Since February of 2011, the folks at Google have been busy improving their search algorithm, all in the name of returning better results for the user. The most notable series of these updates, named Panda, hit update #25 back in March 2013. But Google said they would not be confirming any future updates to Panda as it’s now being integrated into their indexing processes. 13 updates have been announced this year.
What do all these updates mean? Well, we know for sure that a large number of sites have been brought down by these changes, specifically due to being deemed as poor quality or utilizing black-hat “webspam” tactics. Google appears keen on rewarding only high quality sites – both in design and content. And whether your site has been affected or not, the bottom line now for every webmaster is to build quality websites with valuable content for users, not search engines.
So how do you bounce back from a major slip in the rankings, or just get to rank better? The following 6 white-hat tips should help you deal with the latest Google updates (2013 and back), and hopefully, any impending updates.
#1: Write better content!
It all begins with value. The Google algorithm is now so much smarter, it uses hundreds of factors to tell apart gibberish from real content. You may have already noticed that sites with more reads are ranking higher than the rest for the same keywords. That’s no coincidence, because more people visiting your site must mean that you are offering useful, human-centered work.
There are many indicators of quality content, such as outbound links to reputable sources within your articles, getting more shares on social media, more visits, and natural keyword density. Avoid making it an SEO affair; make it worth the reader’s time, and it’ll sell to Google. Add optimized relevant images or videos wherever necessary and avoid “thin content”. The key thing here is providing value for your audience.
#2: Smarter link building
Many of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates focused on punishing suspicious SEO tactics, such as unnatural link building. For instance, a one-week-old site getting a hundred backlinks in just two days is definitely suspicious. Or any website that whose link profile shows that over 90% of the backlinks are coming from PR4 sites. To create a ‘natural’ impression to search engines, link building should be done gradually, should be diversified, and should be quality in terms of relevance.
If you build your website or blog today and rush to buy tens of backlinks to outrank your competitor in a week or even a month, then you’re getting it all wrong. If you must buy links, do it slowly, in a natural kind of way. And most of your links should be coming from PR0 and PR1 sites, not PR5 to PR10. That’s because you site’s backlink profile is expected to have a distribution of backlinks.
#3: Diversify anchor text
Gone are the days when all the backlinks to your site had more power if the anchor text was an exact match of the keywords you were ranking for. That just screams ‘over-optimization’ which is, again, unnatural. In April 2012, Google unleashed the Penguin update which they called “webspam update” or “over-optimization penalty.” Sites with a very high proportion of exact match keywords as anchor text suffered along with those that were bent on keyword stuffing.
A study by SEOmoz shows that you should stop over-optimizing your anchor texts. Of course, if you are getting natural backlinks for your great content, this shouldn’t be a problem. In your own link building efforts (such as guest blogging), however, diversifying your anchor text could bring optimum results.
#4: Social media engagement
Social has now become a big part of search. Google first began showing that social signals do matter when they launched Google Search+ Your World, making search results much more personalized.
But with or without personalization of search results, social media engagement is one of the fronts that your SEO campaign should be vested on. Create social sharing buttons on your site and make them prominent on your blog posts and chosen pages. Then write epic content and encourage people to share it. The more hits your pages get, the more positive signals you’ll be sending to Google about the importance of your pages. And as a bonus, you’ll get more natural backlinks.
#5: Optimize webpage design
On-site optimization isn’t dead. In case you forgot, Google still assesses the quality of your webpages in terms of clean code, internal link building, loading speeds and so on. For example, if your website is slow to load, a user may get impatient, exit before it even loads fully, and move on to the next search result. That will say a lot about the user experience you create for your visitors. And if it happens with many people, it will represent a higher bounce rate for your site – a negative signal to Google about the quality of your website.
So put a little more effort on optimizing not just the loading speed of your pages, but also the overall user experience for your visitors so as to minimize bounce rate.
#6: Minimize advertising
Yet another indicator that a site is not user-centered with its content is the act of placing too many advertisements around the content. Google made this clear in one of their Panda updates – websites with too many advertisements would suffer a significant plunge in their rankings. Placement is also a factor -sites that were most affected were those that placed ads above the fold.
Should you stop placing ads on your site? No. But you can cut down the number and put them in better places, one of them not being above the fold.
Despite it being hard to fully understand all the ranking factors that Google uses – and how they are updated from time to time – we can all be sure about one thing: quality will pay off. Focus on building an optimal user experience with fresh, original and quality content, value, and more engagement. Build your backlink profile more naturally, and diversify link sources. Get these things right and your site may just be immune to any further Google updates in the foreseeable future.