Influence and engaging content will dominate natural search rankings

06 April 2011

Some of you may already be aware that there is a fundamental shift about to happen in the UK in the way that Google is going to be ranking websites in the future. It’s known as the “Farmer” or “Panda” update as it is targeting low quality websites called “content farms”. Google’s engineers did a recent Wired[1] interview about it as it could have a big impact on how your website is ranked in the search engines if it suffers from any of the issues shown below.
These Google changes have already been rolled out in the US (since 24 February, 2011) where some websites have seen traffic fall by half. It has affected about 12% of search results with low value content. This useful report from Wordtracker[2] shows what you can do to see if your site will be affected when it comes to the US. Google are saying that you should let them know if your site has high quality content but has still been affected. To summarise the key things to check are:

-         if your site has copied content from other sites,
-         high bounce rates,
-         adverts that are not relevant to keywords used
-         low % of return visitors
-         low visit times
-         over use of any key search terms.

These are things that we should be checking anyway on Google Analytics and other monitoring tools but shows how quality content is going to be king and that those companies that have not started their social media roll out plans are those most likely to be overtaken in natural search by those that have. The numbers of fans and followers and popular ranking of your content is going to be become more important as readers want these indicators to guide them to the best quality content. We have seen a recent massive explosion in user generated content and rankings from readers help us to make more sense of it.
Those sites that have implemented “social sign ins” where the web visitor has been invited to “like” or “tweet” something on their web page is going to be more important. Those US companies that have embraced social as a way of business such as and others are the ones that have seen the most meteoric growth in retail sectors such as clothing and shoes by integrating “like” and “tweet” into every product in their shopping carts. It’s interesting that they come top in the natural search rankings whereas many other similar brands are paying for their adverts in Google. Over time this will make a big difference to your bottom line and provide a real competitive advantage.
I’ve blogged recently about the recent influx of sites such as Klout, PeerIndex and Quora that are all about scoring the “influence” of individuals and companies on the internet. Quora is a Q&A site which is perfect for those individuals that want to showcase their knowledge and raise their online profile. It’s a kind of “rarified Wikipedia for early adopters”. I can see more of these type of sites developing social graphs and looking at how this might help with the creation of powerful virtual buying groups. Already Google has enabled users to add a Quora profile to their Google Profile which can already help your natural search engine rankings.
The most well known of business networking sites such as Linkedin are now adding more applications to their platform to improve user’s understanding of how key individuals are connected to help them. This helps to win new opportunities and can boost our word of mouth marketing. I recently received unprompted a few work opportunities and a link showing me where there was a connection to that company in my network which is very powerful.
Check your site carefully to make sure you have minimised the danger of the Google changes coming soon and take a hard look at your content plans and engagement with your key audiences. I keep harping on about engagement and good content but they are now even more likely than ever to influence the future online success of your business.

[1] TED 2011: The ‘Panda’ That Hates Farms: A Q&A With Google’s Top Search Engineers By Steven Levy March 3, 2011
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