At Matt Cutts at SMX West – picture courtesy of Search Engine Land.[/caption]
Cutts didn’t reveal a release date for the new update but it will likely be the next big update from Google and we should probably expect to see it launch in the summer.
What is Google Panda?
Google Panda is the name given to an update to Google’s search algorithm and plays a role in determining how websites are ranked for search queries and keywords. The first iteration was launched in February 2011 and there have since been several updates.
Specifically, Google Panda looked at low-quality websites with poor or little content. Websites judged to have content that was not enough were subsequently ranked lower in search results.
- Having pages with little or no content
- Having badly written content
- Having large amounts of duplicate content
- Having too much advertising (websites that look spammy)
A full list of Google’s guidance on what constitutes a ‘high-quality’ website can be found in this Webmaster Central Blog post.
Google Panda was initially launched to tackle content farms which were being used to artificially inflate a website’s search engine rankings, however many small businesses got caught in the update and saw their search presence shrink. Overnight, many business owners saw their main sales channel disappear.
What can we expect from from the new Google Panda?
While no launch date has been announced, the focus on helping small businesses gives us some insight into what we can expect from the update.
Removing brands from the search queries
In the aftermath of Google Panda, many more established websites and brands began ranking for search queries where smaller niche websites used to sit comfortably.
While we don’t have time to go into how Google is courting large brands, often this means that consumers are given fewer choices when searching online. An ecommerce search is likely to be dominated by Amazon or eBay, while a holiday related search will undoubtedly contain Expedia, TripAdvisor or lastminute.com.
Additionally, brands also began to secure much higher rankings even if their website wasn’t actually what you were looking for.
The new Google Panda update should readdress this imbalance and start to bring in smaller, relevant businesses into the search results once again.
Helping smaller businesses rank for local search queries
One of the biggest growth areas in the way people use Google is through local searches and local search results.
This has been fuelled by the massive increase in smartphone browsing. For the first time ever, mobile internet usage over took desktop browsing in the US (55% of internet usage was from a mobile device in January 2014).
Users on a mobile device are more typically action-orientated with 94% of smartphone users searching for location information.
Mobile browsing makes up a significant amount of internet usage and for many smaller businesses, the local trade they have is vitally important.
We could therefore see smaller businesses being to rank higher in the local listings than larger brands. Google’s recent upgrades of Local listings into Google+ pages is further evidence at just how important local has become.
Content and user experience to still be important
Although the new Google Panda update will look to help smaller businesses, this isn’t to say that poor quality websites will be offered a life line.
If you are a business owner with a website, you should still want to build and develop a quality website with fantastic content that really engages with your audience.
Simply put, the more genuine effort you put into your website the more return on investment you should expect to see. Last year, Google updated their guidelines on how to rank well, placing the emphasis on high-quality websites instead of links:
In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.
Practical tips for Google Panda
If you’ve been effected by Google Panda or think you might have been, then I’ve pulled together 5 practical tips for you to help keep that bamboo-munching fiend at bay.
- Identify low quality and/or duplicate content
Panda placed website content at the front of the stage. If you think you might have been hit by a Google Panda then undertake a complete content audit of your website. You can use tools like Xenu, Screaming Frog or Website Auditor to quickly gather all of the pages on your website – often you’ll be surprised by what lurks in the depths of your website.
For any pages that are duplicate consider how you solve this – merging pages together, using canonical tags or work to make these all unique.
For any pages that are low quality (badly written as well as being too short) you should put in place a content plan that improves these.
- Invest in your content
This is often something is greatly overlooked by website owners. Fantastic content isn’t just about ranking – it can also be a huge influence on conversions. You can always tell the ecommerce websites that have invested heavily in their content to make it a differentiator.
Competing against national/international businesses can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But focus on your content and center it around your customer experience. This will help you overcome any content penalties but also
- Focus on relevancy
One of the big focuses was how relevant the content was. If you are a local food specialist, why do you have blogs about office chairs on your website? Be careful of this as it can make it more difficult for search engines to properly understand your authority.
It also undermines your website’s trust. How much specialist knowledge do you have of office chairs? If it looks out of place, best move it somewhere else.
- Diversify your marketing
Google is omnipresent in western culture and in the office. Need to know something? Google it. We rarely browse for it although sometimes we might search for it. I can’t remember the last time I Binged something although it was definitely more recently than the last time I asked Jeeves anything.
However, relying on only one channel leaves us vulnerable when they move the goal posts. Relying solely on Google’s organic traffic to support your business is a risky, eggs in all one basket strategy.
Look at paid advertising, email marketing and content marketing as new ways to bring in targeted, converting traffic.
- Develop a community
We all know that it is easier to generate business from your existing customers than it is to win new customers. Develop and online community – invest in social networks to engage with your patrons or take the time to get to know your customers.
A personalised email to them can make a significant difference in their relationship with you and before long they’ll go from one-time only customers to brand ambassadors that market you for free.
Does Google have a moral obligation to support smaller businesses?
Countless business owners have complained about the unfair way Google treats smaller companies that do not have large marketing budgets to adapt quickly to sudden algorithm changes. Some have been very vocal in how changes have lead them to having suicidal thoughts and for many business owners, Google is clearly showing a bias towards brands.
This raises the interesting question of whether Google has a moral obligation to support small business owners that may have otherwise been effected by an update? Many have had to turn to paid advertising or have decided not to focus on Google any more (I would always implore a diverse marketing strategy).
I would argue that Google should have a moral obligation to help innocent businesses that have been effected by an update and do not have the means to react. Hopefully this new Google update will go a long way to readdressing the balance on the web and smaller businesses can again thrive online.
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