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Google Panda Update – Will it affect your Travel website?

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Google have made some updates to their algorithm and these changes have been rolled out recently in the US.  The reason for the update is to reduce the amount of websites with “shallow” content which have often been outranking better quality websites.  “Shallow” content is often found on websites built purely for earning advertising revenue, text is thin on the ground or duplicated in other locations, and the site is ad heavy.

How did Google decide which websites were good and which were poor?

Documents were sent to outside testers asking questions along these lines:  “Would you be comfortable entering your credit card details on this site? Would you be happy giving medicine prescribed by this site to your children?  Do you consider this site to be authoritative?   Would it be okay if this was in a magazine?  Does this site have excessive ads?”  They then decided on a definition of what could be considered as poor quality.

Have the right websites been penalised?

Google’s Chrome Site Blocker allows people to manually exclude sites from their search results and these results were useful as a comparison tool to check the right websites were being downgraded as a result of the algorithm change.  There was an 84% overlap when they compared sites blocked by Site Blocker users compared to sites downgraded by Google.  The data from the Site Blocker was not used as part of the algorithm criteria.

What exact criteria is Google using to decide which sites to penalise?

Google are not going to divulge this information, for the simple fact that the people churning out the low value websites will be able to use workarounds to bring their rank back up.

Should I be concerned?

There are no guarantees that your rankings won’t be affected and you should take an objective look at your website.

If you have advertising on your website, check it is not excessive.  Make sure it is not overloaded above the fold of the page, i.e. in the first part of the page the user sees without scrolling.  Research shows that many sites affected by the updates in the US had a lot of advertising above the fold of the page.

Do you have a good balance of text, images and links?  Is the content unique?  It is mainly the content farms that have been hit by these updates, hence the early nickname Google’s Farmer update.  If your content is unique, well-balanced and contributes to a good user experience then these are all positives.

General good practice for Websites

  • Keep your metadata relevant and not spammy, i.e. not stuffed with keywords
  • Grow relevant backlinks as naturally as possible using good quality content as linkbait.
  • If you exchange links with other websites, make sure the other website is relevant and don’t overdo it.
  • Keep your content readable and not over-stuffed with keywords
  • Make sure your content is unique
  • Ensure your site navigation contributes to a positive user experience

Google’s update is aimed at improving the user experience.  There are other criteria they could potentially be including, e.g. page loading speed, but it really is a guessing game and SEO experts can only make assumptions based on which sites were affected by the US update.  If you get some traffic from the US, check your Google Analytic Stats to see if you have had a reduction in traffic coming from there since 23rd February when the algorithmic update was launched.

If you are currently competing against low-quality websites that are thin on content and heavy on advertising, then you may be pleasantly surprised by the changes!

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