of websites. In fact, Matt Cutts, a highly-regarded individual in the SEO community and member of the Search Quality group at Google, addressed this in a YouTube video.
Cutts said, "We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well."
Focus on Content Quality
Google likes content. This is not a newfound idea, but it is one that is often neglected. You have to be dedicated to developing high-quality, original content.
Try to become an authority in your industry by writing content that visitors would want to bookmark, share or recommend.
Google specifically states what they look for in a high-quality site by providing you questions to ask yourself. Here are just a few questions they suggest you ask when you produce content:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
As you can see, a large emphasis in quality is being placed on the creation of content. This must be at the forefront of any design or website management duties.
For tips on improving content quality and content strategy, check out the following articles:
- Is Web Copy Ruining Your Design?
- Components of High-Quality Blog Posts
- How to Develop Your Website’s Tone of Voice
- Viral Content: Why We Share Some Things and Not Others
- The Importance of Web Content Strategy
Avoid Too Many Ads
Again, this goes back to designing with humans in mind. Having too many advertisements can make Google think the site exists just to serve ads rather than provide authoritative information.
Avoid Duplicate Content
Avoid having the same content being displayed on any pages. Each web page should have their own unique content specifically tied to what that page is about.
A web page should also have its own unique meta description and meta title attributes. For more information on this topic, read 5 Common SEO Mistakes with Web Page Titles.
Less is More
Over time, if a website is not regularly tended to, it can begin to have hundreds of pages that, many times, even the website manager is unaware of.
Google states that having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can bring down your rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality pages.
In these cases, it is best to consolidate to create a cleaner experience for the end user.
Ensure High-Quality Code
It is important to run your website through code quality assurance processes. Good markup hints that the quality of the website is also good. At the simplest level, you can just use the W3C Markup Validation Service to ensure your HTML complies with W3C standards.
To get tips on how to improve your site’s code in terms of quality, standards compliance and web performance, read the following articles:
- 20 HTML Best Practices You Should Follow
- 10 Tools for Evaluating Web Design Accessibility
- 5 Web Files That Will Improve Your Website
- Problems with Using Website Validation Services
- 10 Tips for Optimizing Your Website’s Speed
- 10 Ways to Improve Your Web Page Performance
- 20 Free Online Tools for Website Speed Testing
As the Web continues to evolve and become more humanized, it’s imperative that you take these tips into account when dealing with your current or new website. Search engine algorithms will only become better with their ability to distinguish what makes the end user happy. And if they are happy, you will be happy too!