SEO and Panda, One Year Later

Last summer I wrote a blog article called The Problem with the Story You Are Telling, and it was about search. More specifically, it was about the latest (at the time) Google algorithm update – called Panda — and the impact of content quality on search engine results.

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Panda was a game changer, and arguably the most significant update in terms of user experience. Search results were going to be less influenced by what websites had going on “under the hood” in the code, and focused more on what searchers responded to and engaged with. Content engagement would now have a much more significant impact on search results and ranking. As I wrote last summer, “…with everyone (and their sister) using Google Analytics, and engagement metrics from all those sites helping Google understand and identify the content that people are actually reading, it makes sense that this type of information will help the search engine make recommendations based on what people actually like.”

So how should this influence your content marketing strategy? Obviously, websites with engaging content would rank higher. It does lead to some questions, however — mainly focused on what makes content engaging, and how would Google measure that engagement.

While I was at Content Marketing World earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the “Wizard of Moz,” Rand Fishkin (@randfish), deliver a talk on SEO called Onsite SEO in 2015: An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Marketer. It was a great presentation, and a very helpful discussion of how people think that Google search has evolved, and where it might go.

I am not an SEO expert, by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, feel confident enough after hearing Mr. Fishkin to share a few concepts with you — and considering how confusing SEO can be you may find it helpful.

Two things are clear now that the dust has settled, and researchers like Fishkin have had the opportunity to run tests and evaluate performance. Number one is that the code still matters, but maybe not in the manner that you think. Code matters for clicks.

In other words, the way that you structure things like the title of the page, page description, your domain, the URL, and the age of the page are critical for driving the clicks that are now one of the most consistent ways Google ranks your page. Content and engagement are important, but so is how your page looks in the search engine results. If it is not structured properly, you may not draw those clicks that you need in order to rank up. If you can’t get them to click by packaging your content effectively and attractively, engagement becomes a moot point.

The second thing that is clear is that engagement matters, and Google has some pretty clear metrics to look at when evaluating it. Consider, for example, short clicks and long clicks. A short click is when someone clicks on a link from the Google results, and then immediately hits the back button on the browser. To Google that means the searcher did not find what they are looking for. On the other hand, if they click on a link from search and don’t come back (a long click), then it is more likely the page had what they were searching for. As Fishkin said, Google is going to reward pages with the “…content that fulfills the searchers conscious and unconscious needs.”

Other engagement metrics? Well, should the searcher go deeper onto your site and engage with even more content? You are rewarded. Should the searcher return to your site for subsequent visits? You are rewarded.

So what do you need to do?

Be clear about the content on your page, and package it in a way that is friendly for searchers to scan and make the decision to click. Reward them with exactly what they thought they were going to be getting once they hit your site. And finally, make it easy for them to find other, related content that may be of interest to them.

So again, as I said last summer, it is not as important to drive as much traffic as possible. What really matters is that the people who do visit your site find content that they will engage with, and that they will come back to, and that they will share. Content strategy’s impact on SEO is now clearer than ever. Serve the needs of the buyer with content they can use, and it will pay dividends.