Are you familiar with Google’s new Panda algorithm? Recently introduced, it has changed the way Google responds when architects and other specifiers search for products and services. Intended to weed out low-quality websites from search results, it has also had a knock-on effect on websites that provide genuinely useful services to web users.
This is the time to make sure your website contains unique, relevant content – making it a destination site in itself. John Macrae, Head of Sales for our parent site ESI.info, explains how.
Eats shoots & leaves: the Panda algorithm (Stéfan on Flickr)
There are a lot of ‘directory’ sites. Many of them simply aggregate information that is already widely available, present it in a directory format (with varying degrees of practical information for the user), slap on a form of user interface and hope to attract traffic via search engine optimisation.
In most instances, they generate revenue by acting as a source of web traffic to companies that pay to have web links prominent on the site.
Google has quite rightly seen that many of these sites serve little useful purpose to web browsers. The proliferation of these sites can clog up search results pages and mean that original suppliers’ sites that deliver good relevant content are being pushed off the first few results pages.
It seems wholly beneficial to web browsers that Google has introduced a new algorithm to help people ‘find more high-quality sites in search’. This algorithm has been labelled Google Panda and is aimed at dealing with sites that aggregate information.
The algorithm has certainly reduced the ranking of some poor directories, but it also has hit sites that provide a more sophisticated service to users. Google will continue to refine their algorithm because it understands that some good sites will have been affected, and that a blanket approach simply can’t deliver their desired outcome. Still, the genuinely useful directory sites must act themselves to avoid being de-ranked by Google.
Directory sites need to update their image (Brenda Starr on Flickr)
There is no doubt that ‘directory’ sites must re-evaluate their quality. The poorest of sites will have a mountain to climb in order to pass muster according to Google’s ‘quality’ algorithm: they will have to invest heavily in order to develop unique content, change their business model, and come up with a new raison d’etre to present to their advertisers. In the meantime they’ll have to spend on Google Adwords to have any tangible search engine presence!
Fighting the panda (Kudumomo on Flickr)
In the context of directory sites, quality will involve:
1. Unique content
Unique content on a directory site is tricky to achieve, since the site collates information on products that are already written about on a manufacturer’s site. However, the directory site does not have to simply regurgitate existing web content. Unique directory content can be achieved by presenting products from a 3rd party perspective, in order to deliver the pertinent information free of ‘corporate speak’. Web users want clear and easily digestible information, ideally presented from an independent viewpoint.
The directory can also ensure that its content is presented in a consistent style that will make information about similar products from different companies easily comparable.
Truly unique content will only come from editorial input. This requires the ‘directory’ to have an editorial resource that genuinely understands the industry and its products and services, and can then generate meaningful content – for example, overviews of products that help users gain a clear understanding of the options, technologies and applications.
Manufacturers can also play a role in providing additional unique content if the site can become a forum for publishing technical articles and white papers; good quality, educational content.
(Google’s own guidelines recommend that web designers ‘create a useful, information-rich site and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content’.)
2. User functionality
Google delivers relevant search results. The user then has to explore those results on their own – going through results from different companies, different websites, all with different ways of presenting information – there’s no further guidance or help from the search engine.
A high-quality directory site can help the user interrogate the marketplace:
- Search refinements: sub-setting results according to a combination of relevant parameters (size, weight, materials, cost, accreditation etc).
- Product comparison: similar products summarised side-by-side on a web page can be invaluable to users looking to arrive quickly at the information that’s right for them.
- Management of information: users should be able to store and manage relevant information, organising this information efficiently for future reference.
- Tools to help users take ‘next actions’: providing the user with efficient communication channels to suppliers, whether contacting them individually or many at a time.
A mass of quality content is only useful if it is organised in a logical and clear taxonomy. This organisation requires a huge amount of discipline and a deep understanding of the nature of the content. It is essential to deliver a more sophisticated search-and-refine functionality that benefits users. Investment in skilled personnel and suitable software is the only way to get a taxonomy right.
Has Google thrown the baby out with the bathwater?
Some very good directories (that are already highly regarded by their users) have been affected by Google’s new algorithm – albeit less so than poorer directories. Google will refine their algorithm over time, but even the best directories will be forced to reassess their quality.
This might lead to a new generation of ‘directory’ sites. Those with vision – and sufficient intelligence and resource to deliver the quality required – will prosper. With better directories appearing prominently in relevant search results, the web user will ultimately benefit.
Better directories will also negate the search results issue in the longer term, because if a directory site is good enough it will become a primary web destination, i.e. the object of the search rather than a spin-off of the search.
This might especially be the case where a directory serves a specific market, for example the construction industry. Here, a directory can focus its attention on satisfying the needs of a particular type of user, and market itself to a clearly defined user group.
Search, compare and select: ESI.info
What about ESI.info?
Here at ESI we’ve known all along that web users want quality. The old mantra ‘Content is King’ continues to resonate true. Our challenge is to continue to develop original content, user tools and functionality so as to cement our place as a focus for suppliers and buyers within our marketplace.
Our site is a valuable resource for the industries we operate in; it is much more than a ‘directory’. We will work with Google’s algorithms because we want our site to be seen on the right search pages, but we are fully engaged with our own target users, developing our relationship with the right people so as to become a primary internet destination for them.
It is this close relationship and understanding of the market, along with a growing market awareness of our site’s quality content and functionality, that will generate traffic for our site and achieve our objective of connecting users with the right information as efficiently as possible.