Panda 2.2 Explained: The beginning of a new era of SEO?

Panda Update 2.2 is here 

Thanks Rand for a this very controversial Google Panda update and help understanding it.  Readers enjoy!

Video Transcription

Panda, also known as Farmer, was this update that Google came out with in March of this year, of 2011, that rejiggered a bunch of search results and pushed a lot of websites down in the rankings, pushed some websites up in the rankings, and people have been concerned about it ever since. It has actually had several updates and new versions of that implementation and algorithm come out. A lot of people have all these questions like, “Ah, what’s going on around Panda?” There have been some great blog posts on SEOmoz talking about some of the technical aspects. But I want to discuss in this Whiteboard Friday some of the philosophical and theoretical aspects and how Google Panda really changes the way a lot of us need to approach SEO.

So let’s start with a little bit of Panda history. Google employs an engineer named Navneet Panda. The guy has done some awesome work. In fact, he was part of a patent application that Bill Slawski looked into where he found a great way to scale some machine learning algorithms. Now, machine learning algorithms, as you might be aware, are very computationally expensive and they take a long time to run, particularly if you have extremely large data sets, both of inputs and of outputs. If you want, you can research machine learning. It is an interesting fun tactic that computer scientists use and programmers use to find solutions to problems. But basically before Panda, machine learning scalability at Google was at level X, and after it was at the much higher level Y. So that was quite nice. Thanks to Navneet, right now they can scale up this machine learning.

What Google can do based on that is take a bunch of sites that people like more and a bunch of sites that people like less, and when I say like, what I mean is essentially what the quality raters, Google’s quality raters, tell them this site is very enjoyable. This is a good site. I’d like to see this high in the search results. Versus things where the quality raters say, “I don’t like to see this.” Google can say, “Hey, you know what? We can take the intelligence of this quality rating panel and scale it using this machine learning process.”

Here’s how it works. Basically, the idea is that the quality raters tell Googlers what they like. They answer all these questions, and you can see Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts were interviewed by Wired Magazine. They talked about some of the things that were asked of these quality raters, like, “Would you trust this site with your credit card? Would you trust the medical information that this site gives you with your children? Do you think the design of this site is good?” All sorts of questions around the site’s trustworthiness, credibility, quality, how much they would like to see it in the search results. Then they compare the difference.

The sites that people like more, they put in one group. The sites that people like less, they put in another group. Then they look at tons of metrics. All these different metrics, numbers, signals, all sorts of search signals that many SEOs suspect come from user and usage data metrics, which Google has not historically used as heavily. But they think that they use those in a machine learning process to essentially separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the ones that people like more and the ones that people like less. Downgrade the ones they like less. Upgrade the ones they like more. Bingo, you have the Panda update.

So, Panda kind of means something new and different for SEO. As SEOs, for a long time you’ve been doing the same kind of classic things. You’ve been building good content, making it accessible to search engines, doing good keyword research, putting those keywords in there, and then trying to get some links to it. But you have not, as SEOs, we never really had to think as much or as broadly about, “What is the experience of this website? Is it creating a brand that people are going to love and share and reward and trust?” Now we kind of have to think about that.

It is almost like the job of SEO has been upgraded from SEO to web strategist. Virtually everything you do on the Internet with your website can impact SEO today. That is especially true following Panda. The things that they are measuring is not, oh, these sites have better links than these sites. Some of these sites, in fact, have much better links than these sites. Some of these sites have what you and I might regard, as SEOs, as better content, more unique, robust, quality content, and yet, people, quality raters in particular, like them less or the things, the signals that predict that quality raters like those sites less are present in those types of sites.

Let’s talk about a few of the specific things that we can be doing as SEOs to help with this new sort of SEO, this broader web content/web strategy portion of SEO.

First off, design and user experience. I know, good SEOs have been preaching design user experience for years because it tends to generate more links, people contribute more content to it, it gets more social signal shares and tweets and all this other sort of good second order effect. Now, it has a first order effect impact, a primary impact. If you can make your design absolutely beautiful, versus something like this where content is buffeted by advertising and you have to click next, next, next a lot. The content isn’t all in one page. You cannot view it in that single page format. Boy, the content blocks themselves aren’t that fun to read, even if it is not advertising that’s surrounding them, even if it is just internal messaging or the graphics don’t look very good. The site design feels like it was way back in the 1990s. All that stuff will impact the ability of this page, this site to perform. And don’t forget, Google has actually said publicly that even if you have a great site, if you have a bunch of pages that are low quality on that site, they can drag down the rankings of the rest of the site. So you should try and block those for us or take them down. Wow. Crazy, right? That’s what a machine learning algorithm, like Panda, will do. It will predicatively say, “Hey, you know what? We’re seeing these features here, these elements, push this guy down.”

Content quality matters a lot. So a lot of time, in the SEO world, people will say, “Well, you have to have good, unique, useful content.” Not enough. Sorry. It’s just not enough. There are too many people making too much amazing stuff on the Internet for good and unique and grammatically correct and spelled properly and describes the topic adequately to be enough when it comes to content. If you say, “Oh, I have 50,000 pages about 50,000 different motorcycle parts and I am just going to go to Mechanical Turk or I am going to go outsource, and I want a 100 word, two paragraphs about each one of them, just describe what this part is.” You think to yourself, “Hey, I have good unique content.” No, you have content that is going to be penalized by Panda. That is exactly what Panda is designed to do. It is designed to say this is content that someone wrote for SEO purposes just to have good unique content on the page, not content that makes everyone who sees it want to share it and say wow. Right?

If I get to a page about a motorcycle part and I am like, “God, not only is this well written, it’s kind of funny. It’s humorous. It includes some anecdotes. It’s got some history of this part. It has great photos. Man, I don’t care at all about motorcycle parts, and yet, this is just a darn good page. What a great page. If I were interested, I’d be tweeting about this, I’d share it. I’d send it to my uncle who buys motorcycles. I would love this page.” That’s what you have to optimize for. It is a totally different thing than optimizing for did I use the keyword at least three times? Did I put it in the title tag? Is it included in there? Is the rest of the content relevant to the keywords? Panda changes this. Changes it quite a bit.

Finally, you are going to be optimizing around user and usage metrics. Things like, when people come to your site, generally speaking compared to other sites in your niche or ranking for your keywords, do they spend a good amount of time on your site, or do they go away immediately? Do they spend a good amount of time? Are they bouncing or are they browsing? If you have a good browse rate, people are browsing 2, 3, 4 pages on average on a content site, that’s decent. That’s pretty good. If they’re browsing 1.5 pages on some sites, like maybe specific kinds of news sites, that might actually be pretty good. That might be better than average. But if they are browsing like 1.001 pages, like virtually no one clicks on a second page, that might be weird. That might hurt you. Your click-through rate from the search results. When people see your title and your snippet and your domain name, and they go, “Ew, I don’t know if I want to get myself involved in that. They’ve got like three hyphens in their domain name, and it looks totally spammy. I’m not going to get involved.” Then that click-through rate is probably going to suffer and so are your rankings.

They are going to be looking at things like the diversity and quantity of traffic that comes to your site. Do lots of people from all around the world or all around your local region, your country, visit your website directly? They can measure this through Chrome. They can measure it through Android. They can measure it through the Google toolbar. They have all this user and usage metrics. They know where people are going on the Internet, where they spend time, how much time they spend, and what they do on those pages. They know about what happens from the search results too. Do people click from a result and then go right back to the search results and perform another search? Clearly, they were unhappy with that. They can take all these metrics and put them into the machine learning algorithm and then have Panda essentially recalculate. This why you see essentially Google doesn’t issue updates every day or every week. It is about every 30 or 40 days that a new Panda update will come out because they are rejiggering all this stuff.

One of the things that people who get hit by Panda come up to me and say, “God, how are we ever going to get out of Panda? We’ve made all these changes. We haven’t gotten out yet.” I’m like, “Well, first off, you’re not going to get out of it until they rejigger the results, and then there is no way that you are going to get out of it unless you change the metrics around your site.” So if you go into your Analytics and you see that people are not spending longer on your pages, they are not enjoying them more, they are not sharing them more, they are not naturally linking to them more, your branded search traffic is not up, your direct type in traffic is not up, you see that none of these metrics are going up and yet you think you have somehow fixed the problems that Panda tries to solve for, you probably haven’t.

I know this is frustrating. I know it’s a tough issue. In fact, I think that there are sites that have been really unfairly hit. That sucks and they shouldn’t be and Google needs to work on this. But I also know that I don’t think Google is going to be making many changes. I think they are very happy with the way that Panda has gone from a search quality perspective and from a user happiness perspective. Their searchers are happier, and they are not seeing as much junk in the results. Google likes the way this is going. I think we are going to see more and more of this over time. It could even get more aggressive. I would urge you to work on this stuff, to optimize around these things, and to be ready for this new form of SEO.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

The true value in LINKS is not just the link..

I have been doing this for over 17 years now. Sometimes it is mind boggling to think of the hoops I have had to jump through to satisify some ranking criteria that would hopefully lead to more traffic and traffic that would convert. True webmasters have never lost sight of the monitary value of a revenue producing website. You learn pretty quickly that usability is the better metric to value a site upon than just higher rankings. But tell that to a client! I have gotten phone calls from friends that have overheard CEO’s bragging about their rankings that were my clients. They have no clue as to design metrics, eye mapping trends, click thru numbers or just good ol’ clean coding that allows the search engines to crawl it properly to index it correctly and gets the end user to the infomation quickest so they can act on the marketing call to action and do what you want them to do without them knowing why. Every now and then I come across an article that is worth reprinting. Such is the one below.

“Do you know anyone who got their rankings back after Update Panda trashed their site?

There may be some, and there may be some people who get their rankings back eventually, but the problem is a fundamental one:

If the Google dragon flicks her tail in your direction, and all you rely on is rankings, you’re screwed

That’s life in SEO. Google flicks her tail, and some webmasters may never be heard from again. The solution to this problem isn’t to hope and pray the dragon won’t target you. The solution is to acknowledge that the dragon has the power to make your life miserable, and figure out ways to avoid that pain in future.

Develop Real Networks, Not Just Link Networks
Links are the arteries of the web. Traffic flows via links, be they PPC, hyperlinks, or Facebook friend requests.

Of course, SEO’s worked out some time ago that hyperlinks have another value. Google uses links to “keep score”. To paraphrase, if you have a lot of “good quality” links pointing to your page, Google gives you a high score, and rewards you with a high ranking.

This way of thinking can cause problems.

If our link building strategies only relate to ranking, and not link traffic, then we’re vulnerable to changes in the way Google keeps score. If, however, we look at link building in terms of traffic, arriving via those links, then we’re less vulnerable to Google’s whims. If, for whatever reason, we are no longer ranked well, we’d still have traffic flows via the links.

This is not to say link building for the purposes of ranking is redundant. Google’s not that clever. Yet. However, if we’re overly focused on ranking, which is one form of traffic acquisition, and not spreading our traffic acquisition methods, then it leaves us vulnerable to Gogole’s ranking methodology, over which we have no control.

What Is A Link?
A link is a connection between people.

Remember the six degrees of separation? The idea that everyone is approximately six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, “a friend of a friend” statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.

The connection on the web is more like one-to-one, especially when you can “friend” the President Of The United States on Facebook. Well, one of his staffers, but you get my drift :)

We’re not that far away from other people.

The ability to connect with anyone on the web, in one step, is profound and powerful. Once connections are made between people, stuff happens. The stronger the connection, the more great stuff can happen. But this doesn’t happen if we just view a link as a means to get a high ranking. We miss the opportunity to build something with greater staying power:

Real relationships.

And if you believe the pundits, Google will be looking more carefully at real relationships, as opposed to the…cough…”manufactured” kind, in future.

Techniques & Strategy
Here a few ideas on how to add another layer to your link building activities.

1. Identify The Top People In Your Niche
Who writes about what you do? Think reporters, bloggers, forums, industry leaders, pundits and conference organizers.

These people are also highly likely to link to you, if you give them a good enough reason. A good enough reason is unlikely to be “I’ve linked to you, so please link back”. Remember, our aim is not just to get links, it is to get links that produce traffic, too.

A good enough reason is that you interest them. In order to do that, you need to learn a bit about them, such as what they’ve linked to in the past, and why. What are the current hot topics? Industry talking points? Where is the industry heading? Make a list of the top ten ranking sites, trace their back-links back, and see who is talking about those sites, and why.

2. Give Forward
Link out to them.

Linking to someone is a great way to get on their radar. Do you follow your inbound links to see who is linking to your site, and why? Chances are, they do, too.

Don’t use any old link. Link to them from a well-considered, thoughtful, in-depth piece about a current industry talking point. Because when they follow the link back, they’re more likely to engage with you if you’ve given them something to interesting to engage with. They also may feel they owe you something, as you have done something for them.

Consider what might make this person engage. Perhaps you stroke their ego a little. If you make them look good, chances are they’ll want to highlight this fact to others. You could challenge their point of view, so they engage in a debate with you by responding back to you on their own site.

3. Start A Conversation
You could view #2 as one-off tactic, but it’s more lucrative if you see it as part of an on-going process.

The world of SEO could be likened to a conversation that’s been going on since 1995. The conversation now has many participants, many of whom cover exactly the same ground, however it’s the unique, authoritative voices that stand out.

Chances are, their “voice” didn’t just happen overnight. They participate constantly, and have done so for years. They get in-front of the industry, regularly, wherever the industry happens to be looking.

They also tend to lead it. If you want a lot of links that you never have to ask for, then it’s a good idea to first give people something really worth linking to, and talking about, on a regular basis.

4. Get A Story
But what happens to the people who run a sales catalog? A brochure website? No one links to such sites anymore!

The strategy I’m outlining is about networks of people, as opposed to link networks that have little value, besides ranking factors. Consider Zappos. Consider the founder, Nick Swinmurn. People talk about the company – and link to it. People talk about the founder and CEO – and link up.

Few people link to the shoes, and even if they did, that’s not a make or break for Zappos. The story is the interesting thing, and that resonates through different media, and results in links. Real links – the kind of links people travel down and end up customers.

Ok, so Zappos were very successful. Silicon Valley loves talking about successful tech companies. But this can happen in small, local niches, too. So long as you have a memorable, compelling story, that you hussle, links – real links – will follow. Do you give to local charities? Have you created interesting processes that small business sites may like to profile? It might not relate directly to what you’re trying to sell, but it does result in building up real networks of people.

5. Carry On The Conversation
Link building is a tactic. We can buy links. We can automate links. We can spam it up!

But when Google changes the game, as they often do, you’re not left with much if your entire strategy is based on technical hacks. Perhaps the richer, more secure long-term approach is to seek another level of value from your links. Go back to the original idea of a link, which was a connection between two people. Someone saying “hey this is interesting!”. Once someone does that, we can engage in a conversation, and it can build from there.”

Google can’t kill that.

If you’re interesting, and other people find you interesting, then ranking is no longer a make or break position.

Having location issues with Google Places?

 
local seo with google places

Local Seo

 
 One case study on a Place Page that had duplication and location problems showed how it took seven edits to the Place Page over three months before Google fixed the issues and started ranking the listing on page 1 for target queries. Local SEO does indeed take patience and endurance.

Showing off a variety of citation sources including Article Engines (be sure to include all of your location information on any articles you syndicate out about your business), Facebook and “Other” (a.k.a. SPAM).

In my experience, these relatively low value links do indeed seem to do the trick, but in the long run, you’ll want to supplement these kind of tactics with more solid citation sources, which of course are much harder to get.

David Mihm’s presentation had all sorts of good information with a focus on how to maintain a “geographic scent” for your website with the #1 recommendation being having a consistent name, address and phone number appear for your business across the Web and where possible have you address and phone number in the url certainly speeds things up.

1.Submit a KML sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools. This helps send Google the “I am really located here” signal. Here’s an easy tool to help you do it GeoSitemapGenerator.

2.For multiple locations, claim all of your Google Place listings in a corporate Google account. If you are submitting a bulk feed, get it verified. Your Google Account must match the URLs of the Places you are submitting. Each location must have its own unique phone number or it won’t get approved.

3.If you want to generate reviews, find customers with Google and Yahoo email addresses. Since you know they have accounts with these sites, you can send them links asking them to write a review for you on them and they’ll likely already be signed in.

 

Installed Google’s +1…but

Installed Google’s +1…I emailed 5 friends and asked them to go like a few of my sites I installed +1 on just to see how it works. Well, I got 5 emails telling me they were not going to set up a Google Profile just for that and 2 said they would never give Google their personal info. That is a pretty damning indictment. Plus I had to spend 2 hours on the phone trying to convince them to do it anyway but no luck. No one is interested in their name being in the search results as a recommend nor do they want their name to appear period. All 5 said they do not track bookmarks except in thier internet browser favorites.

Hey but they all clicked my facebook like button without being asked to!

What is everyone else finding???

Google Now Supports “Author” Tag

Google announced support of the authorship markup, enabling content sites to help identify their authors on the site and across the web.

The markup links up authors to content, for example, this content would be linked up to my name and can be used to find all the stories I’ve written here and on my other sites.

It uses the rel attribute, so all you need to do is add the rel=”author” to your author’s hyperlink on the article page. For example:

Written by <a rel=”author” href=”../authors/mattcutts”>Matt Cutts</a>.

As Google explained, this tells search engines: “The linked person is an author of this linking page.” The rel=”author” link must point to an author page on the same site as the content page. For example, the page http://example.com/content/webmaster_tips could have a link to the author page at http://example.com/authors/mattcutts. Google uses a variety of algorithms to determine whether two URLs are part of the same site. For example, http://example.com/content, http://www.example.com/content, and http://news.example.com can all be considered as part of the same site, even though the hostnames are not identical.

Plus you can use the rel=”me” to communicate to the search engine that the links on an author page all represent the profile of the same person. Google gave an example:

Say that Matt is a frequent contributor to http://example.com. Here’s a link from his http://example.com author page to the page he maintains on http://mattcutts.com:

<a rel=”me” href=”http://mattcutts.com”>Read more about Matt</a>

In turn, Matt’s profile on http://mattcutts.com points back to his author page on http://example.com, like this:

Matt has also written <a rel=”me” href=”http://example.com/contributors/mattcutts”>lots of articles for the Foo Times</a>.

The reciprocal rel=”me” links tell Google that the profiles at http://mattcutts.com and http://example.com/contributors/mattcutts represent the same person.

I do not know if Google will just pick up the markup and trust it or if Google has to whitelist your site to be approved for this markup. You can test it using Google’s Rich Snippet testing tool.

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Thanks to Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz