The Google Panda Algorithm Update

This update, which rolled out on February 23, 2011 does not affect any Sequoia Technologies clients. We do not participate in sketchy SEO techniques or host ads on any of our sites. All sites managed by Sequoia have relevant content geared towards end users and do not to try to game the Google Algorithm. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines have always been sort of the ten commandments for SEO’s and therefore we have always followed them. This is not the case for all SEO companies.

Here is the skinny on the update

The Panda update, also dubbed the “Farmer” update because it targets content / link farms, is geared to stop spam, nothing else. Most companies that offered guaranteed first page rankings figured out long ago that they could generate thousands of back links and thus increase rankings by creating thousands of irrelevant, low-quality articles. They would crawl the Internet and copy articles written by other sources then syndicate these articles, as their own, to directory sites such as ezinearticles, articlebase, and HubPages. Each article would then include links back to whatever site they were trying to promote. This is considered spam by Google, which values unique and relevant content that helps Internet users. The most important source of information is, of course, Google; here’s what they had to say:

Our recent update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, so the key thing for webmasters to do is make sure their sites are the highest quality possible. We looked at a variety of signals to detect low quality sites. Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.

Sequoia Technologies has put together a list of things that every one of our clients should be focused on when it comes to online marketing. It’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of 1st page ranking guarantees and “black hat” SEO tactics, so here is a simple guideline.

Optimize Local Listings

When a user searches for a local service provider they want someone that’s as close as possible. This is the reason Google favors Google Places listings in it’s search results. Google wants to provide the most relevant information to its users. You are relevant because of your business address first and then by the information you provide in your listing. This is where you might decide where your official address is. If you want to target a major city but your business address is in a suburb 25 miles out of town, you’re going to have a hard time competing with businesses that have addresses in your target market. You might consider opening a satellite office or changing your business address all together, the age-old saying is still true “Location, Location, Location”.

Once you have your business location settled, you can enhance your ranking by providing the most relevant information for search engine users. This includes relevant categories, a unique and thoughtful business description, images, videos, and custom attributes such as brands, services, certifications, awards, and associations. The final piece is reviews. Think quality not quantity. The simple solution is to have an email template or policy that you ask every customer for a review after service. You will not get 100% opt in but chances are you won’t get any reviews unless you ask. Local based search and reviews are here to stay, embrace it or be run over by your competition.

Know Your Customer

Matt Cutts is the leader of Google’s spam blocking team. Here are his thoughts from a recent conference. “What I said five years ago is still true: don’t chase algorithm, try to make sites users love.” SEO isn’t just about ranking and constantly checking to see where you rank; it’s about knowing your customer and giving them what they are searching for. If you’re not providing unique, relevant content, then you can’t expect to meet your customers expectations, and they will go elsewhere to find what they seek.

Your Customers Embrace Social Media, Why Don’t You?

Internet users love social media and if we follow the simple rule of “make sites users love” then clearly every business should have a social media campaign. The goal of the social media campaign is to start a community or following of loyal users that will help promote your brand. This is akin to word-of-mouth marketing, but you’re using websites instead of the neighborhood barbecue or your niece’s birthday party.

Use Multiple Channels

Social media isn’t just Facebook and Twitter, it encompasses blogs on your branded blog or guest blogging on another site, video sites such as YouTube, customer reviews on Google Places and Yahoo Local, answering questions on sites such as Yahoo Answers and, and bookmarking relevant pages on Digg and Stumbleupon. You can even add coupons to Craigslist and Local Search sites such as Google Places, Bing Local, and MerchantCircle. The goal is to showcase your expertise, give users what they’re looking for, and enhance your relevancy; the traffic will come.

Stay Active by Dedicating Time

Starting your social media campaign and then forgetting about it is worse than never starting it all. Social media is about real-time and active engagement. This is the way to create a loyal following. If you let it slip, it might show your customers that you aren’t involved and risk losing that valuable engagement. Dedicate a portion of your day to social media, maybe change your status update with your morning coffee or brainstorm blog ideas over lunch. You may also consider getting your team involved and adding incentives for great blog posts or creating videos. Whatever you decide to do, it must keep you active with your social media.

Sequoia welcomes your questions and comments, please let us know how you feel about your SEO campaign and how the recent Google updates affect you.