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How to avoid Panda-monium following Google’s recent update

With a change in Google’s search results ranking (the “Panda” update) marketers that care about where their content ranks in search engines need to take content quality issues much more seriously, says Simon Lande, CEO of Magus.

It’s a given that almost every website has outdated, erroneous or orphaned content. In fact, when we recently surveyed 200 large-company website owners, only 13% of them were confident that their sites were reasonably error-free.

Common issues include broken links, missing meta tags and page titles, misspellings, and failure to meet accessibility standards. And, with the number of contributors to websites generally expanding, along with the use of increasingly powerful systems for publishing content, the challenge of maintaining content quality is growing.

These problems only affect the user experience on your website, right?

Unfortunately not. Now Google’s algorithms will actually penalise your site for poor-quality content: in a change known as the “Panda update”, first released in February 2011, Google has specifically aimed to incorporate the concept of quality within its ranking algorithms. It’s a major change that many people don’t appreciate or realise; that these days poorly governed, “low quality” websites, will actually rank lower in search results.

As any SEO expert will tell you, once your page has slipped down beyond the first or second screen of results, it is effectively invisible to searchers. They’ll look elsewhere, or choose to do business with another company.

Here are a few general tips to help marketers deal with this update, from a content-quality perspective:

1) Maintain quality over quantity

This message is probably one you already know and believe in. But of course, the question from an SEO perspective is “what’s quality to a search engine?”

Your content needs to be original and relevant to your audience, meaning it should be themed to what your site is about.

The content then needs to be “Remarkable”, “Likeable”, “+1’able”, as Google is increasingly using the social web to determine relevance. Content that is shared frequently, commented on, “liked” or “+1’d” will be much more likely to achieve a good ranking than content that is not

2) Be careful about your images

Google can sometimes look at an image-heavy site or page and assume you are saturating the site with ads. It is important to strike the right balance between the number of words on a page and the number of images.

3) Balance brevity with depth

Google makes a correlation between the length of articles on a site and perceived “quality”, which marketers need to take into account. Be sure to strike a balance between the number of short pages and the number of meatier pages in the 1,000 to 1,500-word range.

If you have lots of pages that are short in nature consider merging some of them together, as long as they are thematically similar, to make longer, more substantial pages.

4) Yes, grammar, spelling and broken links still matter

Google has made it explicitly clear that spelling, grammar, link integrity and stylistic consistency all play roles within the ranking of pages.

Google’s own Trends Analyst, John Mueller, said in a recent post, “it’s definitely a good idea to create high-quality content, be that by providing a spelling checking mechanism, or by making it possible for other users (or you) to fix quality-issues as they are found.”

This is one of the most frequently made mistakes on corporate web properties today and one of the easiest to fix. But again, with the explosion of content coming from so many directions, it can be impossible to monitor spelling mistakes before they are live on your site. So, make sure that you have a monitoring system in place that can warn you about these mistakes as soon as possible.

5) Improve it, move it, or lose it

Google definitely uses the “staleness” of content to make priority decisions about search ranking. You need to regularly check the vitality of your content using a combination of website quality monitoring and visitor analytics tools. Together, these solutions will enable you to track the freshness of your content, and its popularity with your audience. This is vital as Google will view ‘stale’ content as inferior quality.

Google wisely advises marketers to focus their SEO strategy around the delivery of high quality, relevant content, instead of obsessing over individual algorithmic tweaks. This is good advice. With an automated monitoring system in place, you can ensure your content always scores top marks for quality, and never gets marked down in the search engines for basic errors like spelling mistakes and broken links. It also works to raise your website’s profile by providing the reporting tools you need to optimise your content for accuracy, relevance and freshness.

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