March 2011 was probably the worst month of my life! A couple of my blogs and websites, which had generally been doing very well for a good few years until that point, took a real SERP nosedive, and I lost a lot of visitors and traffic (and a good chunk of my revenues) almost instantly.
Turns out that those websites had become the casualty of the now-infamous ‘Panda’ – the change in Google’s search algorithm dubbed the Google Panda.
My first thought was that it was all quite obviously a mistake, an error, a screw-up on Google’s part. Because all my websites were in complete coherence with Google’s list of recommendations for webmasters, had good quality content on them, and above all, all my SEO practices consisted of completely whitehat SEO methods. I was doing nothing illegal or what Google would term blackhat methods.
However upon further investigation, it was discovered that the dip rankings and the traffic was deserved. I had made some mistakes that had cost me a good 3+ years of hard work, and chosen to ignore a few good SEO habits. I therefore set about to rectify those mistakes and I’m glad to say that a year later, I have made a pretty good recovery from the setbacks.
So what exactly are these changes, and how do they affect you and your website? Most importantly perhaps, how can you, as a fellow SEO and webmaster, adapt? Read on.
1. The Content
Google’s Panda update was notorious for its emphasis on unique, high-quality, well-researched and comprehensively-written content that provides value to the reader.
Therefore, make sure you avoid writing those 100-words-or-less articles.
Write well, be comprehensive and above all, write quality! Quality over quantity is what the Panda and Google will look at, but having said that, you cannot honestly expect to be comprehensive and thorough with whatever you want to say in a 100 words, right?
While it is not a written rule, it is generally a good idea to stick with a minimum of 300-400 words. Spun or copied content is a big no here, as such content almost guarantees your website getting de-indexed and banned for good.
Using breadcrumb navigation is essential. I am of course referring to the links on top of a website that show where you might be on the site at a single glance. For instance Home > Football > Match Reviews > Champions League. Or something similar to that that.
Almost every website uses breadcrumbs, as not only they are good in terms of good rankings, they also provide your visitors with proper navigation and help them from getting lost on your website.
3. Blog Speed
Google has pretty much made it crystal clear that blog or website speed (overall speed, load times, etc.) would be playing a big role in determining its rank. It is therefore essential to ensure that your website has optimal loading times. Pingdom for instance, is a tool that lets you check just that.
Make sure that (a) your website is hosted locally, or in the country you’re targeting, (b) you get a good host, because even shared packages from good hosts work well, however do look into investing in a dedicated hosting package if budgets allow, and (c) keep your website as light as possible, by not putting too many plugins, high-res and high-size images or anything else that would slow down its load times.
4. Social Integration
The Panda update is also well-known now for its emphasis on social integration, and I’ve always been a big fan and an advocate of integration all my websites and blog with Facebook, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, Youtube and more recently, Pinterest.
Not surprisingly then, did I see specifically all those blogs taking a hit which had poor social media integration. Now however, all my websites are properly integrated with social mediums, with Facebook, Twitter et all.
Above all, buttons for all these social sites are now properly displayed on all websites. This in particular is something that is extremely important – having ‘like’, ‘+1’ ‘RT’ etc. buttons on your website and all posts. Most themes (such as those on the Wordpress platform) already come with such integration; all you need to do is link your account with these buttons.
For those who might put this off because of time/hassle, well, it doesn’t take too long to set up a Facebook page, does it?
5. Rich Snippets
Panda also introduces a little something called rich-snippets, essential to good SEO. But what exactly are these?
Ever run a search on Google, and seen results accompanied with those little headshots or mug shots of people, in the results page? Well those are rich snippets, and they are actually a part of Google’s authorship program.
All you need to do to get your own mug right beside your website in the results is to create a Google+ profile, fill out a form, and get a markup code which is to be inserted in your website, and voila! You’ll be a certified author, with the ability to have rich snippets for your website appear in the search results.
Not only do rich snippets make your website stand out in a sea of search results (almost forcing the user to click), they also improve the SEO worth of your website considerably, allowing you to rank higher in the SEPRs.