Google has confirmed that Panda is now a part of its core ranking algorithm. Panda has not been updated; Google was careful to specify that any recent updates to its core algorithm were not Panda or Penguin related. Rather, Panda in its current form has been integrated as part of the algorithm's core functionality.
Panda targets page quality. The initial Panda release in 2011 aimed to lower the rankings of pages that contained weak or “thin” content. On a domain level, a website that contained a high percentage of thin content relative to overall content could also be punished.
Google rarely announces or confirms core updates. Moz estimates that Google changes its algorithm 500-600 times a year. Most changes go unnoticed. Some create ranking shake-ups great enough to generate speculation about an update, but few are confirmed.
Google's decision to integrate Panda is unsurprising. Representative have been saying for years that quality content is key to ranking well in search results. What can your firm do now that Panda is part of the core algorithm? Here are three actions you can take:
1. Continue to create targeted, unique and detailed content.
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about its algorithm updates. When it does reveal information publicly, firms should take notice. Google's willingness to disclose that Panda is part of its core algorithm, coupled with the official release of its Page Quality Rating Guidelines at the end of last year, indicates that Google may be interested in using its influence to help improve the quality and usefulness of online content.
Law firms should take particular care with content creation. Google classifies pages that cover legal topics as Your Money or Your Life pages because they have the potential to impact a visitor's current or future well-being. As a result it holds these pages to a higher standard. Additionally, attorney websites can easily fall into the trap of producing content that is very similar to other attorney sites. Many firms in any given market will practice in the same areas, and firms must be vigilant in their efforts to sound distinct.
To start, avoid boilerplate lawyer language. Some of what appears on lawyer websites reads like a bad Mad Lib: “Our _______ lawyers are ready to assist you with your __________ needs.” Just fill in the blanks. It goes without saying that your personal injury firm is ready to help injury victims. That is a baseline performance standard.
Instead, try to proactively answer visitors' questions. Some possible topics include:
What can the client expect from the process?
What are some key steps to getting started?
Can you provide relevant statistics about your areas of practice?
Can you provide information about the law itself?
Can you provide case studies or representative transactions to help visitors understand your work?
In short, stop worrying about Google and focus on being useful.
2. Design for the way the human brain works.
Creating a user experience that reflects the way visitors naturally think will increase the likelihood that your pages will prompt visitors to take desired actions. People are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of sensory data. In order to prevent insanity through overload, the human brain works to protect us by filtering out most of this data and only processing relevant bits. Some natural filtering tendencies include:
Selective focus. Selective attention occurs when the mind focuses on one thing and other stimuli disappear into the background. In a design application, selective attention makes it necessary to carefully place only the most important items on a page and create an obvious hierarchy. If a page contains too many distractions, visitors may lose track of the item you want them to focus on.
Organizing tendencies. The mind likes to create connections and tell stories. Visually, elements on a page should be organized so that similar items are near each other and clear breaks exist between blocks of content that cover different subjects. Colors, fonts and negative space are all valuable organizing tools.
People naturally gravitate toward actions that require less brain power. Motor functions require the least effort, while thinking and decision making require the most. Successful pages reduce the amount of cognitive processing a user must perform. Calls to action will be obvious, and information will be available without having to navigate through several levels of pages.
3. Offer a mix of evergreen and fresh, updated content.
Google judges the quality of a site based partly on how frequently its content is updated. Pages should be kept fresh (and accurate), and new content should be published to the site's blog regularly — on a schedule that is comfortable for the firm. This may be daily, weekly or monthly; the key is showing Google that the site is maintained and attention is paid to providing current, relevant information.
In contrast to a topical blog entry, evergreen content stays relevant for a long period of time. A guide to the lawsuit process, for example, can be revisited over and over and will still be helpful months or even years after its initial publish date.
It is helpful to have a mix of evergreen and topical content. Evergreen content helps attract visitors and builds your firm's authority. Topical content shows Google that your site is well-maintained and current.