How Google Turned SEO Upside Down in 2011

Google PandaIn April of this year, Google began updating their search algorithms with something called "Panda." These effects have been more fully integrated throughout the year. In the world of SEO, this update represents a greater movement towards human accessibility and usability and away from machine oriented language (such as meta tags, keywords, etc.).

Panda utilizes thousands of ratings from human quality raters that provide answers to simple questions on the quality of the websites they visit. These questions include anything from "Would you trust this website to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to your children?" and "Were you engaged by the content on this site?" to "Would you ever revisit this site?" These questions focus on visual design, user experience, and original content, more so than any other algorithms have previously measured. Based on the quality raters' answers to these questions, Google determined trends that re-ranked thousands of websites. These re-rankings hurt thousands of "content and link farms" which used traditional SEO tricks to boost rankings. Specifically, these sites suffered due to the following qualities:

  1. Template footprint leaving a low ratio of original content 
  2. Empty content pages which exist simply to link to other pages 
  3. Overlapping and redundant articles 
  4. High advertisement ratio 
  5. Affiliate links and auto generated content

On the flipside, these re-rankings benefited well-designed and usable sites that decreased user confusion and were designed from a human point of view.

A practical example is Google's new functionality to block all results from a certain site. This allows them to track the meaning of bounces off search results. They can then use public users' own "quality ratings" by taking into account the amount of blocks any site has received, relevant to certain keywords.

Panda Results

As Panda becomes more sophisticated and robust, SEO is becoming less focused on writing and designing for machines, and more focused on writing and designing for humans. Viget fully believes this is a great change for the web community and embraces the ways in which new algorithms will rank websites.

Bottom line: make sure your users are having great experiences, or it'll come back to bite you in search rankings.

Zach is a senior digital strategist, combining client-focused business acumen with creative digital ideas. He helps bring on new clients and ensures their success, including Discovery Channel, ESPN, Dick's Sporting Goods, and POLITICO.

More posts by Zach