The birth of Panda 4.1 marked the bitter end of an SEO era where simple dofollow links could get you ranking on page one of Google, even if you were publishing low quality material. It was a time when the authority of a domain mattered more than the quality of its content, and a time when a world of assumptions and speculation once ruled the organic web with an iron fist. It's no secret that Google has long been under pressure to level the playing field and return the best search results possible for their users. That time has now truly come, and today anyone can rank, but as you're about to see, it's what you have to offer your audience, as well as your knowledge of how the web works that will ultimately determine your fate on the organic web.
With the release of Panda 4.1 came Google's announcement that the update would improve rankings for smaller, lesser known publishers who also exhibited high quality content. It's not just Panda that appears to show a major shift, but also the fact that Google has now stated they won't be updating Page Rank in their tool bar in the future (as noted by Google's John Mueller). This is part of their effort to stop SEO's and publishers from spending all their time focusing on link building when they could be focusing on more important things, like their content production efforts and building an effective and lasting audience.
As usual, when Google releases newly updated algorithms, big publishers and bloggers alike usually point to those updates (Panda, Penguin, etc) as being the cause of their poor ranking in search results; when in fact there are many other factors that can doom your site, even if you have the greatest content ever produced. Remember, it's a new era in SEO, and Panda alone cannot be to blame for poor performance.
Here I've created a list of some factors that can literally make or break your site post the new Panda:
Stop Making Assumptions:
Let's face it, assumptions are for the birds! For all those bloggers, SEO's, and publishers who are still publishing articles full of assumptions, speculations, inaccurate info, and hearsay, their days of ranking have clearly come to a dead end. The question is what does your content have to offer that sets it's apart from the rest of the web? Do your articles provide insights that users otherwise could not attain from an alternate source? My thought is, if your content doesn't produce a new concept that is useful in the real world, than it's useless.
The accuracy of the content you portray can also be a means to better ranking. Inaccurate information is becoming a serious cause of concern for search engines. Why? Because, often users will make real world use of the information they find on the web, and if that info is false or misleading, then the content at hand is only going to cause people more problems than it ever solves. If you don't think Google knows their math, then you better think again!
Being as the average user is just going to have to take your word for something, it only makes sense to double check everything you write for poor calculations and grammatical errors, especially if you're writing something technical and there's serious math involved.
Often innovation itself is the result of people working together to discover new ideas, and connecting with others in your industry. Working with others hand in hand on a shared goal can have profound effects in terms of standing out on a noisier than ever internet. In fact, the great success I've seen with this very site is partially the result of the relationships I built with others on social media, and many aspects of it would have never existed if it weren't for those I connected with over the last several years.
Entertain Your Users:
Really, what's the difference between a clown and a blogger? Not much, as both are trying to get the attention of their audiences and keep it. I realize there's a time to be serious, but not everyone who surfs the web is looking to be serious themselves. Often people surf the web looking for cool things to do, like play games online, or socialize with their friends. The question is, what can you do to make your content more entertaining, and offer the social experience that users hunger for?
For example, this site is fully integrated with several Google Plus Communities, one for those who play the hundreds of games we host here, and one for the IT focused users who are more geared towards finding answers to their web based challenges. Our efforts to better integrate this site with social media has afforded us a huge audience that constantly keeps coming back for more.
Poor site functionality and user experience:
Oh no, hit by Panda! Not so fast. Believe it or not, sites that exhibit poor functionality across a multitude of platforms and mobile devices, and or that provide users with a poorly designed user interface can just forget about ranking altogether. Often publishers and even SEO's themselves think a site was hit by Panda or Penguin, when in fact it's the site in questions poor functionality that actually brought about its demise.
Often times publishers and bloggers alike don't understand the technology that drives the web, but if you want to perform today, then it's high time you start learning, or be prepared to dish out tens of thousands of dollars to web developers and SEO's who can patch your sites problems and get you back up to speed with ranking. Being that innovation is what drives the entire internet today, expect the current ranking factors to change constantly as time moves forward.
But there are a few things you can do yourself to identify and fix serious problems with your sites functionality, such as making use of Google's page Speed Insights, which assigns a score for each URL you test, and outlines potential issues so you know what needs to be fixed. Google has also released recent updates that now show mobile usability issues in webmaster tools, which is also seamlessly integrated with Page Speed Insights.
Google has also updated their webmaster technical guidelines, reiterating the need for publishers to adhere to "progressive enhancement", which basically means, feel free to build sites with modern technologies, but keep in account how that modern content will be compatible with older web based technologies, including outdated browsers and devices that may try to access your content.
For instance, this site will load on any device that can render HTML, and all sites today should have this capability, or suffer from poor ranking as a result.
As far as I'm concerned, social media and ranking are competitive web based sports, and I play to win! When our organization doesn't come out on top, we do everything but cry. I'm sorry, but I never could handle being 2nd best, and you shouldn't either. There's first place, and then there's everyone else, which spot will you take?
This doesn't mean you have to produce the best content that's ever hit the web, but you can still carve out a space of authority in your industry. If the public see's you as being a true leader in your industry, you will rise to the top, squeezing out your competitors in the process. Brands too, and not just people are often seen as being an authority in their industries.
Stop Link Building:
If you're still building links, then you're lost. We don't build links here at all, as our visitors do all the link building for us. If people aren't linking to you, then your content isn't working to gain traction and you should seriously rethink your strategies. Let's face it, time is money, and all that time SEO's spend building links won't convince anyone that your content is worthwhile. After all, links no longer hold the power they once did, as other emerging ranking factors such as, the overall value that your content offers users, and your sites technical functionality are likely to have more profound effects in terms of your position in search.
Even Google's John Mueller has recently stated that Google has no plans to ever update Page Rank again, clearly signifying the uselessness of links. If ranking were a recipe, then links are only one ingredient out of many. For example, this site has hardly the link count of competing domains, and not all of our links here are super great, but we can easily out rank other top publishers with our eyes shut. It's the content and the person who's doing the writing that really matters, not links.
While guest posting can be a really great thing, often blogs will publish anything they can get their hands on, regardless of who authored such content. This is clearly a bad move, and it's something that even big media on the web don't fully comprehend. Are the authors who produce your content qualified to be writing about their subject matter? Do they have the educational credentials and industry experience to be writing such material? If not, then don't count on their content to perform well, if at all.
You need experienced professionals to be doing the writing, and no one else!
It's no secret that true innovators are real learners! These are the people who aren't afraid to spend 20,000 hours studying their field of expertise. In order to stay a cut above the rest today, you will have to constantly keep learning new things, and consistently offering new insights that people can actually make use of. Discovering new ways to do old things is what users love, why not be the one to pave the path and offer something totally new and exciting, or put a new twist on an old subject?
For example, I'm a web designer, yet I'm not just knowledgeable about HTML, but understand markup languages well enough to create them myself, affording me the ability to innovate in the web design world. Knowledge is power, make use of it!
Being that the internet itself is reliant on technology, if you don't understand the technology that drives it, than you can't compete, it's as simple as that.
While Panda 4.1 is focused on returning high quality content to users and weeding out all the fluff, again, there are many factors that make up a quality experience, and it's not just the content you produce that matters, but how that content is delivered to and portrayed by your audience. If you're producing exceptional content, then great, just keep in mind how well accessible that information is to all users who may try to access it. If you want to rank moving into the future and stay a cut above the rest, then use the old fashioned process of elimination to slowly weed out potential issues with your websites as they arise.
In the end, it's a brave new era in SEO, where true optimization is geared towards identifying high quality content that portrays meaningful and accurate information, as well as a focus on user experience, and not worthless links that internet audiences could care less about. How in the world do SEO's equate back links as being a signal of quality content? They simply aren't any longer, and it's time to look past the assumptions and start looking towards the obvious, which is convincing those who will make use of your content that's its worthy, not search engines.
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