To Improve Search, 'Forget About the Search Engines'
At the June 23 MPA Digital: Technology conference in New York, Horst Joepen, CEO of research firm Searchmetrics, commented on data showing that Google's latest algorithm update, Panda (dubbed "The Farmer"), had no negative effect on the websites of major newspapers and sites like ESPN. "I think there is a message [there]," he said. "'Don't be afraid.' If you have good content, if you have original, quality content, Google is not going to hurt you."
Joepen moderated a session. "Searching For Answers About the New SEO Landscape," which dealt primarily with the effects of the Google update and the increasing importance of social media and multiplatform content to SEO strategy.
"The overarching issue for publishers is how do you get your content found everywhere," noted David Sasson, CEO of Web traffic services provider Outbrain. While search still dominates the landscape, with 41 percent of incoming traffic to websites coming from search engines, social media is becoming increasingly important, he said, currently contributing about 11 percent to sites' incoming traffic.
Significantly, for publishers, almost half (48 percent) of all traffic is coming in from links on other publisher's sites, Sasson said. "These could be links from Yahoo's home page, MSN's home page, the Drudge Report—which plows a lot of traffic into people when that puts something up—or just other smaller niche publishers who are deciding to link back into an article on another site."
The Panda update, Sasson said, allows a publisher to "really start gearing their content for humans. ... It's a nice refreshing change. I think what Google is trying to do to their credit is figure out algorithmically how to access quality."
An important example of this, he said, is the weight Google puts on other Web users' linking to content. As more editors and bloggers link out to quality content on other sites, those destination sites will see a search ranking boost.
"Similarly," Sasson says, "if you think of [social media] users as mini-publishers, if they link to you through social sharing activity [on Twitter, Facebook, etc.], that is becoming a bigger and bigger signal to search engines. ... [they] are paying more attention to those signals as if it was a page rank link coming in from another publisher's site. So that's helping to buoy SEO while getting traffic at the same time."
Sasson said publishers should begin to look at SEO as a "multiplatform challenge," with content discoverable in multiple areas that link back to and influence each other.
Panelist Sangram Kachwaha, vice president of digital service at search engine marketing agency Zeta Interactive, dove deeper into the implications of Panda, which he said affected 84 percent of the top domains in search listings. The sites seeing the biggest drop in traffic, such as eHow, HubPages and EZineArticles.com, saw a dramatic drop in traffic due to being perceived by Google as bringing up irrelevant or low-value content in search results.
Websites were penalized for featuring content copied or syndicated randomly from other sites, as well as shallow, poorly-written content placed on a page just for the sake of keyword inclusion. On the other hand, Panda helped sites featuring original content, research and in-depth reports.
"Develop your site for the users—forget about the search engines," Kachwaha said. "Try to cater to who is coming to your site, who's going to find your content relevant, and if you do that pretty much all of the 200 plus ranking factors that Google is taking into account will fall in line and help you achieve your goals."