Kung Fu Panda – “This Time Its Personal” – Google Panda Survival Guide

So it’s now almost 6 months since Google rolled out their Panda update and boy has it caused some furore. This Panda has kicked some butt alright, the thread over on Webmaster World has spanned to over 250 messages –  and plenty of website owners are not happy with this particular algo update. Anyway I want to try and cut through all the hype and angst surrounding Panda and take a look at where Google are at in this significant update and how we as search engine marketers can avoid getting beaten up by Panda.

Question one – Is Panda a rolling update?

Barry Schwartz over at SEOroundtable did seem to think that Panda is a rolling update and that Google will continue to tweak their algo daily. However, a spokesperson over at Google commented: “We’re continuing to iterate on our Panda algorithm as part of our commitment to returning high-quality sites to Google users. This most recent update is one of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year.”
The team over at Searchengineland have kept a timeline on the various Panda updates that have taken place and have seen a clear update pattern evolve.  Since Feb, Google have updated Panda every 4 to 7 weeks so this seems to suggest that there are more changes to come.

Question two – Why have some sites that have been using so-called ethical SEO techniques fallen foul of the Panda update?

So let’s try and understand why some sites have fallen into the tumbleweed search results pages. The Panda update has impacted around 12% of search queries which means that a lot of websites have seen their search traffic impacted.
The common theme that I am picking up on why some sites have dropped down the SERPS is down to poor quality content, i.e. content that adds little value to your site and your visitors aren’t engaging with that content. Panda is a filter that Google has developed to flag-up what it believes to be low-quality content on web pages. Basically if you have too many low-quality pages with little original content then Google penalises those pages. It doesn’t mean that your entire site is out of Google but it does mean that pages within your site carry a penalty designed to help ensure only the better ones make it into Google’s top results.

So the types of pages that might get affected are those pages that you might have introduced into your site to specifically target certain keywords and get a higher ranking for them. Doorway pages, gateway pages, SEO articles – these are pages that you have been specifically created to appeal to search engine spiders. The content is keyword rich and the html has been appropriately formatted so that you can rank well for the key phrase being targeted. Little thought has been given to usability and how the end user will react to that page. These pages are deliberately often buried deep within the site’s hierarchy so that users who are already on your site can’t easily come into contact with them, for obvious reason.

A response from a Google employee on their Webmaster Forum commented:

“Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

If you think you’ve been negatively affected by Panda and wrongly so, then you can try and use the Google webmaster forum to see if someone from Google will manually review your site.

Question three – How does Panda impact the future of SEO?

SEO is all about adapting. I have been developing SEO strategies since 1996 and the techniques that I used back then would get my clients into serious trouble today. The point I am making is that as Google evolves so does the way we do SEO.

Here are my 5 tips on how to avoid the “Panda Punch”

1 – Make the content on your site engaging
Yes, the process the of getting an SEO copywriter to produce a series of 300-500 word articles for your site used to be an effective SEO technique and it still can be. But, the content for those pages need to add value and they need to be of a high enough quality so that they capture the interest of your site visitors. If they don’t, then they won’t serve a purpose anymore because Google will ignore them. Spend more time creating fewer higher quality pieces of content as opposed to quickly bashing out hundreds of ‘doorway pages’ that don’t actually contain any valuable information that will help your site visitors achieve what it is they are trying to achieve by visiting your site.

2 – Fix usability issues
Do ugly and poorly designed pages inspire confidence, of course they don’t? Get back to basics and make sure that the web pages that you put up on your site are all well styled and that the content is easy to read so that it draws your visitors in and they stay to read it.

3 – Reduce the bounce rate
OK, so this is closely linked to usability and writing engaging content.  The last thing Google wants to see is a visitor that selects a page from the top of its search results and returns almost immediately without even viewing another page on that site. To Google that is a clear signal that it has failed to do its job properly. It has not served up a relevant, high quality page for its user’s search query.  Use your analytics pages to identify all the pages on your site that have high bounce rates, especially the ones that are ranking well or used to be. Then think about how you can improve the quality of those pages so the bounce rate reduces.

4 – Get people linking to and tagging those pages
Getting other sites to link to internal pages (other than your home page) within your site has always been an effective way of improving the credibility and authority of that page. However, it’s easier send than done, unless you have something on that page that is really going to add value and provide the owner of the linking website with a good reason to point his own visitors in the direction of your web page. It can be a well written article, white paper, video, info graphic – it doesn’t matter as long as what you are promoting is unique and engaging.  On the topic of linking it’s also important that you have plenty of internal links pointing to those pages also. Again, that’s a clear indicator of quality – if you’re prepared to link to those pages and send your own visitors to them, then Google will think that they must serve a valuable purpose.
There’s also no harm in making use of social bookmarking icons on your pages to make it easier for your visitors to flag the page up to friends and colleagues. The one’s I’d focus on are Facebook Like and Google +1. I’ll do a separate post on these later on.

5 – Don’t view SEO as a one-off project and don’t isolate SEO
SEO is not a project in the sense that it has a definitive start and end date. It’s an ongoing process that should be a key part of your marketing mix. And as its part of the marketing mix, don’t isolate it. SEO can and needs to be integrated with all your other marketing communications activity. Don’t just think about optimising web pages. Google now serves up a wide range of digital media in its search results. You need to be asking how do we optimise that video that we created, so that it appears in Google?  A wide range of digital assets can be optimised for search engines including video, images, clinical papers, product databases not just your web pages.
If your business benefits from good search engine visibility then invest in that area full-time. SEO is an activity that can deliver good long term results as long as you get the strategy right and put in the required effort. It’s not an activity that will deliver short term results, unlike pay per click advertising. I like to compare SEO and PPC in terms of buying a house versus renting one. Yes, PPC like renting provides an immediate short term solution. However, buying a home and investing in SEO will deliver a greater return on your investment in the medium to long term.

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