By  at Search Engine Watch

Google Panda 2.2 is looming to drop sometime soon, and with it, increasing levels of apprehension in the small business community on fears of further collateral damage to organic search traffic. As a speaker at SES Toronto this year, I had the distinct honor of accompanying Dave Davies,Thom Craver and Terry Van Horne on a panel to discuss the impact of Google Panda, and long-term strategies for SEO success.

Diversify Your Traffic

Much to my own amazement and to that of my peers on stage, many in attendance at SES Toronto felt that they received significantly more traffic from Google organic search than any other source, and that SEO traffic converted much better than other sources.

scary-pandaAs a general rule of thumb, no more than 40 percent of your referred traffic should come from Google because any significant change is bound to have a negative impact on your bottom line. When you consider how long it can take to notice and recover from an SEO penalty for even small mistakes (such as server downtime, bad navigational links, forgotten redirects, etc.), putting all your eggs into one basket substantially increases your risk.

Normally I wouldn’t disagree with a large group at SES, but to say organic traffic converts better than other sources indicates that very few attendees are properly optimizing their paid search campaigns. Why? Paid search marketing has several distinct advantages over organic search traffic that should yield higher conversion:

  • Product: Guaranteed exposure to only those products and services you want to promote in search results. Match keywords to exact product offerings and watch conversion skyrocket.
  • Price: In this case, it’s not the price of the product or services offered, but the price your business pays for the traffic itself. Don’t forget to factor in all the time and effort invested into ranking for keywords in organic results, and how often changes may be required.
  • Promotion: While you can change the content surrounding your products, you may not have the same amount of creative license to change that content as quickly for mainstay (SEO targeted) pages versus paid search landing pages, nor will you necessarily have control over which pages Google chooses to display in results pages for any given query.
  • Place: Distribution of your product won’t change, but distribution of your product in organic SERPs may be highly elastic versus highly-controllable paid search campaigns.
  • People: Perhaps the most important component is your inability to control and target behavioral cues in search queries using SEO. It doesn’t get much better than the complete control that multiple keyword match types, negative match keyword lists, and advanced query performance reporting affords a search marketer.
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My final argument about why organic search traffic may not convert as well as other sources? Visitor intent.

Visitors coming from organic search results for the first time are extremely hard to convert, and it can take several repeat visits, if your content is good enough, to finally convert them sometime down the line.

Google Panda Update

Measure Success Using Actionable KPIs

I love data, but much of it is useless and not actionable. In terms of useless SEO metrics, here are a few:

  • “Average position” and “Impressions” as provided by Google Webmaster Tools are useless metrics because Google varies position by geographic locale, personalized results (when logged in), and likely past-user behavior (not logged-in cookies).
  • “Visits” and “Page Views” and even “Average Time Spent” as measured using analytics software aren’t as useless, unless used alone because webmasters have little control over how much traffic search engines send them.

The emphasis should be put on measuring actionable KPI’s segmented by traffic source such as bounce rate, micro and macro conversion rates, revenue, and visitor loyalty.

Want to get really sophisticated? Try testing out multi-source attribution and start assigning real dollar values to each one of your traffic sources touch points.

Build a Community

The group was decidedly split on the influence of social media on Google Panda, due in part to a tangent discussion on how Google might one day leverage social signals from Google +1. As it stands, Google currently uses Twitter’s “fire hose” feed and some signals from public pages on Facebook to influence rankings, the former weighing much more heavily in substantial, but short-lived SEO boost.

Google’s modus operandi seems to have always been to show up late to a party, build their own dance floor, and either win people over, or buy out their best competitor (YouTube, DoubleClick, Postini, Urchin, etc). In much the same respect, it will take time to see whether Google +1 gains enough momentum and critical mass to make a sizeable dent on the hundreds of other “favoriting” sites like Digg, Reddit, Delicious, and StumbleUpon, to name a few.

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Don’t look to social media to build links for SEO because the best links come from establishing earned media from a community of loyal brand ambassadors. Talk to your visitors and customers, engage communities, and start practicing the art of building personas. Through careful research, webmasters can hone into communities online that serve the best bang for their buck, and those might not be in any of the top social websites.

If you invest time into building a community, your business isn’t as likely to be as hard hit by changes to search algorithms such as Google Panda.

Fix Usability Problems

Never has the need to “write for humans” been clearer to webmasters. Google’s own webmaster guidelines, used language to fortify user experience above and beyond just a nice to have. Once again, it’s better to fix usability problems now and potentially increase business impact for factors within your control, before usability becomes a much stronger ranking signal on precious organic search traffic.

Author Quality Content

If it needed to be repeated: “content is king”…still.

Editor’s note: This column originally was published on June 20, 2011, and comes in at No. 5 on our countdown of the 10 most popular Search Engine Watch columns of 2011. Over the final two weeks of 2011, we’re celebrating the Best of 2011 by revisiting our most popular columns, as determined by our readers. Enjoy and keep checking back!