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The Changing Face of SEO in the Wake of Panda

Earlier this year, Google launched its latest algorithm update, codenamed Panda after Google engineer Navneet Panda. The ultimate aim of Panda was to raise the ranking of higher-quality sites and lower sites it deemed of lower quality in order to enhance the experience of those running search queries on Google. You might be thinking, “Isn’t that the aim of every algorithm update?” I’d answer yes normally, but this time, Panda went after specific targets, such as content farms with lots of still unique, yet low quality content written specifically for search engines. Google recently did a minor Panda update that makes things even more interesting.

In the SEO field, many of us scrambled to determine what Panda’s long-term implications would be for website rankings, the best practices we’ve used for so long and how our industry might change as a result. Would we have to change the content we write? Would we have to monitor our site’s usage and adjust our site based on such metrics as bounce rate? Would we have to take the entire “experience” of a website into account?

According to SEOMoz “wizard” Rand Fishkin in an article entitled “How Google’s Panda Update Changed SEO Best Practices Forever”, the answer is “yes” to all of the above. According to Fishkin, especially after this latest update, Google cares very much about the whole experience you have to offer to the user. This includes a site’s ease of use, how it presents its content, and so on. Google now takes factors into account that were of less importance than before, such as bounce rate (i.e. The amount of pages someone views while on site. The fewer pages, the higher the bounce rate), how many pages a visitor reads and much more.

Google cares more than ever now about whether a user finds a website valuable, whether they stay on it for longer than a second or two, and whether a user is willing to share what they’ve found with others. Old best practices such as good content, title and meta tags and so on are still important, but now they’re supplanted in many ways by the user experience as a whole. Instead of writing unique content, it has to be uniquely engaging and memorable content. Instead of just looking at tags and source code, Google will now look at diversity of traffic, quantity of traffic, usage metrics like how much time a user spends on a site and what they do while they’re there. Google has many ways of tracking all of this information.

So what does this mean for website owners, webmasters and SEO professionals? It means tags and unique content isn’t enough anymore. It means that a site must be engaging as a whole, and focus on a user’s experience while they’re on-site. This means writing engaging copy, having a site that’s attractive and easy to navigate, adding social media and visual elements, and other things to help make users more sticky (i.e. they stay on site longer). It’s a new era of SEO, and those who don’t adapt to these changes and whatever Google has for us in the future will likely be left behind.

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