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Generating Traffic In The Google Panda Era

By in Internet Security

In 2011, Google clamped down on what it considers to be ‘low quality’ content, causing many websites to suffer a decline in rankings.  For some of these web businesses, the fall in traffic was so steep, they could no longer sustain their business operations.  With one adjustment, Google ushered in a new era of search engine marketing.

This new era we’re now in could see the days of easy, free search engine traffic well behind us for the majority of commercial websites.  Google is a maturing company and their flagship ad program is maturing as well.  It should come as no surprise that they’re a bit more stingy with their traffic these days, especially when it comes to sending it to lousy websites.

Google Tightens Up Search Engine Marketing

Despite many complaints to the contrary, a lot of the websites that Google dumped this year really were crappy!  If you don’t believe me, check out this incredibly long thread from the Google webmaster forum: “Think you’re affected by the recent algorithm change, post here.”

Many webmasters took Google up on their offer and posted up their websites as examples of ‘collateral damage.’  They claimed their ‘high-quality websites‘ were unfairly targeted by a Google algorithm turned upside down in a world gone mad. This huge treasure trove of URLs for review gives anyone who takes the time to check out the websites ample examples of exactly what Google targeted in their Google Panda updates.  Go on, review a few dozen of these websites.

I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back?  Good.  Did you see what I saw?

Much of what I saw were thin content websites typified with most of their ‘above-fold‘ real estate taken up by Google Adsense.  For months many of the webmasters in the thread would not admit there was an issue with the actual quality of their websites.  Over time, after being attacked by other thread posters enough times, some would admit that their pages could be ‘over-monetized‘ and that their quality content was actually razor-thin.

After looking at enough of these websites we learn what types of websites not to build.  In essence, they’re the types of sites that used to be loved by Google only a few short years ago!  People who have been impacted by the Google Panda update are having a tough time dealing with the changes because their websites used to typify what was considered a ‘good website‘ for Adsense a few years back.  In fact, a few of the most well-known examples of Google Panda affected websites were poster boys or ‘case studies‘ that once resided on Google’s official Adsense page of ‘what to do‘ in order to be successful in the program.

In 2011, in order to be successful, you need to un-learn what you learned in 2006!  If you don’t, your road back from near-extinction will be tough.

Google didn’t stop their changes with their ‘Panda’ either.  Just when some web publishers thought it would be safe to go back in the water, Google dropped several more bombshells.

They said they’re no longer sending referrers that come from people using secure, encrypted search.  Then they said 35% of their search queries would be impacted by a new ‘freshness factor.’

Google Wants High Quality Now

If you weren’t paying attention to these rapid-fire changes, you might think that things have stayed similar to how it’s always been.  Instead, Google seems to require a radically different game plan than it used to.

Backlinks are still an important factor for ranking well in Google, but it appears they are no longer the primary or only factor.  Now the quality of on-page content is also being measured and judged by Google.

Today, ranking well in Google goes something a bit like this (The New Rules):

  • 1) Well-loved websites rank well.  For new websites, this is a problem.  If your new or unloved for some reason, you’ll have to convince people that your site is great.  This means new website owners can no longer hang around waiting for Google to crown them.  They need to use social media marketing to attract visitors who then help spread the site to friends.
  • 2) Websites with fresh content rank well.  This means some websites that have been relying on ‘evergreen content’ might see a sharp, downward decline in traffic.  Google will be looking for the freshest and most comprehensive content it can find.  This doesn’t bode well for older, poorly designed websites that haven’t been updated in years.
  • 3) Quality rules over quantity.  No longer do bloggers or website owners dare strafe the search engines with hundreds of updates.  Instead, writing well-researched, grammatically correct, posts with pictures and videos is becoming the main way anyone expects to rank.
  • 4) Do something to stand out.  It’s not enough to just get by anymore.  Something about your subject matter or how you handle it needs to stand out from the crowd.  Competition is fierce and top rankings are extremely limited.
  • 5) Guest blogging is the new link exchange.  Guest blogging is how all the cool kids do link exchanges.  So far the process is tolerated, but as it continues to become the primary link-building advice offered, the effectiveness could die off like every other technique ever introduced.  Do guest blogging smart and you shouldn’t have any troubles.
  • 6) Build a brand.  You need people searching for your website by its brand name.  Keyword domains used to be all the rage and some are using them still.  However, branding seems to be another key signal for website quality.
  • 7) Google+ use is a priority.  Using Google+ and the Plus One button are becoming important as Google adds these to their social signal mix.

Despite all the changes and the intentions of Google, all of us can still see many poor quality websites ranking well.  This can be frustrating for people who feel their website is better and is being held back.  Still, the move by Google towards freshness will likely help newer websites.  It seems as if Google is now expecting a ‘survival of the fittest‘ contest to take place.  There are enough high-quality results for most popular search terms, that Google doesn’t have to reward lower quality web pages high ranks just because of relevancy or backlinks.

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What is your take on what’s been happening?