Insight Marketing Blog

Panda 4.1: How to Handle Google’s Latest Update

Will Panda 4.1 affect your organic search rankings?

Panda 4.1 and SEOThe Panda update can work in your favor, if you know what it’s looking for.

A few years ago, Google released an update it called Panda, which aimed to weed out low-quality content in its organic search results. While the intended target was so-called “content farm” websites that had loads of lousy content to boost their search rankings, many reputable businesses also took a hit.

Those businesses then had to go back and reevaluate their website content, based on Google’s guidelines (more on that in a minute). Results were mixed: many regained their former rankings after a while, some surpassed them, and others saw no improvement at all. Subsequent updates often made matters even worse.

Understandably, businesses get gun shy whenever Google announces another Panda update.

With its newest update, Panda 4.1, the search giant is hoping to rectify its negative impact on legitimate websites. In a Google+ post last month, the company said:

Based on user (and webmaster) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.

 Depending on the locale, around 3-5% of queries are affected.

Of course, Google didn’t go into details. It has always been “cloak-and-dagger” about the 200 or so search factors it uses to determine search rankings. Just because an earlier update had no effect on your rankings doesn’t mean you won’t be penalized by this one, and vice versa.

If you notice a dip in your rankings, what should you do? First, check to make sure Panda is actually to blame. SEO tools on the market can match your analytics data with Google updates to determine whether or not Panda was the culprit. It might turn out your rankings dropped due to other factors – even a different Google update.

And if it is Panda? Instead of fretting over this particular update (a futile exercise since we don’t actually know what it does), Google suggests you focus on producing the kind of high-quality content Panda was designed to detect. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what exactly Panda wants.

Google’s Panda Guidelines for Content

Back in May of 2011, Google posted 23 questions to consider when creating website content. It hasn’t updated or changed them in three years, so it’s a good bet this is still the yardstick Google uses. As some of them are redundant, I’ve included what I consider the 10 most important here:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic or factual errors?
  • 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?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • 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?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

At this point you may be asking, wait … who is Google to decide the value of my content anyway? Now that anyone can publish anything online, you might say Google has taken on the traditional role of an editor. And the editor always gets the final say.

Want to get on page one? Punch up the copy.

Optimizing Your Website Content

Step 1: Conduct a content audit

Use Google’s content questions as a starting point to conduct a thorough, page-by-page, content audit of your site. Flag pages or posts that don’t conform to a majority of these guidelines. After that, it’s time to clean house.

Step 2: Fix weak pages

If a post or page really doesn’t offer something useful to your visitors, get rid of it. You can:

  • Delete it altogether
  • Merge it with other pages covering the same topic
  • Look for ways to expand what’s there into something more substantial.

If you believe the page is necessary as is, but don’t want search engines to find it, you can utilize “no index meta tags” to keep search engines from crawling that page. (Google has a brief tutorial here.)

Step 3: Eliminate duplicate content

Assuming you’re creating original content, duplicate content shouldn’t be that much of an issue. However, there are times when your pages may use very similar language to describe similar products or services. Or when you’re syndicating content for publication elsewhere.

When that happens, you can use something called “canonical URLs” to tell search engines which page you’d prefer them to index. (Here’s more information from Google.)

Step 4: Create new, valuable content

Before you publish a new piece of content, revisit the questions above. Google’s goal is to please its users, so it wants to return the freshest and most valuable results it can.

In truth, you should always be thinking of ways to answer consumer questions and provide useful information that will make it easy for them to use your product or service. Do that, and you won’t really need Google’s content questionnaire – you’ll have beaten them to the punch.

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Are You Giving Your Business a Bad Name?

A Refresher on Naming Your Business, Product or Brand

Naming your business

The right name can mean the difference between success and obscurity.

I’ve written in both my books about the importance of naming your business, but in my experience, it’s still overlooked as a critical component of a business’s overall brand image. What you call your business, product or brand can quite literally make you a household name, or an also-ran.

Let’s start with a few simple rules for naming.

Rule 1: Avoid generic sounding names

This seems obvious enough – if your name is too generic, or even cliché, what are the odds prospective customers will remember it?

Most often, companies make this mistake because they want to be viewed as large, established players in their industries. So they incorporate words like Universal, Consolidated or General. (Does a word get more generic than General?) Words like this are the equivalent of elevator music, blending into the background while a more interesting brand is giving a compelling elevator pitch.

Smaller companies do it, too. Which is more likely to catch my attention – another Discount Tire Center, or Road Ready Tires?

Today’s startups and app developers have figured this out. They’re probably the best at creating memorable names for their ventures and products. Take, for example, Evernote, Snapchat, Spotify, or everyone’s favorite photo tool, Instagram. Instantly memorable, they paint a picture (even when the words are made-up or nonsensical).

Rule 2: Avoid initials or acronyms

A couple of years ago, I needed to replace a router for my computer network. A colleague suggested I go with a company called SMC Corporation. In the end, I bought a router from a company called NetGear instead. Why? Well, when the time came to conduct research, companies like NetGear and Cisco sprang to mind, while SMC left no impression.

(A quick Google search shows they’re still in business, but I had the name wrong – it’s SMC Networks. No wonder, when you consider that the name manages to violate both rules 1 and 2!)

By now the reason for this rule should be clear: Acronyms and initials communicate nothing of value or interest to the consumer. They leave no trace in the consumer’s mind.

Rule 3: Avoid names with too many words

Long names might be the least problematic of the three naming mistakes, at least if they’re somewhat memorable or descriptive. However, it still makes the customer do too much work. Whenever possible, shorten a long, rambling name into something concise and evocative.

A company with a name like Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company hardly sounds like a leader in innovation. Yet that’s exactly what this particular company wanted to relay. Which is why the company smartly shortened its name to the now-familiar 3M.

The Art of Renaming

From time to time, you might discover there’s a solid reason to rename your business, product or brand. Perhaps it violates one of the rules above. Or maybe there are specific business advantages to making the change.

Here are three such examples.

Tap into brand equity. 37Signals produced simple, user-friendly project management software. The name had cachet in tech circles, but customers often referred to the company by its most popular product: Basecamp. So this year, in order to capitalize on that brand’s popularity, the company officially changed its name to Basecamp.

Reform a negative brand image. Most of us know Philip Morris as a producer of tobacco products – an unpopular industry in today’s health-conscious culture. After being targeted in high-profile lawsuits and demonized in the press, the multinational corporation decided it needed to shed those negative associations. As a result, Philip Morris became Altria, a new name that carried no baggage and, the company hoped, would allow it to reshape its brand image with a clean slate.

Address new capabilities. CallCopy originally chose its name to reflect its core product: call-recording software. Unfortunately, when the time came to expand its capabilities, it was difficult to shake the public perception that call-recording software was all it had to offer. So CallCopy changed its name to Uptivity, which speaks to its new wider focus on “work-force optimization tools.”

Is your business, product or brand name interesting, memorable and concise? Does it distinguish you from the competition? If not, use these three rules to make a name for yourself.

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What’s New (and What Isn’t) for Search Engine Optimization

How does Google’s latest search algorithms affect  your SEO strategies?

New trends in SEO

Keeping up with SEO trends is vital for any business website.

Each year, search engine giants Google and Bing roll out new algorithms (they control the answers we get to our search queries) that impact the way businesses approach search engine optimization (SEO). Sometimes the changes represent a major sea change in SEO thinking. Others are quiet rollouts that cause few waves.

Google’s recent update, called Hummingbird, is its biggest change in over a decade. Hummingbird looks more closely at the intent behind search queries—what users really want when they type in words or phrases—and less at the individual words. In part, this is a response to the increased use of mobile search, where people use spoken queries and more natural language. For its part, Bing lags behind Google on innovative changes, and commands a much smaller share of the market. But Bing is partnered with Facebook, so it shouldn’t be discounted.

So, what do these changes mean for your SEO strategies? Let’s take a look at the six areas that demand the most attention.

1. Keywords & Key Phrases

Keywords are still important. However, because of Hummingbird, expect a resurgence in the popularity of long-tail keyword phrases: groups of search terms that are more detailed than a two- or three-word query. (Think red snakeskin stilettos on sale as opposed to shoes.)

Searchers who enter longer key phrases are usually farther along in the sales process, which is a plus for you. Someone looking for “southern Italian restaurant in Mamaroneck” is more likely ready to go out for dinner, versus someone looking for “restaurants in Westchester.” However, this means it’s no longer useful to shoehorn keywords into your pages for the sake of attracting search engines. If your pages are truly valuable to your ideal customers, they’ll naturally incorporate those keyword phrases people are searching for. Use tools like AdWords and Wordtracker to see what phrases people are using and make sure your pages address those phrases.

2. Great Content

Google has never been shy about pointing out that its primary goal is to serve the user. It does that by finding the most relevant content online. Think of your content as the answer to a user’s search query—not just search engine bait—and craft content around topics and questions your key audience is interested in. More content (text, images, video, graphics)—that is useful and engaging content—consistently ranks higher on both Google and Bing. More pages also mean more entry points where search engines can find your site.

3. Inbound Links

In the past, SEO experts spent a lot of time and energy on link building: getting links to your site from other sites is one way Google judges its relevance and authority. Hummingbird doesn’t eliminate the need for link building, but over time search engines have narrowed what they consider important.

Google looks at the reputation of the referring site and the quality of the content on the other end of the link. And that’s the key. This is about quality, not just quantity. They’re looking for natural connections that make sense, not artificial link building for the sake of SEO.

4. Social Media

Both Google and Bing pay attention to social signals and use them to rank your site. (Especially Google, where its Google Plus social platform is directly connected to the rest of its products. A poor Google Plus review may have more impact than you realize.) If you haven’t already, begin to monitor your social media accounts closely. Be aware of what customers are saying so you can better manage the conversation and your reputation online.

5. Site Architecture

Your website architecture has always been a critical component of search, and that isn’t likely to change. The reason is simple: a poorly structured site results in a poor user experience, and that’s what Google wants to avoid. Make sure your website is well-organized and easy to navigate. Add an XML sitemap to make it easy to crawl. And, as with links, keywords in domain names and page URLs simply don’t matter much anymore.

6. On-Page Elements

On-page elements refer to the structure of an individual page. Like your site structure, the right page formatting creates a better experience for readers and also makes it easier for search engines to understand your content. Make sure you have descriptive title tags for your page titles, proper HTML headings (H1, H2, etc.) and image ALT text (which describes the content of an image). Pay attention to factors such as page load speed, which can be slowed by design, large images or video files.

There are hundreds of variables that go into any search engine algorithm, and we’ll never know them all. But by optimizing these six areas, your SEO strategy will be in great shape.

photo: bloomua | shutterstock

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