If you take even a passing interest in SEO or marketing your business online, chances are you will have seen and heard about the recent Google Panda update.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how Google’s algorithm has changed and the impact it mig

ht be having. There have also been quite a few knee-jerk style solutions banded about but there’s been very little in the way of solid, practical advice that can help a small business owner to understand the shift, learn from it and move forward with their website and business.

So today…that’s what I want to cover.

Firstly, what changed? What is the Panda update?

Well some weeks on from the update (which went international April 11th) and despite the usual torrent of analysis, nobody can really pinpoint exactly what has changed – in fact it appears that in actual fact, around a dozen or so things changed about Google’s algorithm.

Google called it a “high-quality site algorithm change”, essentially it is a shift in the way it ranks web pages that’s been developed to help users find better quality websites. Google won’t say specifically what has changed about their algorithm but this description of the Panda update actually gives us everything we need.

We know now we need to build a higher quality website. That might sound like a vague bit of advice but I intend to cover step-by-step guidance on improving the quality of your web pages post-panda.

It’s more important than ever to be the expert

Google is smart and their algorithm is only going to get smarter. I’d go as far as saying Google has the ability (or close to it) to algorithmically detect how deep an article goes in covering a subject. Google has an army of information retrieval specialists that have likely helped them to develop an algorithmic way of understanding whether an article has been written by an expert or whether it misses key points or is factually inaccurate and is therefore ‘thin’ and ultimately low quality.

Leaving SEO aside, becoming the expert in your market is a superb way to market and grow your business. As the “go to” provider of a specific product or service you will instantly become the one people think of – which means quite simply, you’ll be in demand and there will be no hard-sell involved!

Developing and constantly honing your expertise and knowledge of a specific area will help you beat the Panda because it will enable you to create deep, useful and authoritative content which Google will assess as being of a good quality.

Tidy up your design

Google can detect the percentage of your page which is advertising so I’d be willing to suggest that they are analysing other aspects of your page to determine its perceived quality.

You can beat the Panda by casting an objective eye over the look and feel of your website and ask yourself – would I trust this website? Would I hand over my credit card details? If the truthful answer is no then you need to take steps to rectify this and make your website look completely non-spammy and hopefully aesthetically pleasing.

Design is so important and particularly in eCommerce because it helps you to make the most of every visitor that arrives on your website. Enhancing the design will improve conversion, user experience and search engine optimisation – so you are killing three birds with one stone.

Careful use of trust signals like Verisign or TRUSTe are a good way of telling consumers that your website is secure and you take their data and privacy seriously. There is also the suggestion that Google sees a linkback from one of these kinds of sites as a good indicator that your website is trustworthy.

Built trust and authority

Out comes the usual advice to earn good quality links and I know what you are thinking but really there’s no substitute for good quality links from other sites because links are votes and not all votes are equal. Here are some quick, easy and fruitful ways to build links:

  • Relevant directory submissions
  • Sponsorships
  • Charitable giving
  • Guest posts
  • Embeddable badges
  • Advertise a job – within your business or on behalf of another
  • Create an award
  • Distribute a press release
  • Join trade associations and professional bodies
  • Blogger outreach – send gifts, freebies and generally make yourself stand out (in a good way). Don’t outright ask for a link but chances are if what you are doing is noteworthy enough the blogger is going to give you some coverage.

Consolidate pages that overlap.

Many website owners that have been chasing the long tail of search are guilty of a scatter gun approach to content creation. Hitting publish on tens, hundreds or even thousands of pages that have very little value on their own and essentially freeload off the reputation of the website itself.

Google is now detecting pages that simply mimic content and ideas that appear elsewhere on the site. If you have multiple pages with content that is getting at a similar concept or idea but has just been phrased differently or carefully rewritten to maximise the chances of it being picked up in a long tail search query then consider consolidating those pages into one more useful hub.

Google have long said that websites should be created with users in mind rather than search engines and with this in mind, the way to beat the Panda is to really judge what your users are going to value (and or miss) and in reality what has been created solely for the purpose of ranking. Not so much a content cull, but a spot of light pruning certainly wouldn’t go a miss.

There is every suggestion from early indications as to the impact of Panda that low quality content could bring your rankings down across the board. But before you do anything, read my next bit of advice…

I said prune, not cull…

Maintain an objective eye – don’t hit delete on a whole heap of pages that have taken you many hours to create and promote.

Delete the page and you could be eroding some of your valuable link equity. As discussed above, you should consider consolidating closely related pages and create a hub where all the links flow to using 301 redirects or rel= canonical where appropriate.

Become more social

Social media is slowly working its way deeper and deeper into every successful SEO campaign. Google, in clear acknowledgement that the web has shifted, is increasingly looking at social signals when passing judgement on a page. Baking social into the way your business markets itself can improve your search engine visibility but it also gives you another channel to communicate and engage with current and potential customers. It’s a win, win.

A great way for eCommerce website owners to give their website some more social juice is to work it into the purchasing process. Utilise the ‘thank-you’ page that you’re visitor is directed to after they make a purchase and encourage them to share their purchase with their social networks (Facebook and Twitter being the main ones).

A good way to incentivise the customer to share their purchase is by offering a discount off their next purchase. Use one of the many social currency apps out there (e.g. SocialWhispers.com which is free) and once the customer has tweeted or posted to Facebook your pre-determined message they are taken to a page which contains their voucher code to be used against their next order.

They get a discount and you get a potential customer, some social love and it’s easy to do – utilising page real estate that otherwise just thanks them for ordering. It’s a good time to ask them to spread the word too because they’ve just made a purchase so their trust of you and your website is going to be at its peak.

Any questions? I’ll happily answer your queries in the comments section below.

The following is a guest post from James Agate, the founder and SEO Director at Skyrocket SEO, a small UK based SEO consultancy that’s committed to big results.