Know your algorithms to develop a successful website

01 January 2013, at 12:00am

PENGUINS and pandas may not appear regularly in a typical veterinary practice waiting room but they can still make an important contribution to its turnover, delegates attending the London Vet Show were told.

That is because they are the names chosen by Google for the algorithms it has developed for its search engine to analyse and rank the content of a website. They are intended to ensure that those using the company’s service find the information they want as quickly as possible, explained US internet guru, Kelly Baltzell.

Ms Baltzell is chief executive of Beyond Indigo Pets, a company based in Hanover, Minnesota, that provides website consultancy services for the veterinary profession.

She said practices should know what these two creatures do to direct a web search or they will find that their own site will be invisible to potential new clients looking for a veterinary practice in their area.

Panda was unveiled by Google in February 2011 and is intended to punish those whose websites are judged to have low-quality content by ensuring that they appear at the back of any list of businesses found in a search. She pointed out that few people go beyond the results on the first page of a search and so practices appearing on the second or subsequent pages might as well not exist.

By low-quality content, Google means repetitive material such as that often produced by external webmasters using a standard template that uses the same material for a range of businesses serving different markets. To avoid the dangers of being downgraded in a search, the practice must produce customised content that is regarded by the Panda algorithm as unique.

Penguin, the second animal in the Google zoo, appeared in April 2012 and is an algorithm designed to root out practices that the company disapproves of, intended to raise the website higher up in the search results.

These practices include “keyword stuffing” (repeated use of a particular word like veterinary intended to attract the search engine’s attention) or “cloaking” (a search engine optimisation technique in which the content presented to the search engine is different from that presented to the user’s browser).

She pointed out that it is important to play by Google’s rules as any company that tries to unfairly raise its own profile is likely to be punished, no matter how big or small. The large US online clothing outlet, J C Penney, was found to have rigged the search mechanism to ensure its own clothes appeared at the top of a search result. 

But no longer: “Google smacked them pretty hard,” she said. 

If practices use an outside agent to build and maintain their websites, Ms Baltzell warned that it is important that they are aware of the changes that Google has introduced into its search software. External advisers must also be aware that the Penguin and Panda systems are subject to regular updates.

“If you ask them about this and they don’t know about it, then you should be treating that as a red flag warning,” she said.