In 2011, Google changed the face of the SEO industry with its “Panda” update, designed to stamp out websites known for publishing low-quality content. Almost immediately, these so-called “content mills” began reporting drastic reductions in traffic and income. In a post-Panda world, it is no longer enough to simply generate sufficient backlinks to raise your website’s PageRank and then go about targeting the keywords for which you want to rank. Panda has raised the bar for website quality, and as a webmaster you need to meet the new standard or risk being left behind. Although Google will not release the specifics of the Panda algorithm, there are certain conclusions that you can draw based on the websites that have suffered.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates coined the phrase “content is king” in 1996, referring to the way in which publishers and service providers would be able to make money on the Web, and his statement remains true today. Great content resulting from original reporting and thorough research gets attention from readers, social networks and search engines. Websites whose content is primarily repurposed from other, more authoritative sources risk being buried on Google’s results pages. If you do not have the resources to conduct original research as a major publication would, then add your own spin to the news. When you write about a subject for which you are passionate, your experience gives you a unique perspective that your readers will find interesting and worthwhile.
Be wary of using a website layout that loads the top half of the page with advertisements and forces readers to scroll down to read the primary content. The primary purpose of Panda is to penalize websites that exist primarily to leverage traffic from search engines and convert visits to ad clicks, and Google specifically advocates designing your website for the readers rather than the search engines. This means that your content – not your AdSense unit – should be the most prominent element on the page. If you display multiple advertisements per page, place some under and beside the content to avoid pushing the content below the fold.
Although it should be obvious to any webmaster than using content culled from other websites is unacceptable, you may not realize that your own website could also be a source of duplicate content. For example, consider the archive pages that WordPress generates automatically for authors; if your blog has only one author, the archive page will look exactly like the website’s home page, potentially causing the home page to incur a duplicate content penalty. If your content management system generates archive pages that look identical to other content, add the “noindex” meta tag to the archive pages to prevent Google from indexing them. Alternatively, disable archives that are not part of your website’s primary navigational structure.
Google’s introduction of the +1 button in 2011 was an admission that recommendations on social media services directly affect a website’s placement on search results pages. When a page receives many +1 votes, Google automatically annotates it on results pages to let searchers know that many people have recommended it. If you have not added the +1 button to your website, you could be missing out on a great deal of potential traffic. In connecting your website to social media services, do not neglect the two largest; Facebook and Twitter also provide buttons that allow your readers to quickly recommend your website and forward it to their followers.
Lead image via SEOMoz.