Google Panda update was a game changer. It was the major algorithm update that Google used to announce their stand on delivering great user experience in the search.

Today, if you want to rank on Google’s first page, you should be ready to deliver great value with your content. That’s what an effective digital marketing strategy entails. There are no shortcuts.

The days of tricking Google’s algorithm to rank your web pages higher are over. If you go ahead to trick Google’s algorithm, you could succeed though, but, it won’t be long before Google catches up with you and the consequences will be terrible.

In fact, your web pages could even disappear from Google’s search results. That’s how bad not being ethical can result in.

Unlike the days and years before 2011 that one could create content stuffed with keywords (say 20 keywords), slap it on your website and find it ranking on Google for most of these keywords even though they offer no value — it’s a different Google now!

When Google’s Panda Algorithm was released in 2011, the odds were against quite a number of websites with low-quality content — even popular websites.

According to a study by Moz, here are some popular websites that lost greatly to the first update:

Some sites lost good seo positions after panda algorithm introduced due to low quality content

Come on, there is no going back on this. You either create high-quality content or get lost or buried deep into Google’s search result pages.

By the way, Google recently made the Panda Algorithm update a core ranking filter to devalues low-quality websites as stated in TheSemPost:

“Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to websites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.”

And confirmed by Gary Illyes, House Elf and Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google in a Tweet.

With that being said, how can you make your web pages stand out and position your website for better rankings?

In this rest of this in-depth guide, you’re going to learn 6 ways to ethically position your website for improved rankings without the fear of being penalized.

Let’s get started.

#1. Create high-quality content

The primary reason for the Panda update is to enable Google users to find useful content in search results.

This is a core part of Google’s business. On one hand, if users are not happy with the results they get in the search engine, they will likely move to other search engines. But if they are more satisfied with what they get over there, that will become their best search engine. Hence, Google is positioning itself to be the leader in search.

In fact, nowadays, Google is almost synonymous with the internet.

Well, it’s their several algorithm updates that have lead to an improved user experience and has set them apart as the best search engines among many others such as Yahoo and Bing.

No wonder data shows that in Google alone, 3.5 billion searches are performed per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.

Interesting!

Yes, people are looking for content, valuable content to help answer their questions or solve their problems.

So what’s quality content actually that Google users are looking for?

This is usually a controversial question as different marketers have different definitions. But I like to use the Google’s outline from their quality guideline.

Here are their exact words:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

If your content meets these requirements, you’re creating quality content. Don’t forget that Google is in the business of search and their product is search results as it were.

So, obviously, they want to give their users the best results. ”Our goal is to get you to the answer you’re looking for faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between you and the knowledge you seek,says Google.

More so, if you’re looking to create exceptionally high-quality content that appeals to your audience – content that gets found, gets read, and drives customers to your business, then you should add the following proven strategies to your SEO strategy for franchises and other type of businesses:

i). Generate great headlines for your content: Having it in mind that over 80% of people will read your headline and only 20% will read the rest of the content, it makes sense to say that having a great headline is extremely important.

Most of the visitors read only headlines, not the text itself

And you should dedicate quality time to producing content that sparks interest and invites your audience in.

Here are some examples of strong headlines you could copy:

Well, I’ll click on this, I don’t want to be dumb and no one wants to either.

Create headlines that spark interests

And this one:

Intriguing headlines increase are more likely to get clicks

“Really? How do web graphics affect conversions,” you’ll say? It sparks the interest to know.

Don’t forget that creating a great headline is as good as creating a great article. Take your time to make it worthwhile.

ii). Create linkable assets: Linkable assets can be articles on your website that other websites link to, not because you’ll ask them to (in most cases, you won’t) but because the content is valuable, rich, and timely.

You should do your best to create such content. It may cost you a lot of time but it’s worth it.

Here is an example of a linkable article: Moz Search Ranking Factors – PA: 91. LRD: 2,727. TL: 17,750.

Note that PA means Page Authority, LRD: Link Root Domain, TL: Total links.

That content is so amazing everyone wants to link to it. I’ve linked to it on several occasions and I just did now.

iii). Provide answers: Why do people open their devices and head to search engines?

They want answers, right? If you’re a content creator, your goal is to ensure that you answer their questions thoroughly.

It’s the search engines responsibility to deliver the best answers to the user and that’s what Google is trying to do and they are really good at that even when some blackhat marketers try to trick the system, they get punished.

So when people are looking at your content, they are looking for answers, too. So it’s your duty to provide them with answers and fast, too. You should also make it interesting to consume by making it conversational.

In addition, make it easy to scan and easy to pick the most important juice of the content because that’s actually how people read online. Use subheadings and bullets to format your content.

iv). Create engaging and thought-provoking content: Have you wondered why some content out there get so many comments? Some get close to 2,000 comments and others get even more.

Create thought provoking content to gain more user interaction and traffic

It’s because the audience is engaged. When you create content, make it engaging so that your readers will be inspired to comment on it.

Here are some tips to take note of if you want to create engaging content:

a). Leave readers with questions: No, I’m not suggesting you create an incomplete content. But you need to ask users questions at the end of the content that’ll encourage them to reflect on how they’ll implement what they just learned from your article.

b). Tell memorable stories: People love stories. You can weave stories into your content at some point, it makes the content interesting and enjoyable to consume.

A recent study by Content Marketing Institute shows that more and more marketers have made creating compelling content a top priority.

Marketers have made creating compelling content a top priority

v). Add images or videos to your content: An image speaks louder than a thousand words. Visual content is easier to consume than textual content. It’s important that you include images or videos into your content.

A study by Forrester shows that visual content is processed 60,000x faster than text in the brain.

Create visual content for better user experience

vi). Link to your sources: It makes sense to link to the sources of the data, statistics, and images used in your content. It adds credibility, too.

While many SEOs think linking out to other websites will damage their reputation, affect their search engine rankings negatively, and cause them to potential customers to their competitors. That argument is obviously unfounded.

Funny enough, that’s how the internet was designed in the first place. Links make your website more valuable and resourceful for readers who are curious to learn more.

#2. Create content for your audience, not search engines

Who will buy your products or pay for your services, humans or search engines?

Ranking in the first position will be worthless if your content is shit, keyword stuffed, and not easily understood by your readers. Obviously, such type of content is written for search engines.

You can check how we optimized our homepage for Atlanta SEO keyphrase, without stuffing keywords and make it nice for readers.

Sadly, that’s what a lot of SEOs do.

According to Copyblogger, SEO is the most misunderstood topic online. But, SEO content isn’t complicated, once you understand that people come first, before search algorithms.

That’s the way a reputable SEO firm delivers results and makes money — it creates content that appeals to humans, answers their questions and is optimized for search engines. It’s a win-win.

So how can you do the same?

i). Understand your audience: The problem with some content writers is that they don’t usually have a clear understanding of who their target audience is.

They just create content for everyone — that’s a big mistake. Before writing a word, it’s important that you have an understanding of who your audience is, what problem are they looking to get solved with your content?

Knowing this will help you create great content and also attract the right audience.

The easiest way to research your audience is to create a persona for your audience that shows all the characteristics of your ideal audience.

Here is an example:

Create a persona with all the characteristics of your ideal audience

ii). Keyword research: You now have an idea of the kind of content they’ll like to read to help meet their pain points. You need to find out the terms your audience uses to find information online.

For example, one of the features of your product could be that it allows users to save money automatically each month. A typical customer will likely be searching for “How can I save money easily.”

Do you agree with me?

Well, it’s a lot easier now to find out what your audience is searching for with the Google Keyword Planner Tool.

Our SEO department in Orlando did a search on “how to save money” in the Keyword Planner Tool and here are some of the results. People searching for your product are likely using these keywords.

Use Google Keyword Planner Tool for keyword and keyphrases research

Get these keywords and create content around them to answer your audience questions in-depth. With this, you’ll be attracting the right customers to your business. That’s mostly what SEO is all about— attracting target customers, isn’t it?

However, don’t take these keywords and stuff your content with it. 1). Your content won’t make sense, 2). it won’t be persuasive which means no one will be compelled to do business with you even if your website rank.

And lastly, you’ll be inviting the wrath of Google algorithm.

Stay away from keyword stuffing.

You should write for your audience and make it conversational, just the way you speak. It shouldn’t sound like writing but as if you’re speaking to you a friend sitting by your side, not to a crowd.

ii). Don’t forget your content design: Design is also an important factor to consider when creating content. A well-designed content will improve the user experience, will engage readers, and keep them hooked to your content.

For example, you won’t know when you finish reading this growth hacking guide by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor. Because it looks good, it’s interesting and highly engaging.

Well designed content improves user experience and affects better results in SERP

Interestingly, it’s occupying the first and second position of search engine results for the term “growth hacking guide.” that’s most likely because it’s a linkbait content, it’s in-depth and interesting to read.

#3. Improve or get rid of content farms

‘As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are websites with shallow or low-quality content,’ said Matt Cutt, former head of the webspam team at Google

Content farms are websites that allow hundreds of authors to create generic content around every conceivable topic in any niche, in an effort to dominate the search engine result pages and to sell advertising.

Google’s former head of search, Amit Singhal explains how those websites are going to be punished by the Google’s Panda update:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality websites —websites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or websites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality websites —websites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Even though Google clamped down on websites practicing this in 2011 which lead to some of them closing down and others choosing to create better content, several websites still create content farms.

Newsflash: they still get caught and punished.

Stop creating content farms. Instead, if you have low-quality web pages, update your content to add more value to your audience and probably recover from Google’s penalty or you could delete the content entirely from your website.

How do you know a low-quality content?

You should ask yourself the following questions about your content.

  • Is it useful to my audience?
  • Is it well researched?
  • Are my data sources from credible websites?
  • How likely are customers willing to give their credit card details?

To answer these questions you should analyze your content and entire website — run a content audit consistently to discover content that doesn’t fit in or not well written. Either re-create them or remove them completely from your website.

So one thing you want to do is to hire a few good writers to create high-quality content for your blog instead of hiring 1,000 inexperienced writers who will generate low-quality content for cheap.

Worst of all, they could just spin the content and slap it on your website.

And finally, after improving your content or deleting unnecessary content from your website, you should be patient. As it takes time for the content to be indexed.

If your website has been around before the farmer update and you don’t know if your website was affected or not here is how you can find out.

Log into your Google Analytics account and check the data comparison feature. check the days before the farmer/panda update an see if you had a traffic drop or nothing happened. Like so:

Google Analytics data comparison feature

Source: Moz

#4. Deal with duplicate content

There is so much confusion about what Google considers as duplicate content and how to handle that. And from what I see several blogs posting about duplicate content, it’s obvious they don’t know what it is.

In this section, I’ll make it clear and show you how to deal with it.

So, what is duplicate content, you asked?

According to Google:

“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely matches other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin.”

In fact, Matt Cutts, former head of the webspam team at Google said 25 – 30% of the web is made of duplicate content. Also, a recent study by Raven Tools found out almost the same thing.

According to google, duplicate content remains at large

So don’t take duplicate content as something that’s entirely bad. No matter how hard you try to create 100% unique content, you can’t.

Why? You might want to quote an authority in your niche like I’ve done in this article. That also is duplicate content because it has appeared somewhere.

Unless your duplicate content is created deliberately to manipulate Google’s algorithm, there is no penalty for duplicate content.

However, if someone is duplicating your content, you can inform Google by filing a request to get it removed.

I’ll give you a few examples of types of duplicate content:

i). Inconsistent URL structures: Having inconsistent URL structures is another way web content can be duplicated.

Take a look at this URLs.

www.mysite.com/

mysite.com

http://mysite.com

http://mysite.com/

https://www.mysite.com

https://mysite.com

Are they the same?

You might think because the root domain “mysite.com” is the same, then it’s the same.

Well, Google bots see them as different URLs and in that case, it sees it as duplicate content.

However, don’t worry you won’t get penalized for this.

ii). Copied content: It’s bad practice to copy content from websites without permission. And yes, Google also thinks that way.

Get ready to get kicked if you’re busy copying other people’s content for your website or blog. Panda will come after you. Your web pages might not show up in search results at all or will be pushed down the search result pages.

iii). Content curation: Content curation is another form of duplicate content. But Google doesn’t see it as SPAM. A curated content combines ideas from different articles around the web and makes them unique. Definitely, in the process, they’ll most likely be duplicate content.

Curata says in a study that 25% of the content in your marketing mix is duplicate content. But provided you add your own flair to make it unique, you won’t get penalized for this.

iv). Content syndication: A syndicated content is becoming traditional nowadays. According to Curata, the ideal content marketing mix carried a 10% contribution from syndication.

Best marketers strive to create right mix of content of created, curated and syndicated

What is content syndication?

According to Search Engine Watch, “Content syndication is the process of pushing your blog, site or video content out into third-party websites, as a full article, snippet, link or thumbnail.”

In other words, if you want to syndicate your content, it means you want to share your content to several websites out there for publication.

Big websites like Forbes publish syndicated content. It’s no big deal, even Buffer does it. It has the tendency to generate a lot of traffic to your website like it did for Buffer when their content got syndicated on websites like Huffington Post, Fast Company, Inc, etc.

Here is an example of the amount of traffic the syndicated content generated for Buffer.

Using content syndication in a proper way will increase your traffic and improves SEO

Content syndication done right is a good thing.

Are you still worried about duplicate content?

Here is how to deal with it:

i). Do nothing and hope Google gets it right: If your challenge with duplicate content is that Google is ranking your other irrelevant duplicate pages instead of your main pages, one thing you could do is to relax and allow Google to figure it out and fix it or you go ahead and fix it yourself.

ii). Canonical tags: You can also use canonical tags to consolidate signals and pick your preferred version. Canonical tags allow you to tell search engines that certain URLs are actually the same.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to do.

For example, you want to use the content of

“http://example.com/wordpress/seo-plugin”

in a different page:

“http://example.com/wordpress/seo/plugin.”

All you need to do is to open the http://example.com/wordpress/seo/plugin file and include http://example.com/wordpress/seo-plugin/”> in thetag.

iii). Use 301 redirects: 301 redirects is the HTTP status code for a type of redirection that permanently moves a page to another page. This could be one of the best methods to redirect all your other pages to your preferred page.

You could use a tool like Yoast SEO to make the process seamless.

#5. Improve thin content, make it longer

Google frowns at thin content, big time.

However, they are happy with high-quality long-form content which of course, adds value to their users.

What is thin content, by the way?

Thin content is a low-quality content that adds little or no value to the user.

It contains very few paragraphs. It could be just about 20 words or 50 words and sometimes, 100 – 200 words.

In the first place, why will you publish an article of that length?

Maybe anyone doing that will have their reasons. But since it doesn’t add value, it’ll increase your website’s bounce rate which ultimately isn’t good for SEO and of course, will not help you convert visitors into customers.

So what are you going to do?

Delete your thin content? I don’t think so.

Because you’ll have to also deal with 301 redirect issues. The best thing you could do for yourself is to improve the thin content.

Expand it. Make it a long-form content.

Yes, there are some benefits. Apart from the fact that you’ll be solving the Panda Algorithm issue, you’ll also stand a chance to:

i). Rank higher in search engines results pages.

As a study in 2012, found that search engine result pages are dominated by content longer than 2,000+ words.

Search engines favor pages with long form content, preferably over 2000 words

And in 2016, another study by Backlinko found the same thing.

Study by Backlinko showed that the longer the content the better the rankings

The longer the content the better the rankings. However, longer content doesn’t mean you should create crappy content and make it longer. It should be something that gives the reader a ton of value.

ii). Increase conversion.

What’s the goal of doing SEO if not to generate customers?

Long-form content has been proven to support your conversion optimization efforts. Crazy Egg saw a 30% increase in conversion after making their homepage content long-form.

Crazy Egg content strategy changes - over time comparison statistics

It’s crazy having long-form content on your homepage, right. Here is what Crazy Egg said:

“The media would have us believe that people no longer have any capacity to concentrate. In reality, you cannot have a page that’s too long — only one that’s too boring. In the case of Crazy Egg’s home page, visitors wanted their many questions answered and that’s what we delivered.”

iii). Long-form content is seen as an authority.
How will you believe a 300-words word article compared to a 2,000 to 7,000 words article?

There is nothing really to explain in a 300-words article. On the other hand, with long-form content, you get the chance, to prove your industry expertise.

Help Scout has used this SEO strategy to become an expert and thought leader in the customer service industry. They create lengthy guides that are focused on various aspects of customer service.

By using long form content and guides, you will appear more reliable to your visitors

No wonder if people want to think of a customer service desk software to use for their business, they think of Help Scout.

#6. Generate quality links not quantity

Link building done right is still the holy grail strategy to increase your ranking in search engines.

Earlier when link building was still young, marketers were using every conceivable link building strategy to garner as much link as possible by commenting, using sitewide footer links, joining link directories, and several spammy link building strategies.

The truth is that the more links a website had the more chances it had to rank higher for various keywords and queries.

Unfortunately, things have changed. Amassing so many links is great. But it has become harder to generate those links as those methods used in the past are regarded as spammy today and your website can be penalized for participating in such link building methods.

Because search engines are now smart enough to determine the relevance of a link and it’s a lot easier for them to recognize an unnatural link.

Okay, now it goes without saying that it’s not about the number of links you build but the quality.

No wonder link builders are more concern about building high-quality links from reputable websites with high page ranks and domain authority. Instead of from every other source out there.

So in essence, building link farms too, which are also low-quality websites that are built for the purpose of link building is bad and you could be penalized for it as well. Stay away from them.

Final thought

Have you experienced a Google penalty before? Okay, your web page suddenly moved from the first page to page 6, 7, or even 20.

It’s something you shouldn’t pray to happen to you. It can cripple your business if you depend on search traffic to generate customers.

However, it’s one thing to stay away from the wrath of Panda and other Google’s algorithm updates and it’s another thing to adapt. Make up your mind to implement the strategies in this article, put in extra effort to stay on top of your game.

Create more valuable content, and focus on relevant and trusted links only. That’s how to thrive in the search results and grow your business.

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, Atlanta SEO digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).