Pandamonium - Post-Google-Panda SEO
Google Panda is the newest of Google's search algorithms, and it's making waves in the SEO world. It was developed to rank sites with a great user experience above those with a poor user experience. The update was designed to root out content farms and untrustworthy websites, although many legitimate sites also struggled to maintain their rankings.
What is Panda?
Instead of using a mathematical calculation based on links and keywords, Panda developers asked hundreds of people to look at real websites, and rank them based on certain metrics, like whether they trusted the information from the site, whether they would use their credit card on the site and whether they'd use medical information from a site. Developers used the responses to these questions to determine what the trusted websites had in common and what the untrustworthy sites were missing.
Google can also track user behavior through Chrome and through its add-on bar in other browsers. Sites with enticing content will have users browse for longer and will get ranked up. Sites which cause users to bounce straight back to the search results will get ranked down. Google has had this information available for a while, but hasn't used it to rank websites until the Panda update.
Optimizing For the Post-Panda Internet
Optimizing your website is both easier and more difficult. The goal is to make your site seem trustworthy, reliable and interesting, so users will stick around as long as possible. However, unlike the pre-Panda internet, there are very few things you can do to artificially increase your ranking. Websites which used dubious SEO tactics are drastically penalized.
The first thing to examine is your user experience. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and has lots of great content. This is not just keyword optimized content, but interesting, engaging material that users want to read. Keep it up to date so users keep coming back, and don't let it fall out of date.
If don't have some sort of analytics for your website, it's time to get them. Google Analytics is free and tracks all the metrics you need to optimize you user experience. Use data like the bounce rate, pages per visit and time on site to determine which pages are interesting and which pages aren't working. Google looks at all the pages on your site, so you may want to rework or remove the landing pages people bounce from, and keep those that push people further into your site.
While you're doing that, take a close look at all your content. In the post-Panda world it's going to need to be so interesting, even people who aren't interested in the subject want to read it. Think amusing and informative. If it's information available all over the internet, the chances are it's not interesting enough for post-Panda ranking.
Use these two principles to develop the best website you can. Panda is changing the nature of searches, but it's not changing the fundamentals of a good user experience. If you provide engaging and truly unique content on an easy-to-navigate website then you're already on the right track. Track your metrics and use them to optimize your user experience even further.