It would be difficult to cover a topic like this in one short post. The obvious place to start is with Google’s Panda Update, which was introduced in early 2011, making search results more attractive to users and decreasing the number of content farms earning good positions purely by stuffing keywords into low-quality copy.
After Panda, Google began ranking sites based on websites’ navigability and design. They also checked metrics like click-through and browse rates and the diversity of traffic. Content also came under the gun as it no longer was enough to provide product lists or grammatically correct descriptions, Google wanted “wow” copy.
Although SEOs were aware that website user experience was important for users (if people don’t like your site, they’ll go elsewhere), Google has made it official. In other words, sites that aren’t well designed and published with relevant and useful content (theoretically) won’t rank.
From Google’s point of view, users and usefulness are two of the same, and users like sites that are fast, have useful content that’s relevant and which is presented to Google so that it understands what the site is about. This really isn’t new news.
According to SEOmoz, Panda is a machine learning algorithm, or put another way, it will predicatively form rankings based on a sum of features. For lazy people, this means it’s also no longer good enough to build home page or high-level pages because Panda’s aggregate ranking will drag the site down.
With the focus on users come social indicators, which Google can use to understand the real popularity of a page. When a page has tweets, +1s, likes/shares and all the rest, this is often a closer indication of status than metrics can provide. By no means does it stop there, however, as Google is using Authorship and Publisher algorithms to pick up trusted sources of content and incentivise people to produce and seed high-quality work.
All in all, Panda is one update in what will hopefully be a number of updates – many of them favouring users above commerce.