SEO Moz’s 2011 edition of their Search Engine Ranking Factors documents highlights several new factors Google has begun using in search ranking. Some of the big changes from recent years include increased importance in domain-level brand metrics, page-level social metrics and domain-level keyword usage, in addition to a higher focus on content and relevancy. Other factors, like anchor text in external links and exact keyword match domains have decreased in effectiveness while cloaking, over-optimization and being linked from pages penalized by Google produce a negative response.
Google’s Panda algorithm update made content and engagement more important than they’ve ever been when ranking search results. Social metrics, including domain social signals and page social signals, let Google know how many people are viewing your content and feel it’s valuable enough to share. Other factors, like domain-level brand metrics, are used to determine whether you are considered a recognized and authoritative source. For example, if your website offers marketing services and you begin writing on dental marketing, Google can tell that you have expertise in that area and will rank you higher accordingly. If, however, you post the same content on a website pertaining to baking, your authority is questionable and your article won’t have any impact. Usage data has also increased in importance; Google looks at things like bounce rates and click-through rates to determine how many people are visiting a site and staying. All of these factors help our favorite search engine determine what kind of value you’re bringing to your users. If people are visiting your site, sticking around and sharing your information with their friends and colleagues, you’re in a good position.
With content and relevancy playing a larger role, something else had to take a back seat. Things like purchasing exact keyword match domains and the anchor text for external links don’t count for much anymore. Both of those have been extensively used to artificially inflate a site’s PageRank and, while not strictly against the rules, are not embraced by Google. Paid links are pretty easy to spot and won’t help your rank, even though they’re considered a normal part of the web’s economy. There are other practices, however, that will get your site downgraded. Cloaking web pages or hiding text or links with CSS will cause your site to be penalized by Google. Remember, Google is judging you primarily based on what you offer to your users, so don’t try to hide things from your users to boost your PageRank. Link spam, keyword stuffing and excessive keyword-based outbound links will also result in a drop in rank.
At the most basic level, Google’s Panda algorithm update shifted the focus to relevant, useful content that makes users want to engage with a website and its owner. Trying to fill a site with keywords and links – or worse – hiding links from visitors will see your rankings decrease. Google is trying to evolve its crawlers to the point that they can evaluate a website the same way a human would, meaning that the more you build your site for your human audience, the more Google will like it.