Search engines are changing rapidly.

The fundamental ways in which they work have expanded and are now including more and different data then ever before.

For example, Google made an unprecedented change of how they evaluate and index websites when they rolled out the first Panda Update in February of 2011. Since then, they have made over 25 changes to the legendary algorithm.

The goal of the Google Panda update involves the filtering of low quality or duplicate pages that are deemed “not useful” to users.

Google’s number one goal with the Panda update (along with all other algorithm changes) is obvious: they want their search engine to not only bring up relevant results, but they want their search engine to be intuitive enough to bring up the best results possible for users.

In other words…

They want their user’s search experience to be a good one. Would so many people be using Google if all they did was bring up horrible and useless sites as answers to your questions and problems? This is exactly why several search engines that were moderately popular in early years of 2000 went down – their search results offered nothing but trash sites with no value.

So as marketers, how do we make sure we are staying in front of the curve so we can keep our businesses in front of searchers?

Below are the 4 things Google is demanding out of websites with recommendations on what you should do about it. The good news? It’s simple: it’s all about the user.

1. High quality, original content (and lots of it)

Google wants you to deliver high quality content. How do we know this? Because that’s what they say.

Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content. The recent “Panda” change tackles the difficult task of algorithmically assessing website quality.

So how do we know if what we’re producing is high quality or not? Google has laid out specific guidelines/questions to assess your own website so it matches up with their content quality demands.

If you want to step into Google’s mindset, here are a few of the the questions which will provide some guidance on how Google wants you to look at your content moving forward:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

…more here

If you answered appropriately to these questions, you have quality content.

What to do about it:

Our top recommendation for Panda-proofing your website against future updates is to get started producing quality content on a regular basis.

We highly recommend putting together a real content marketing plan and posting great cotent at least once a week.

2. Quality website design that provides a great user experience

How could Google ever know if your website is designed well or not?

It’s a question I asked too.

Google has added website performance as a core metric with how they reward websites in the SERPs. Specifically, they have started analyzing the bounce rate, average time on site, and average pages visited per session through collecting analytics and browser (Google Chrome) data. This gives them a good idea if people find your website to be engaging.

If you have a great design, people will stay longer and engage more. It’s that simple.

No more tricks! Google now knows which sites are proving a great user experience and which ones aren’t.

What to do about it:

Throwing together a site cheaply isn’t the solution. You need a website design to really work for users. Effective messaging that accurately communicates your company’s value is extremely important.

Start imagining every user visiting your site as a person you want to impress. The way they interact with your site can literally make or break your ability to rank well.

Ps. If you are still working on developing an eye for design, we recommend checking out this blog post.

3. Social media presence and ‘buzz’

You need to be on social media and your content needs to be shared on social media. The more the better.

Google is looking for signs that your website has something meaningful to add to the internet. Social media is a powerful tool to show real social proof that people are consuming and sharing your content.

There is been an intense debate over the last few years about how much social media affects the organic rankings. There have been some very significant tests done in the last 18 months showing a strong correlation between social engagement and top raking sites.

But it’s obvious that going forward social media indicators will play a very significant, and maybe even primary, role for determining content quality.

What to do about it:

Get on social media and start taking it seriously asap! Remember, the foundation of social media is content. The better content, the more shares.

A good way to see where the bar is in your industry is to take a good look at some of your top performing competitors. Take a look at how they have their Facebook and Twitter accounts configured. See how often they are posting their blog content to these profiles. This should give you a good idea on how you can improve you social efforts.

Conclusion

No more tricks!

No more tomfoolery.

No more artificial efforts.

It’s time to take a smarter approach to online marketing. The best advice we can give you in one sentence is to do everything with the user in mind. If you can get to this point, there is no question, you will start to see good things.

ps. If you need help, we know of a really good Inbound marketing agency…. (it’s us.)