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Unless you’ve been in the middle of nowhere for the last few months you’ll know that there’s been a relatively unusual amount of discussion going on about search engine algorithm changes.

I say discussion but it’s been more like complete and utter panic in some circles!

Particularly following the Google farmer/panda onslaught over the last few months there have been people who have seen their rankings literally fall through the floor overnight and most likely a chunk of their profit with it.

Thankfully it’s not all just doom and gloom and there are also people whose websites have come out of this last few months with even stronger rankings and more traffic.

So whatever happened to your sites where do you go from here and what should we learn from all this?

You’ll have probably seen the posts about “SEO is dead” or “SEO is finished” but do you really believe that or is it just the usual scare tactics, after all search engine optimization is quite a broad subject once you get into it.

Maybe it has to be more than just getting your keywords in a few of the right places and building anchor text links now. For example keyword stuffing has been an old tactic for some time now and people generally reduced the amount of times they’d put a certain keyword or phrase into their carefully crafted and optimized article to maybe 1-2%.

If you check around a few forums and blogs you’ll notice that there’s still a ton of conflicting theories going about regarding current SEO and website ranking factors. It’s important to remember that some of these might be based around trying to sell you on some sort of tool or course, so keep that in mind when considering how impartial or realistic the information that they provide might be?

Among the sites that I operate I have had one in particular that nosedived in the rankings very close to one of the so called panda updates being run. Apart from that one site I can honestly say that my other sites rankings don’t seem to have changed much either way, just a few places up or down here and there which tends to happen anyway.

So was the site affected just some crappy little site with duplicate content – far from it!

The website had over 160+ pages of original unique content indexed in Google and was steadily growing and gaining links. Following the drop in rankings I took a long hard look at the site and decided that although I thought it was a reasonable site that would provide value to it’s visitors that was not how the search engines now viewed it.

With all this talk about quality content, providing value to web searchers, and visitor interaction I decided to make a number of changes. This mainly involved adding some longer high quality content posts, reducing the number of affiliate links so that each post only had about 2-4 and I also used the “no-follow” attribute although that is one of the conflicting theories I mentioned earlier.

The site load speed was pretty slow so I also carried out a number of steps to improve that and managed to get it from around 67 up to 97 out of 100 according to the Google and Yahoo speed checkers. I also slowed my link building efforts a little mainly because I didn’t want to waste time if the site was going to take along while to recover or didn’t improve at all.

After that I waited for a few weeks and thankfully the rankings returned at about the same time as one of the next panda updates was supposed to have been run, apparently they happened at intervals and weren’t just a one off algorithm change.

So what can we learn from all of this going on?

Well I generally try not to get too caught up in all the Pandamonium (sorry about that) and I take on board the official version from Google themselves, and then also how I see different factors affecting my own sites. Then I put that together with the thoughts of certain people whose opinions I value such Mark Thompson and that hopefully helps to keep me fairly well up to date and on track.

So here’s a few key points that I believe are important now:

  • Poor quality content will get even tougher to rank with although not impossible judging by some of the search results.
  • Spammy activity such as gathering or adding content and poor quality links too quickly gets penalized more easily.
  • Visitor experience is being monitored more closely by using a variety of factors such as bounce rate or social interaction.

So all in all it means that while quality of your content is certainly not the only factor at play here it does seem to be more important but may also depend on the type of website you have and what the search engines expect from it.

That might sound a little Big Brother but whilst “thin affiliate” sites get scorned upon it seems that a thin site as far as content per page goes is not such a problem if you’re actually selling the products like the large eCommerce type sites that still get a ton of good search rankings.

I’m going to be testing a few of the current theories such as super long home pages and smaller amounts of high quality links over the coming months but in the mean time you might want to check out this new SEO research website.

It’s early days yet but looks like it’s definitely one to keep an eye on and maybe add to your tool kit to help beat out your competition if they’re not really on the ball.