Panda and Penguin in the Google SEO jungle

Back in 2011 when Google launched its Panda algorithm it gave its clearest indication to date that the quality of a website’s design and user experience (UX) would be a key ranking factor in Google searches. In 2016, the last update to Panda was released, fully integrated within Google’s core algorithm and there it remains to this day, and probably for many years to come.

A year later Panda was followed by Penguin which targeted spammy websites and those websites that used link farms to build unearned links.

More recently, on 28 May 2020, Google took the unusual step of giving advance warning of another major update to its algorithm. 10 years after Panda, a new algorithm update called the “Google Page Experience” will continue to prioritise UX as an important ranking factor. This is due to be released in 2021, giving Webmasters and site owners plenty of time to prepare (more of that in a later blog).

As recently as 14 July 2020,  Martin Splitt (Developer Advocate, Google) suggested in a video about crawl budgets, that when the quality of a webpage content is considered bad Google won’t even index it (this comment happens about 5 minutes into the video but all of it is worth listening to).

So it makes sense to revisit the reasons why Panda was launched in the first place and the impact it had on websites at the time and continues to have, to ensure that the lessons learned then are still practised on your website today.

The Bad Old Days

Once upon a time the SEO landscape resembled the Wild West where “black hat” cowboys would ride into town and deploy all kinds of negative tactics to manipulate the Google algorithm. They would seek to boost their webpage rankings, not on merit but by exploiting any weaknesses in the search algorithm itself.

hand holding a Mickey Mouse hat with a Mickey Mouse badge on the front

This led to numerous websites (often described as content farms) being launched with thin, low-quality content usually generated by cut-price freelance writers, typically stuffed with irrelevant keywords and full of unrelated advertisements. These sites existed only to generate advertising income for their owners with little or no regard for their hapless visitors.

While this may have been very profitable in the short term for the website owners (and probably for the man in the black hat too) the big loser was the unwitting searcher. Search results became increasingly awash with irrelevant, spammy, duplicate webpages and often presented poorly researched or simply incorrect content.

Naturally Google was never going to allow these practices to go unpunished especially if it wanted to maintain its position as the global search engine of choice. Having their users be repeatedly frustrated with search results was a big drawback. And so they introduced the Panda and Penguin algorithms to turn the tables on these rogue sites in favour of higher quality websites whose content was relevant, and whose authority was earned – not paid for.

“Panda” to Your Audience

the audience at a music gig looking at the stage, lady holding up her arms making a heart shape with her hands

Panda and Penguin continue to reward high quality pages that demonstrate EAT (Expertise-Authority-Trust) and actively devalue the low-quality pages. In extreme cases this can result in a Google penalty which will seriously harm the page ranking and can take time to resolve.

And so, unless you are aggressively and deliberately in the business of spamming, it is not in your interest to have a poor-quality website either in UX or content terms. If your target customer can’t find what they were looking for on your site they will quickly click away (bounce) which can only harm your ranking, branding and reputation further.

So what should you be considering when it comes to improving the design and UX of your website such that Google recognises it as being quality content and rank it accordingly?

Top Three User Experience Factors

Here are the three most important things to consider when designing and optimising your website.

1. Webpage Layout

When it comes to clean and simple landing pages, Google leads the way with its search page. It could not be simpler to use, it’s intuitive, self-explanatory and there are no distractions. While your website may not be as familiar to your audience it is no less important that your landing pages are easy to read and easy to interact with. The information I am looking for must be right there on the page (or easy to find) and have a clear call to action to help me with the next step.

This infographic, courtesy of neilpatel.com is a great starting point when it comes to planning or re-visiting the design and layout of your key landing pages. The full article explains the nine key points in more detail.

infographic of a perfect landing page indicating the 9 key best practice landing page factors

2. Content

Make sure your website is content-rich. The simplest way to add content to an existing website is through blogging, a great opportunity to regularly showcase your expertise and keep your content up to date.

Guest blogging is still popular and not discouraged by Google, however it is essential that all your blog content is original, authoritative, spell-checked and grammatically correct. Poor quality, auto-generated content will upset the Panda.

a black chalkboard with the words "Blogging Bloggers" written in yellow chalk with other SEO terms written in white chalk

So ensure all landing pages are of good quality, because poor quality (or “thin”) pages will drag down your good quality pages with them. If you have webpages that are necessarily light on content but still important and linked by other pages (such as a log in page), then consider “noindexing” them – which will also help the Google algorithm crawl your site more quickly.

3. Backlinks

Trust has to be earned over time, not bought, and the same applies to backlinks. Avoid backlink schemes which generate unnatural or irrelevant backlinks to your website.

If you find your website has a number of poor-quality backlinks, for example from sites that have no relevance to you or your industry, you can contact the source website owner to request they remove the link. In extreme cases you can “disavow” these sites through the Google Search Console. But a word of caution: this is very much a last resort, as once disavowed, the link cannot be re-established.

Of course there is much, much more to SEO than layout, content and backlinks – SEO is a huge and hairy beast – but if you only have the time or resources to concentrate on a handful of priorities then this is a good place to start.

For more information and advice on website layout and user experience or to receive a free copy of our Website and UX Checklist please Contact Us

About the Author

Alan Say knows what it takes to get your website found on Google. As an experienced SEO Marketer, the clients he works with are ranking higher in searches and attracting more customers.

If you want to learn more about UX Design & Layout contact us to arrange a free 30 minute consultation and receive a copy of our free Website Structure & User Experience Checklist.



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