Google Panda 3.3 has caught some people off-guard and made a lot of SEO professionals freak out. After perusing SEOMoz’s discussions on the matter — these are the guys who do SEO for a living — it seems no one really knows what Panda 3.3 has done to their sites. I just know a lot of people aren’t happy about it.
There was one particular change, out of 40, that has everyone freaked out: “Link evaluation: We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.”
Now, no one knows for sure what it means, but chances are, if you have been relying on a backlinking strategy to increase your search engine ranking, or you’re painfully agonizing over your anchor text’s keywords, that may become a problem for you in a few days or weeks. We’ll have to see.
In Wednesday’s post, I discussed four changes Panda 3.3 is bringing to bloggers.
- Improvements to freshness: Google can put fresh content in their results more quickly. Newer posts, articles, and pages are found more easily. This means the quicker you are in hopping on a trending topic, the more likely you are to win search.
- Consolidation of signals for spiking topics: They can see when a new topic is spiking in popularity, and makes it easier to identify in realtime. If you search for breaking news, you’ll be able to find it sooner, and start writing about it.
- Improved local results: They can more easily detect whether search queries and the results are local to you. If you search for “Topeka plumber,” and you’re sitting in Topeka, they’ll make sure you see those results first.
- Link evaluation: This is the big one that’s freaking SEOs out.
Based on these four important changes, what kinds of changes can/should you make to your blog to take advantage of the Google Panda 3.3 update, as well as past updates over the last 12 months? These are five long-term changes you need to start making right now, and make as a part of your regular blogging habit.
1. Focus on local content whenever possible.
If you own a local business, or you’re a local businessperson, you need to write about your business in your city whenever possible. If you’re a real estate agent, write posts about real estate in your city. “How to Stage Your Minneapolis Home Before a Showing,” “Five Things To Fix Before Your Next Minneapolis Home Inspection.” Be sure to use the name of the city in the body copy too.
Learn the html schema code for your particular data types, and tag the appropriate content. (More on schemas in a minute).
2. Use the rel=author tag in your Author bio, point it at your Google+ profile.
First, make sure you have a Google+ profile. (There’s plenty of stuff out there about why you should be using it, so I won’t go into that here. Just know that it’s especially important to SEO now.)
Next, make sure that every blog post you write, whether it’s your own or a guest post, links back to the Google+ profile, and uses the “rel=author” tag. Here’s an example:
<a href=”http://bit.ly/xyLk6s” rel=”author”>Erik Deckers</a>
Hint: By shortening your Google+ profile link with Bitly, it gives you another analytics measurement point. If you really want to get creative, use campaign codes with each article you publish or guest publish, and you can see what kind of click-through traffic you’re getting from a post to your profile.
3. Use schemas whenever possible.
Schemas are a new web classification system created by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Among other things, this is going to help with local search, as well as personal branding, because you can add your city and your name to your blog posts. This will help Google and the other search engines identify you and your town. You’re going to get a boost in local results and a boost on searches for your name.
There are a few hundred schema types, and you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to learn and use them all. In the meantime, there are plugins to use, and you can also identify a few useful schema tags for yourself to use on a regular basis.
For example, if you’re using the PostalAddress schema, to tell Google “this is my local address,” you would write:
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>5348 Tacoma Ave.</span>
We’re starting to use schemas here at Pro Blog Service, but we’re still learning the best ways to use it, and are limiting ourselves mostly to the SchemaFeed plugin for WordPress. Suffice to say, schema is a giant, complex system, and by using it only for blog posts, it’s like using a race car to drive down the block. Still, we’re just bloggers, so what do you want?
We’ll have more about using schemas for blogs in a future post. For more information in the meantime, visit Schema.org.
4. Fix your grammar and punctuation errors
One of the changes that Panda has wrought, starting back when it was first introduced was, that it even started looking at grammar and punctuation errors. While Google has not said they are evaluating pages for grammar and punctuation quality, we have discussed in the past how they are looking at user-generated indicators — time on site, bounce rate, click-through rate — to determine the quality of a blog or website. If your page is filled with errors, and visitors don’t like reading what you wrote, they won’t stick around for very long, and Google will determine that your page must not be a good one.
The same is true for the quality of your writing. If you’re a good writer, or even a fairly passable writer, you have nothing to worry about. If your writing has all the quality of a 10,000 word conspiracy theory manifesto that was written at 3 am in someone’s parents’ basement, then you’re going to have problems.
5. Don’t worry so much about anchor text and backlinks
Like I’ve said, no one is sure exactly what Google meant by “we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.” Some people think it means anchor text is no longer a factor, other people think it means they have devalued backlinks. Google already devalued backlinks when they first released Panda, but others have tested this and found that links still carry some weight.
We do know that Google has been seriously knocking many of these link farms and poor quality sites that did nothing but create thousands upon thousands of backlinks. Any SEO strategies that were built on this tactic are now (or soon will be) on the scrap heap, completely useless.
If you have been knocking yourself out trying to earn backlinks and you agonize over anchor text, you may want to pull back a little on it. Don’t give up on it yet, because until someone knows for sure which indicator has been shut off, it’s still a viable strategy. All we’re saying is don’t give yourself an aneurysm trying to figure out exactly the right keywords and placing all the right backlinks in all the right places.
While these five changes are rather involved, they’re going to be important in the coming months as Google continues to force us to focus more on the quality of our writing and content, and less on the automated SEO strategies that many people have been employing as a way to game the system.
If you’ve already been writing good stuff, and earning your links organically, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re good to go. Keep up the good work.