THE FUTURE FOR AFFILIATES IN ONLINE SEARCH


The path of the Panda: what Google wants.


OKAY, SO LOTS of people have been hammered by Panda, and nobody is feeling it more than affiliates. Combating the drops in rankings is simple in principle, but depending on what your site is like currently, it could mean a lot of work and time for you.

The reason I say it’s simple in principle is because all of you know how to tell the difference between spam and quality. You all know how to look at a website and know if it’s made to target search engines for rankings, or visitors for their user experience.

Google has been saying it for a long time and now with the Panda updates it’s really coming into effect. One thing any decent SEO will agree on, whether they’re white hat, black hat, purple hat or multi-coloured hat, is that Google wants quality and if you feed it anything but, then you’re on a short-term strategy only. Basically, you can’t just have a bunch of meaningless text pages with a few keywords in it anymore.

You need actual value.This is where some people are getting stuck; they’re thinking “Okay, so my content isn’t good enough, so I’ll get it rewritten” but that’s not just what it’s about. What makes your content any different from your competitor’s content? What makes your review of an online gambling site different to another one? If you and another site have both got good copy then why should yours rank above theirs?

You need to do more than just have good copy; you need a good user experience. Think social media, think what will get people clicking on that share button because they think their friends or colleagues might be interested in it too.

If you have a blog, what do you put on it? Industry news? Who shares that? Who even reads that? The only people interested in that stuff is other people in the industry - the punters don’t care, and they don’t want to see it.

So now you say to yourself “What do they want to see?” Well, the same as everybody else; they either want some form of entertainment or they want useful content on, say, how to win... not the same old churned content you get on every website out there but something original, something new. This is where you start to get creative. Here are some examples of what you could do. I’d use them only as examples; if you do these and everybody else is doing it then it won’t work as you’ll all be the same again. You need to think of something different to what the others are doing and not take the easy route here (who ever said SEO was easy?).

Blog authority

Why does my blog do so well in the rankings? Because it’s seen as an authority blog. I don’t just reword other existing material, I talk about new stuff and give my own ideas and opinions on the current issues.

So my blog isn’t just another platform for announcements, it’s somewhere that can teach a few things and generate some discussion. That’s what needs to be done. Your blogs should have an authority that gives out tips on a regular basis. Sharing strategies and having discussions with others.

Character

I mean that heading literally. What’s the character involvement with your website? Are there multiple personas, or is there even one persona? Make a character up if you have to, give him a back story and get him to report on his week.

‘Blackjack Eddie used to be a baker but he started winning playing online casinos so he gave up his day job and became semi-pro. Every Friday, Blackjack Eddie will give us an update on his week. What games he’s played, whether he’s up or down on winnings, and how he did it, what he learnt from a loss or a win.’

Make sure that Blackjack Eddie answers questions he might be asked, maintains regular and consistent postings, incorporates a bit of humour and personality (so not too formal) and, above all, stay original. A bit of banter mixed in with some great advice is all you really need.

UGC (user generated content) through building a community

It isn’t just you or your character that can help by sharing knowledge, let your users do it too. Set-up an area on your site where users can contribute their own views and ideas. This new content and the users themselves can be given votes by other users on the advice they give, allowing them to increase their community ‘rank’. They can win something if they get enough points for quality contributions too.

Allow people to give their own ratings on the offerings within the site - not only does this create new content but you get feedback on what your visitors like and don’t like, allowing you to do more of the former and less of the latter.

Basically, build a community and encourage people to get involved, to write their own reviews and content (which can be modified as long as declared on the site). Ask questions, get controversial (within reason) and challenge things... i.e. the law against online gambling in America, run a poll and have a “What do you think?” thread.

Non-textual content

This, of course, includes images but let’s get different with our use of them. Instead of just generic pictures of dice, cards, roulette machines and logos, have some funny pictures that tell a story. Commission an interesting and colourful infographic with surprising stats, or a brief cartoon which visitors will relate to. Todd Malicoat over at StuntDubl is well known for his use of linkbait ‘hooks’. Now, these are called ‘linkbait’ and ‘hooks’ for a reason. People link to and share stuff they like so linkbait is essentially good content. Here are Todd’s hooks for you to have a think about:

• News Hook - being the first, or one of the first with an interesting story.
• Contrary Hook - challenging ideas and ideals, encouraging a bit of debate.
• Attack Hook - this is a dangerous one and shouldn’t be used without good reason, but it’s basically having a pop at somebody or something to stir up
a bit of buzz.
• Resource Hook - something useful for people, whether information, tools, tips, etc.
• Humour Hook - something funny, of course. A lot of what gets liked, shared and linked to is funny stuff so it stands to reason that as content alone it will be enjoyable to your users.
• Ego Hook - complements and honourable mentions. This gets links but don’t do it for that reason... do
it for content’s sake. Give out some complements to worthy people for whatever reason.
• Incentive Hook - this is where you incentivise people to link to you but, again, it doesn’t have to end in links to be worth doing. If you want good content then do this anyway. Run a competition, give stuff away for free, have an awards ceremony as voted for by users.


I’m not suggesting you use these for linkbait, I’m saying use them for what they actually are: good content. (If they attract links too then it’s a bonus!)

Aside from that, use a bit of Flash. As you know, it’s not a good idea to build a site from Flash due to it being more difficult for the search engines to crawl but you can still have Flash content. Animations and games, fun stuff that attracts people’s attention and keeps them interested.

Then there are videos. Videos are a must. Have interviews with industry pros, have a weekly or monthly video giving tips, use videos to teach people how to play (include transcripts under all videos for those that don’t have sound) and take some time to make sure the videos are good quality... if it’s too amateur it won’t be well received.

Obviously, this stuff doesn’t actually feature in algorithm factors of where you rank in a singular sense, but it’s the drip-drip effect of decent content. If you look solely at each item, it’s meaningless; look at the whole bigger picture (the site) and what it contains in general (boring articles Vs funny stuff, news, etc) and you’ll see the visitors find value in the site, and if the visitors find value then so will Google regardless of whether there is a mathematical equation to tell it what’s in the site.

Comparisons

Some of you will already have comparison tables but those of you who haven’t need to get them. Make sure they are well put together. Spruce them up a bit, and I don’t mean stuff as much as you can into them and make them over-complicated, but consider it as a standalone feature that needs to sell itself as something worth visiting the site for alone.

This is somewhere else that you could have UGC ratings and maybe a button for people to click and see some reviews.

Linking with social media sites

Again, this is something some of you will already have covered. Some of you will have it half covered. But I’ll put money on it that the majority of site owners aren’t doing it right, even if they think they are.

It’s no good just setting up a Facebook and Twitter account then broadcasting your company news or rewriting some industry news on it. It’s for social media marketing, not a news announcement platform.

Use social media properly, engage with your audience and be consistent, don’t use it as a sales tool shoving offers down everybody’s throats every five minutes, but build a community by chatting and sharing. You can do a bit of promotion but make sure it’s not too much - remember why people are there in the first place.

Once you’ve got your social platforms sorted, link them into your site. Use the widgets Facebook and Twitter provide, put them on your site, and make sure there’s always something good going on in that display window.

Design

We all know that website architecture is important (internal pages and linking structure) but before now it didn’t matter so much what a website actually looked like. That is to say that it did for conversions and user experience, but not so much for ranking. Well, now it does matter. If your site looks old-hat and tatty, like it was put together in the 90s with HTML tables and text-only links, then it looks poor, right? Does your site look like it was made by a web designer (a good one) or by an amateur who has just learnt the basics of MS FrontPage and decided to make his first site? Remember what Panda is - it’s a learning algorithm. When it started off, way before being released, it just watched website visitors manually reviewing sites... seeing what they liked and what they didn’t, so it thinks like a user.

If you landed on your site as a user, what would you think of it? What would be your first impressions? Would you stick around because the design makes you believe there is something of value there?

Your website in general

Now, step back and look at your site as a whole. How is your text currently formatted? Is it digestible in small chunks broken up by images with bullet points and different relevant sections with suitable headers, or is it just a big block of text?

What about ads? Have you got loads of ads on your site? Where are these ads - at the top of the page before you even reach any content? Even if you’re managing to rank right now without content that’s any good, you eventually won’t. Just think about Google’s long-term goals, think about what it wants to provide its users with, then forget about links for the moment and just ask yourself, based on the content of your site alone, ‘would you put your site at the top if it wasn’t yours?’ Are there other sites that would provide a better user experience than yours?

Stop worrying about getting tons of content through news and reviews that nobody looks at and is only targeting search engines; spend that time on making your site better for the users with worthy, rich content. Keep it simple and user friendly but also well themed with plenty to keep your visitors interested.

It’s widely believed (and for good reason) that usage data is used in the algorithm. The more people that land on your website and leave straight away spending no time on the site, the worse your rankings will be. And that was BEFORE Panda! Now it’s much more important to keep people around. With usage data like ‘time on site’ likely to be used as a ranking factor, the last thing you want is for a visitor to land on your page and click straight off through an affiliate link. That might be the goal overall, but you want to keep them on the site for a while first and you want them to click through to other internal pages too so that your bounce rate isn’t too high.

Now, put yourself in the mind of a visitor; if you landed on a site arid saw large chunks of text from reviews, would you sit there and read it? It’s not exactly the excitement you were looking for when you performed the search is it?

Think about this. You know that links are important, you still definitely need them to rank... but does your content have value of a kind that people will link to naturally? That’s the trick here, not having something generic that everybody else has but something different that is of worth, something unique that will generate links by its very existence without the need to build links to it. What would you link to?

With all of this in mind, there is something very important to consider, which is the actual direction Google is taking; what path is the Panda on? As Panda will continue down this path in the same general direction for the foreseeable future, the things we’ve discussed in this article are going to become more and more apparent, and more and more of a reflection of what’s ranking in the SERPs.

Let’s rewind a bit!

Many of you will already know how Panda came about. It’s named after the engineer who put together the learning algorithm from data collected on answers (by humans) to 23 questions. The whole list of questions can be seen at http://bro.gs/gwc but I’m going to point out just a few right now, not that they’re of higher importance but they relate very much to what I’ve been saying in this article and they are what I have found myself often explaining to people. In other words, in my experience, since Panda, these are the most common issues I’ve been coming across.

• Question 2: Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallower in nature?
• Question 3: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
• Question 7: Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
• Question 13: Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy
or hastily produced?
• Question 17: Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
• Question 18: Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
• Question 19: Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
• Question 20: Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?


Now go and look at your website and ask yourself those questions above, because if you’re not ranking well the answers could be why. It doesn’t mean you’ve got away with it if you do rank; as stated, Panda is learning and evolving and those questions are going to become more and more important, so even if you rank now... will you after the next update, or the one after that?

Even if the Panda updates stop rolling out, what do you think it will be replaced with? Google’s goals of quality for users remain the same so any replacement to Panda, whether it be called Hippo or Squirrel (if there are any engineers called that to name it after over at the ‘Googleplex’), it’s still going to be heading the same way with the same objectives - it will just be more effective at getting there.

Once Panda or its successor perfects its process of slapping sites that fail these questions (and any new questions that are added by then) in whatever timescale that might be, where will you rank with your current content then?

This is the future of the search engines; if you want to rank in that future you need to understand their vision and ensure your website fits in with it. It’s as simple and/or difficult as that.
 
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