Creating Websites Optimized for Google’s Panda Algorithm

Nov 15 2011 by Adam Heitzman | 43 Comments

Creating Websites Optimized for Google's Panda Algorithm

Whether you’re in the process of building a new website or redesigning an existing site, it’s vital to build it with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.

The king of search engines, as everyone knows, is Google, making up over 65.3% of all search traffic (in October 2011).

Google’s goal is simple: to give their users the most relevant, high-quality search engine results as accurately and quickly as possible. So in early-2011 Google introduced an update to their search engine algorithm, dubbed Panda, as part of the company’s continual pursuit of that goal.

For those of you who are unaware, the Google Panda update reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results — more than any other update before.

Since then, Google has rolled out several other updates to Panda, dramatically changing how thousands of websites are ranked.

Those that were considered to be high-quality sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from ranking at the top.

So now, the obvious question is this: How can we make websites that are seen as high-quality in the eyes of Google Panda?

Read the following tips to make sure your site is optimized for Google Panda.

Design for Engagement and User Experience

To put it simply, Googlebot is starting to view websites more and more like humans. Thus the design of a site is going to start playing a much larger role in how it’s ranked more than ever before.

The Panda update is looking closer at several metrics to see how engaging and user-friendly a web page is. Some metrics that help quantify engagement and user experience quality are:

  • Amount of time spent on the website
  • Bounce rate
  • Number of web pages per visit
  • Page response times
  • Conversion rates

These metrics give you a clue as to how good a website is in keeping visitors engaged. For example, a website with a high number of web pages per visit could mean that the visitor thinks the website is interesting and engaging.

Well-designed sites are typically more visually pleasing, easier to understand and often fare well in the metrics mentioned above than those with poor designs.

Thus, your goal is to craft a website with a great user experience that captivates your audience. In addition, make sure that the website is optimized for speed, as this also affects the user experience and the site’s usability. Remember that usability and SEO go hand in hand.

For tips on improving engagement and the user experience, read the following articles:

Spelling and Grammar are Important

This might sound obvious but you will be very surprised at how many websites suffer from poor spelling and/or grammar. Google does evaluate content quality of websites. In fact, Matt Cutts, a highly-regarded individual in the SEO community and member of the Search Quality group at Google, addressed this in a YouTube video.

Cutts said, "We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well."

Focus on Content Quality

Google likes content. This is not a newfound idea, but it is one that is often neglected. You have to be dedicated to developing high-quality, original content.

Try to become an authority in your industry by writing content that visitors would want to bookmark, share or recommend.

Google specifically states what they look for in a high-quality site by providing you questions to ask yourself. Here are just a few questions they suggest you ask when you produce content:

  • 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 more shallow in nature?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

As you can see, a large emphasis in quality is being placed on the creation of content. This must be at the forefront of any design or website management duties.

For tips on improving content quality and content strategy, check out the following articles:

Avoid Too Many Ads

Again, this goes back to designing with humans in mind. Having too many advertisements can make Google think the site exists just to serve ads rather than provide authoritative information.

Avoid Duplicate Content

Avoid having the same content being displayed on any pages. Each web page should have their own unique content specifically tied to what that page is about.

A web page should also have its own unique meta description and meta title attributes. For more information on this topic, read 5 Common SEO Mistakes with Web Page Titles.

Less is More

Over time, if a website is not regularly tended to, it can begin to have hundreds of pages that, many times, even the website manager is unaware of.

Google states that having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can bring down your rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality pages.

In these cases, it is best to consolidate to create a cleaner experience for the end user.

Ensure High-Quality Code

It is important to run your website through code quality assurance processes. Good markup hints that the quality of the website is also good. At the simplest level, you can just use the W3C Markup Validation Service to ensure your HTML complies with W3C standards.

W3C Markup Validation Service

To get tips on how to improve your site’s code in terms of quality, standards compliance and web performance, read the following articles:

Conclusion

As the Web continues to evolve and become more humanized, it’s imperative that you take these tips into account when dealing with your current or new website. Search engine algorithms will only become better with their ability to distinguish what makes the end user happy. And if they are happy, you will be happy too!

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About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.

43 Comments

Craig

November 15th, 2011

Great article.

Im just in the process of redesigning my site and this could not have come at a better time. I fear the panda, so these tips have made me feel a little more comfortable!

Chris Agro

November 15th, 2011

Very informative. A good read for clients considering a new website as well as designers who are relied upon to build effective websites for today’s Internet.

Block Toys

November 15th, 2011

Nice and comprehensive list of todo’s. What about page background color? A lot of people reported that websites with white background color (or light colors) work better after the panda update. I found that hard to believe but it can be related to website readability.

Ben

November 15th, 2011

A really good article, some good points to take from this.

Allison Bliss

November 15th, 2011

Great article, Adam. You obviously know this topic well, so I appreciate your wisdom!

Wanted to get your thoughts on this:

I heard that Google is looking more closely at metrics of Recent Activity on a site, too, implying that social media involvement (like box from Facebook or similar from Twitter – have one on my page as an example) can benefit ranking.

thanks!

Buddyweb

November 15th, 2011

Thanks for the information. I guess next Google updates will be more more based on real quality and “human” metrics.

Rednights

November 15th, 2011

On ads, you have to be careful of ads that push user content below the fold. I wish Googlebot would start punishing those annoying site wide box ads with subscribe to RSS spam nonsense.

100% W3C validation isn’t that important IMO, putting simple +1 or Twitter buttons breaks code immediately, but yes native code should be spot on.

Marco Berrocal

November 15th, 2011

Great article!!! To add though, the importance of inbound links. This can be done by writing quality content, participating actively in online communities RELATED to what you do, and getting your name out there. I have seen some sites that “accept” contributions for backlinks but don’t know how safe this practice is. Specially in Web design when it comes to galleries. I get “preferential” treatment and a FOLLOW attribute if I pay, nada if I don’t. What do you think of that Adam?

Maybelle

November 15th, 2011

These are wonderful inputs specially for SEO and online marketing. Thanks for sharing!

Jake Downs

November 15th, 2011

I’ve always struggled with explaining to my clients exactly why spending time (and money) on good copy and design is so important. Now that google is rewarding my efforts by improving everyone’s favorite buzzword, SEO based on viewers usage stats- it’ll be much easier for them to get the picture. Great article and great links included!

edie

November 16th, 2011

i’m scary about ensuring High-quality code since there are so many validation services out there that use different standard. any suggestion?

Sarah Karaviotis

November 16th, 2011

Fantastic article Adam, thanks! Good to know that content is still king, and the rise of quality copy can only be a good thing in my book!

Daved

November 16th, 2011

This is a good article and raises many great points about design and content – especially the one surrounding spelling, a pet peeve of mine.

These areas of consideration are not new and have been around for designers and architects for a while. There has just been a lack of motivation or noticeable consequences for not following these practices. In a way, it seems as though Google, with Panda, is really giving people a reason to finally think their design and architecture through thoroughly before rolling out a new site or design.

Thank you for bringing this up to the masses and showing the value associated with these principles of proper site design.

grasp

November 16th, 2011

This is really an amazing post,thnx Adam for this wonderful post…..

Scott

November 16th, 2011

This article is pretty misleading… you say Google looks at factors like “Amount of time spent on the website”, “Bounce rate”, “Number of web pages per visit” and “Conversion rates” but they have no way to measure these. (Although perhaps Bounce Rate could be roughly guessed from users who return to search results.)

Also, given that you mentioned Matt Cutts’ webmaster videos, you should know that valid HTML does NOT effect SEO, as mentioned in several of those videos and many other places on the web.

I think what you really mean to say is: good content with a good user experience will naturally gather back links over time and thus increase SEO.

rudhal

November 16th, 2011

exelllent article dude.. I guess next Google updates will be more more based on real quality

Hugo

November 16th, 2011

Spelling, sentence structure and punctuation all need to be excellent for Panda.
We have to write for people,and the Panda will follow your website !

Navigator Multimedia

November 16th, 2011

Comprehensive articles like these need to be published at large and distributed to small business owners who are eager to climb the Google rankings for keyword searches! Oftentimes, convincing clients that investing in well-written, grammatically clean content, is a challenge insomuch as it is difficult to show direct examples of results. We need more content on the value of content!

Rajesh Namase

November 16th, 2011

Very good article, I learned many things. Thanks for posting such resourceful article.

Joshua Zamora

November 16th, 2011

Great Article Adam. I just started online this year so never had any experience with websites prior to Panda update. So it’s great to learn things fresh instead of re learning.

thanks for the tips

TheNorba

November 16th, 2011

Great advices, this is definitely an informative article to be added to favorites!

Dave

November 16th, 2011

Great job. I always re-think what a low quality page is for Google and beyond the obvious dupe content, broken code etc.. I always think what would be the best measure from a user’s point of view.

I would *like* to say that a measurement of CTR (traffic) to deep pages – or lack thereof would be a great signal but it’s pretty biased. That page could be getting tons of traffic from a referral other than G and how would they know? Maybe use GA data?

Just thoughts anyways….

bob wernly

November 16th, 2011

Having too many advertisements can make Google think the site exists just to serve ads rather than provide authoritative information.

How many is too many. GOOGLE enginerrs have me driven to put up more ads. Which GOOGLE do I listen too? Is there a formula for a best range?

Cliff

November 17th, 2011

Great article. One criteria I am iffy about whether it will affect SEO (greatly) is W3C. Most top rank websites I’ve seen is not W3C. I agree that websites should be built with W3C in mind (cleaner code, easier to debug, more polish etc). But the majority top ranking sites I put into the W3C validator all fail. Even Google.com have errors in W3C Validator (http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=www.google.com&charset=%28detect+automatically%29&doctype=Inline&group=0).

Thomas Morris

November 17th, 2011

Nice article. Content and social media seem to making an impact on SEO. I’d agree with the above sentiment, as much as it is important that a site is coded well, a lot of sites these days use new features that are not always recognised and become official within the W3C validator.

Rian Ariona

November 17th, 2011

awesome article, thanks for the tips Adam!

John Locke

November 17th, 2011

Very good article, now, my thoughts on some comments:

@Block Toys Page background color has always been important for read ability. This dates back to when black hat Seo would hide text. But even advertising giants like John Caples and David Ogilvie stressed that the best performing ads were black text on white background with no less than 90% contrast.

@Craig I don’t fear the Panda. My site is pretty new with few backlinks, but is growing slowly but steadily by putting quality content first.

@Marco I would avoid paying for preferential links, both on principle, and to avoid being linked to by a “bad neighborhood”. Your organic efforts should always be enough.

@Cliff I agree with you about the largest sites not validating. The more stuff that gets added to each page, the less likely it is to validate to W3C. These sites are considered authoritative because of traffic and backlinks. For smaller Sites, I would say try to validate apart from things like iframes from social buttons. Every little bit helps the small sites that are trying to gain traction.

Robin Jennings

November 17th, 2011

W3 compliance is great to keep in mind but is often hard to put into practice as many WP plug-ins break the validation as do some social media connections.

Clean code is so important though.

Sean Hecking

November 17th, 2011

Adam,

You would think a lot of this would be common sense but many sites fall short in some or all of the areas above. It’s interesting how SEO has evolved from being all about keywords 8-10 years ago to becoming part of user experience, design, branding, web analytics and the list goes on. I think the biggest challenge now for SEOs is to decide what to tackle when.

-Sean

vivek

November 18th, 2011

Great article I am looking something like this and I started improving my website designs as you mentioned.

John

November 18th, 2011

Extremely useful, and exactly the kind of relevant information I have been looking for…

Pawel Poturalski

November 18th, 2011

Great job however I have doubts about the last point (“Ensure High-Quality Code”)
Matt Cutts touched this topic on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XlKn6I9rSc and said this is not so important. There is much more other (more important) stuff – imho – that we need to take care about than 100% validate code.

Ethan

November 18th, 2011

Thanks for the tips. It helps a lot. I do though totally agree with the motto “Less is more”.

Jack

November 19th, 2011

Nice article, but any idea if i have a full flash website?

Thanks

Marvs

November 19th, 2011

This is very helpful and a nicely written article. Hopefully I have enough time for a redesign optimized for Panda soon.

patrick

November 20th, 2011

Very informative, excellent article. I agree with the term “Less is more” it also applies on web design and photography.

Scott Sawyer

November 22nd, 2011

Great article! Many great tips I see marketing companies abuse.

Quick question about how Google treats HTML5, does it respect the new semantic elements? We have had problems validating with RDFa and I am concerned it may hurt rankings. It makes sense that valid code is preferred and is a sign of quality and speed.
btw, all those social plugins can be rewritten tovalidate,

Maverick

November 24th, 2011

thanks a ton… very nice article…. full of interesting and useful links as well :)

greg

November 26th, 2011

Isn’t it supposed to be:

‘Spelling and Grammar are Important?’

Gloyns

November 27th, 2011

Duplicate content is the main issue to be concerned about, followed closely by thin content, e.g. pages with little or no unique written content.

E-commerce sites are particular susceptible to this so consider your category/product descriptions and URL paths if you’re embarking on building a new E-commerce site

Henry Louis

November 28th, 2011

It is great information regarding Google’s panda algorithm. I hope this post would be more helpful to website developers to develop their websites search engines friendly. Thanks for sharing this information.

Jacob Gube

November 29th, 2011

@greg: Yes, thank you. It’s been corrected.

Swamykant

December 13th, 2011

Very informative post. I am sure it will help bloggers to recover from the loss created by Panda effect.

It is good to redesign the blog and focus on content. Thanks for the tips.

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