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17th August 2012
By Eleanor

There hasn’t been a quick fix for those whose sites have been pandalised by Google. The days of pandering to old world link-building exercises are over, and new approaches are moving in to take their place. Some exciting SEO marketing strategies are beginning to emerge and helping webmasters to get a pandle (ok, enough now) on how to move forward.

So, what has been produced in response to the challenge of panda? First of all, there are those who have got their heads down and experimented with content, links and analytics. Then there are those who have grasped the social media bull by the horns. There’s the multimedia crowd, and more, but getting to grips with the less glamorous SEO metrics is proving particularly insightful.

Pandas Don’t Bounce

There’s been a very interesting discussion happening at webmasterworld.com recently. A user, Claarky, has proposed that one of Panda’s main metrics is exit rate, based on his own experience of his Pandalised e-commerce site. This theory has prompted a flood of responses, but while there are quibbles with the weighting given to different metrics, there’s also a largely unspoken consensus: Google is measuring page ranking largely according to user metrics, not mysteriously crawling pages looking for coded signs of low quality.

It’s worth remembering that exit rate isn’t the same as bounce rate. Your exit rate flags up which (bad) page your visitors leave on, rather than the success of the landing page. For this reason, a good exit rate is a particularly useful marker for optimising all of your website, and weeding out the low-performing pages.

Are We Human

This is only half the story. Claarky makes the point that Google is looking for user metrics here, which means they are interested in how real human beings view a site. Relying on human reactions to content via metrics such as exit rate tells Google more than they could ever discover even with the subtlest algorithms imaginable, concocted by virtual guinea-pigs fed only on HTML and C++.

It may not be new news – as search engines have matured, user metrics have snowballed in significance as a marker of quality – but if nothing else, it’s a timely reminder. It is easy to get bogged down in all the data analysis, and forget that all this data is tied, at the end of the day, to a human user.  Claarky used a phrase to explain his thinking that struck a chord: ‘It really is as simple and as complex as that.’

Counting Up

Trying to fathom the workings of the internet giants is a task that needs to be careful not to overcomplicate itself and become tied up in knots of its own making. Primo Levi once wrote that the stories in the Bible are ‘simple and incomprehensible’. Google may not be a holy book (or not quite), but its workings are seen through a glass, darkly and at the end of the day, it’s the human experience that counts precisely because it is transparent and tangible. The (algorithmical/psychological) calculations may be obscure but the results are plain to see, if you read your user metrics. That’s where, of course, the social media vote comes in to count for a lot.

As we’re counting now, here are a few more posts that concur with the idea that visitor engagement is more important than ever and that the web is being rebuilt around people rather than demoted links. Let’s not forget the human costs of Panda, which can be counted too: some web users’ very livelihood has been hit by plummeting page rankings. On the 3rd July at the Google+ social, Google’s Director of Mobile and Social Ian Carrington emphasised that Google is going to get more personal than ever before. All the more reason to get out of the virtual zoo and attract real human visitors instead.

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