Last month, Google announced a change to its search algorithm, called the “Panda” update. This is a major change and there is plenty of buzz on the Internet about the dramatic drop in ranking of some well-known sites.
This change is primarily designed to cleanse Google’s search results of low-quality content. Most SEO experts expect article directories or “content farms” to be heavily penalized by Google’s algorithm change.
How does Google’s algorithm change affect industrial and B2B marketers?
Well, for starters, posting the same article in several article directories for the sake of gaining inbound links is out. This is a strategy used by many SEO specialists in an attempt to boost the number of external links pointing back to your site.
That does not mean article marketing is bad or should be banished permanently. According to statistics compiled by Danny Sullivan over at SearchEngineLand, eHow actually gained in ranking. Some of the biggest losers were associatedcontent.com, suite101.com, ezinearticles.com and articlesbase.com.
How does Google define low-quality content?
This is what Matt Cutts, Google’s top search-spam fighter and Amit Singhal, Google’s search-quality guru had to say in an interview with wired.com:
Singhal: That’s a very, very hard problem that we haven’t solved, and it’s an ongoing evolution how to solve that problem. We wanted to keep it strictly scientific, so we used our standard evaluation system that we’ve developed, where we basically sent out documents to outside testers. Then we asked the raters questions like: “Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?”
Cutts: There was an engineer who came up with a rigorous set of questions, everything from. “Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?” Questions along those lines.
Singhal: And based on that, we basically formed some definition of what could be considered low quality. In addition, we launched the Chrome Site Blocker [allowing users to specify sites they wanted blocked from their search results] earlier, and we didn’t use that data in this change. However, we compared and it was 84 percent overlap [between sites downloaded by the Chrome blocker and downgraded by the update]. So that said that we were in the right direction.
In other words, Google will put a premium on content that its algorithm deems worthwhile for searchers (humans) and will punish those that are churning out content for the sake of manipulating the ranking.
What can you do to make sure your site is not penalized by Google?
There is plenty of discussion going on over at Google Webmaster Central about what to do if your site has taken a hit. Here are some things that you can do to improve the quality of your content and prevent a penalty in the first place:
- Get rid of the mindset of trying to trick Google and other search engines. Stick with “white hat” SEO tactics – ones that will genuinely attempt to provide useful and relevant information to your human readers in response to their search queries (See my earlier post, “3 DiY SEO Mistakes to Avoid When Optimizing Industrial Websites”)
- Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and evaluate your content from their perspective. Does your content address their WIIFM needs? (See my post “Industrial Content Reengineering for Improving WIIFM Relevance”)
- Check your content for the right balance of useful content versus promoting your products and solutions. Joe Pulizzi refers to this as his 80/20 rule. 80% of the information (content) that is developed inside companies is about their customers. Yet, marketing tends to focus on 20% of the content that is all about the how great the company and its products are
You may also want to read “Google Panda update survival guide,” a comprehensive blog post from Wordtracker.
My approach to online content creation has always been to write for human readers first and let the search engines follow. It is a content strategy based on converting readers into prospects and customers and not gaming the search engines. After all, traffic that doesn’t convert is useless.
Raising the quality of content to make it more relevant for your human readers has always been important and has become even more so now that Google has refined its search algorithms and will continue to do so in order to punish scammers and spammers.