Google Panda Has Changed SEO Forever

Evan Britton

SEO (search engine optimization) has been one of the most important buzz words for web publishers over the past 10 years.  Getting ranked in Google means free traffic for web publishers, so improving and optimizing a given website for the search engines was essential.  However, Google Panda is here to stay, and it has forever changed the rules of SEO.
For the past 10+ years, Google utilized its PageRank methodology to rank websites. If you had a website about basketball, and you got a link from – Google would notice that your site is a quality site about basketball.  It was similar to a voting system, when a relevant and high authority site linked to you, it would count as a vote.  And the more votes your website received, the better your website would rank.  Of course relevance played a roll, as Google gave more value to sites linking to you which were about a similar topic as yours.  In addition, authority mattered, so one link from may hold more value than 5 links from sports related blogs which weren’t as popular.

Two other major factors that Google considered were unique content and the “Title Tag”.  Google wanted content that was unique and not displayed on other web pages across the internet.  If duplicate content was found, Google would determine which site was the original author of the content, and it would penalize the other sites which had scraped the content.

Google also factored the “Title Tag” as it was a way for web publishers to tell users and Google what the given webpage was about.  This helped Google to organize and rank web pages for given keyword searches.

This methodology for ranking web pages worked, and Google utilized the above methods in addition to several others to display highly relevant search results.  For years, Google results were of a higher quality than all other search engines, which is why Google continued to command over a 65% market share.  However, over the past few years, other search engines such as Bing caught up, and Google wasn’t so special anymore.  At the same time, web publishers became savvy and they figured out ways to sneak into Google ahead of more relevant results.  For example, earlier this year, JC Penny was accused of purchasing links on websites across the web to make Google think that these links were natural and thus a vote for JC Penny’s websites.
As more and more users complained about search results, Google realized it needed to shift, and in came Google Panda. Google Panda is an entirely new way for Google to evaluate websites.  And while Google will still factor in many of the same criteria it has in the past, Google Panda adds an entirely new element to Google’s ranking methodology.

Panda wants better quality websites in its results.  It is less concerned with signals that other websites give it and more concerned with what the actual users think about the website.  Think of Google Panda as an automated way for Google to have users power its search results.  The brilliant part is that it is user powered without the user having to do anything different.  Panda is not only genius, but it makes sense as it should prevent lower quality sites from tricking Google into thinking they are of higher quality.

Panda factors in a wide variety of user signals to help Google determine the quality of a website.  It looks at “Time on Site” as a way to determine how quality of an experience the user is having on a given site.  It looks at the bounce rate, which is a measure of the percentage of people that leave a site without doing anything.  It looks at social signals such as shares and +1’s as a way to see if people are recommending a given webpage.  It looks at page views per visit as a way to see how people are navigating through a given site.  

Google also looks at Branded Search traffic which is the amount of people that are specifically looking for a given site. So, if your basketball site is called “Fun Basketball Dude” – and Google notices that an increasing amount of people are searching for “Fun Basketball Dude” as a way to get to your website, that is a way for Google to recognize that your site is enjoyed by users.
Overall, these are “usage metrics” and they signal to Google how users value a particular webpage or website.  In the old days, unique content was important, but Google Panda wants unique content that is also high quality content.  And the usage metrics Google has in place will help it to determine if the content that the reader lands on is truly high in quality.
If you are trying to rank well in Google – I think you should listen to what Google is saying.  Instead of trying to trick Google with Black Hat techniques, utilize Google’s tips which will essentially improve your site while boosting your chance at increased referral traffic from Google.  
To make it easy for us all – Google has came up with
23 questions for publishers and webmasters to use as a guide to how Panda is thinking.
I have posted these 23 questions in each room of our office, so that we all remember that Panda is watching.

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