As we look back at what has happened in 2011 in the internet marketing world, it is clear that Google Panda is one of the biggest stories.
Many online businesses get the majority of their traffic from Google, and this Google traffic converts, so it is a lifeline for many. And with Google Panda, SEO has changed - and it has sent shock waves through online webmaster communities.
The key takeaway from Panda is that Google is favoring authority.
The biggest winners from each Panda update continue to be established brands. The losers from Panda are those that try to automate content in bulk or don't add definitive value...
If you are small - you can no longer compete with the big boys on a broad scale. If you own a shopping mall website, Amazon will outrank. If you publish sports stories, ESPN.com will out rank you. That's the reality we now face.
So, what are us entrepreneurs, webmasters, and small business owners to do?
How do we deal with Google Panda?
The first thing we must do is focus on becoming an authority. You need to know what niche you are in, focus on it, focus on it more, and define yourself.
For example, instead of being the leading travel site on the web - you maybe can focus on being the leading Northeast Corridor travel site on the web. It is this fine tuned focus on a given niche that can give you authority in a particular vertical.
Once you have defined that authority, you need to focus on your user experience. Google Panda cares about usage metrics such as time on site, average page views per visit, and repeat traffic.
So, you need to forget about SEO - and think about your users.
How can your website be better for your users? What can you do to make it so that your users recognize you as a brand and an authority in your given vertical or niche? Remember, Google Panda cares about "branded search traffic"- which is the amount of people searching for your brand in Google.
So continue to think about this - your brand is what ultimately is most important. Each of our web properties has or is undergoing a re-design so that our sites are cleaner, clearer, and more focused on precisely what our brand is all about.
It is also critical to develop a following. Take advantage of Twitter and Facebook so that you can easily keep in touch with your users. Make your social media presence engaging so that users contribute and spread the word about your brand to others.
Remember, Google Panda can't take away your social media connections, so if you take advantage of your existing traffic to build a solid social media following, this will work to diversify yourself from Google.
A social media presence also helps to boost your brand and authority - which will end up helping you in the eyes of Panda.
Of course, your core product is extremely important. If you have content on your site - less can often be more. Instead of producing 5 pieces of content per day which are just OK - produce 2 pieces of content a day which are outstanding.
Focus on adding value, thoughtful analysis, and in depth research. Focus less on automated content which will saturate your website, confuse users, and take away from the quality content that you may already have.
Lastly, don't track fluctuations day to day, week to week, or even month to month. Panda continues to come and update. The first Panda update was Feb 24th, there have been 6 updates since then with the most recent update happening on September 28th. There are going to be more updates.
Don't worry about how your improvements are effecting your search positioning. Think about the user - not about Google. Spend your efforts improving your user experience. Don't consistently test out how you rank for a given keyword on a given page of content.
Have faith that Panda will reward your hard work and focus on user experience.
Google wants quality in its results - so if you focus on quality - you are going to give yourself the best possible chance to rank well. And at the end of the day - that's all you can do!
- Guest Post by Evan Britton