You might be confused, like many of us, what Google considers a quality website in the latest Panda 4.2 release of Google's ranking algorithm. Google defines some of this here, but in a deep reading you'll find that much of what Google defines is kind of vague. In Google's latest release of the algorithm we are told it would take weeks for this latest Panda release to complete, which really doesn't make sense. Panda in the past is about taking a snap shot of a site, evaluate the content and then apply a score to it. A typical Panda update shouldn't really take weeks or even days to complete. That gives us one hint to what is going on with Google and the new direction they are going.
What Google seems to be doing is applying new data to Panda. We know that there is more than one quality algorithm that Google uses. Google has admitted that. With some research, I believe what Google is now taking a much harder look at what is called "click feedback." They have used click feedback, I believe, for some time, but I think they are going even deeper with it and it will be one of the main pieces of their algorithm going forward.
What is click feedback? Google actually tracks a user when they do a search on their website. When you click on a search result, Google times how long it takes for you to return to the Google search result page from the website. Sites with a higher bounce rates and a lower average time spent on site are going to score lower and fall in ranking. They filed a patent around this back in 2012 and it now seems to be fully implemented.
Ultimately what Google wants are great sites on page #1. Backlinks have been and continue to be one way that Google evaluates the popularity of a website. Google assumes if a website has a lot of quality links from high quality websites then it must be a valuable site. But where Google is heading, is looking out how individual users use a website and how long they stay on that site. Google is going to assume that sites that can keep a user on it longer and users on that site complete tasks must be higher quality sites.
If click feedback is a bigger part of the algorithm, it would explain why Panda is having to roll it out over time now, because Google is looking at click data for sites now and has to accumulate that data. It also means that Google is going to be constantly accumulating data and evaluating your user habits.
This doesn't mean that having good content on the site is no longer important. If anything, it is more important now. I'm sure Google is still evaluating a site's content like it has done in the past, but the focus of a site's content needs to be on keeping the user on the site (which it always should have been) and getting that user to complete a "task" on the website. No marketer could argue with that being important, but not all SEO professionals have made it their focus in the past. Their focus was more about page ranking rather than driving qualified users to a website, engaging those users with the content they are looking for and then through a call to action getting the user to do something. What Google is now forcing us to do is make good SEO professionals into great marketers.
So how do you take advantage of this? Figure out what you users or potential customers are looking for and in an efficient way, get them the content they want, engage them and then ask them to do something. How do you know if you have quality, engaging content? The first place to start is your Google Analytics reports. There is a ton of data that is going to tell you what is working for you and what isn't working for you if you know what to look for. If you need help with that, give us a call and ask for Jamie. We have a ton of experience with reviewing analytics to find hidden gems that can improve websites. We geek out about that kind of stuff.