Well, Google has done it again! Earlier this month, the 40 Search Quality Updates they announced in late February have been officially named as the Google Panda 3.3 update. As you many know, Google Panda was an update that hit many websites hard.
With 40 separate updates, it can be overwhelming to sort through the inconsequential tweaks to find the significant changes. Within these 40 changes, 3 stand out as being huge for Google SEO.
Two are related to local search results, which is where SMBs (small and medium businesses) are going to get their traffic:
26. Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.
36. Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.
Until now, a local business would get traffic in two ways:
1) By optimizing for their website with geo-specific keywords (city, county, area) and trying to capture those searches that specifically used the geo-specific keyword in the query, e.g. "Oakland Chinese Restaurant."
2) By optimizing their Google Places listing and hoping that Google would serve up a map listing based on the searchers location.
The change brought about by the Venice update adds a third stream of traffic and is a synthesis of the other two. Google will now promote websites in the organic results for generic searches, where it detects the website is local to the searcher.
That's good news for local businesses, but not good news for directory sites that target multiple localities, as they get pushed down the page. With so many other changes slowly eating away at the above-the-fold Google organic results, that doesn't leave much room for that niche.
Another change that is potentially huge for a lot of people in the SEO world is related to link building:
33. 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. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
The first Panda Update devalued a lot of low quality link sources. There has been speculation that this change actually devalues anchor text as a method for determining the topic of the linked page.
This speculation makes perfect sense, because anchor text is something used by SEOs and webmasters to tell Google what the content of the linked page is about. Just as with the old meta keyword tag, this signal is too open to manipulation, and not to be trusted.
So, some good news and some bad news, at least from the perspective of promoting local businesses. Time will tell how Panda 3.3 shakes out, and by that time, I'm sure there will be another update that shakes things up.
What is Google Panda?
Google Panda was an update of Google's search algorithm that was implemented in February or 2011. In case you don't know, a search algorithm is the formula with which Google, or any search engine ranks web pages in search query results. Google updates it's algorithm frequently, and names the larger updates.
You may have heard of Panda, because this major update was controversial, not only because it caused many highly trafficked websites to drop much lower in the results, but because the effect the update had on the overall search results seemed by many to be counterproductive, if indeed the update was aimed at improving their quality.
What Did Panda Do?
The Panda update was aimed at penalizing garbage websites with little or no original content, or with content deeply buried in affiliate links or Google Adsense ads. Although the idea was a good one, the execution ended up penalizing websites with good original content and promoting websites that were copying that same content and repackaging it.
Panda also reduced or negated the positive attributes of low quality backlinks.
Should You Care About Google Panda?
If you are a small business and have a user-friendly website with original content, and not a lot of affiliate links, banners or Google Adsense ads, there isn't anything you need to do with your on-page search engine optimization or content as a result of Panda. You may, however, need to build some higher quality backlinks to maintain the position you had before Panda, if you did see a drop in traffic starting in early 2011.
It's not uncommon during a web design project for a client to ask for a design to “fill the entire screen.” The response to that request is: “Whose screen would you like to fill?” The appearance of a web page in a computer screen, or monitor, is dependent on a lot of things, not the least of which is the screen resolution at which the user has their monitor set. I took a look at the last couple of months of one of my higher traffic blogs, as I do on a regular basis, to see how my visitors are viewing the website.
Here are the results:
|Screen Resolution ||Visits||Contribution to total:|
As you can see, screen resolution widths of between roughly 1300 and 1400 pixels are most common, with larger resolutions coming next, and the old 1024 x 768 standard making up less than 10 percent of the total. 800 x 600 is long gone. And 320 x 480? That's the iPhone, ranking number 10 at 1.74%.
So you can see that filling the user's screen is relative. Elastic designs can be used to some extent to resize the page to fill screens at different resolutions, but this technique has limits. In the end, it is more important to have all of the content visible to users with low screen resolutions. That means that sometimes visitors will see background on the sides of your web content, especially if they have a large monitor set at a high screen resolution.
Gone are the days when Google would update it's ranking algorithm only semi-annually. On those momentus occassions the SEOs (search engine optimizers) would fill the forums with posts about which datacenters the new algorithm was showing up on, and what it was doing to their ranking. Google now updates its algorithm on an average rate of nearly one a day, if you are to believe Matt Cutts of Google. Many of the changes are minor, but some are significant enough, and noticable enough to be name, just like in the old days.
The "May Day" update, that showed up last month, in May of course, reportedly has had a significant effect on "long tail" traffic to some websites. Long tail traffic refers to traffic from search phrases consisting of more than three-words. Long tail searches are less competetive and have historically been much easier to rank well in. That may be changing. Google has been messing around with the long tail for some time, both in their natural search algorithm, as well as their Adwords pay per click algorithm. This is likely a move in the same direction, towards big brands and away from a more "democratic" Web.
I promote a number of Websites on Google and haven't noticed a drop-off in traffic, so "May Day" looks like a change that effects websites that get most of their traffic from the long tail. If it is a change that is truely aimed at improving the quality of search results by minimizing SPAM, I'm all for it. If it's a move designed to somehow push people towards larger companies who tend to provide Google with more income, as have been the majority of their updates recently, then it will result in lower quality search results. That has been the way Google has been drifting in the last couple of years. We'll see how this change plays out.
I received this notice last week, along with all other Google Adwords advertisers:
"Important changes to Google AdWords local business ads
Dear AdWords Advertiser,
We are writing to let you know that we’ll soon begin automatically transitioning the local business ads in your AdWords account. This email gives you an overview of the transition process and how you can enable location extensions, a new and improved way to run local ads and drive traffic to your stores.
What will happen to my account?
Over the next few weeks, any campaign containing local business ads will be automatically enabled with extensions using addresses from your local business ads. This means that any standard text ads in that campaign can show with one of your local business addresses when relevant to the user. You can visit our website to learn more.
In addition, your local business ads will be replaced with new ads that are individually associated with an “address override” to ensure the same behavior as the local business ads they replace. While your text ads in the campaign can serve with any of your addresses, each transitioned local business ad is tied to a single address and will only show to users near that address.
Please be aware that ads with address overrides offer limited flexibility compared to location extensions. Since locations extensions offer many new functionalities in comparison to local business ads, we encourage you to upgrade to location extensions as soon as possible to enjoy the full benefits of this new feature. Visit our website for a step-by-step guide on how to convert your local business ads to location extensions before or after the automatic transition.
We are committed to the success of your local business and value your feedback throughout this transition. Please feel free to share any comments you have related to the process.
The Google AdWords Team"
In short, if you do nothing, the local business ads in your adwords account will be transitioned automatically to "location extensions" with address overrides. The address overrides act to limit the display of your ad to within a 10 mile radius of the ad address. This is the same behavior seen with your local business ad, but it's a better idea to just create a new extension, and then delete the transitioned ad with the override. This effectively removes the display limit for the ad. For businesses with multiple locations (in Google Places) it also makes the address displayed dynamic, so instead of multiple local business ads, you need just one locations extension in your Adwords campaign.
The terms “Social media,” “Web 2.0,” “Twitter” and “Facebook” are saturating the media, and clogging our spam filters. How many emails or ads have you seen that said something like “Millions of people use Facebook every day. Don’t miss out on the advertising opportunity and get left behind?” In fact I regularly get inquiry from clients asking whether or not they should be on Facebook or Twitter.