February 15, 2016
People trying to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates should have access to a warning that reads: “Caution. May cause whiplash!”
Google is many things – innovative, progressive, important – but one thing the search engine giant has never been is transparent, which is why there are so many “Did they or didn’t they?” articles about Google circling the Web. Today, there’s some new buzz in the world of Google that a new Panda update may have recently rolled out.
So, true or not true?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Google Panda?
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Google Panda is a Google’s ranking algorithm that was released in 2011. Designed to focus on content, Panda aims to reward high-quality content and downrank scraped, duplicate, keyword-stuffed, or otherwise low-quality pages. This algorithm allows high-quality pages to rise to the top of the SERPs while low-quality pages are pushed down in the interest of providing Google users with valuable, relevant search results.
Historically, Panda updates have had a very slow roll-out period, which makes them difficult to track. Because of this, SEOs are often left looking at their page analytics and wondering if there’s a new Panda in the neighborhood. This, in turn, results in webmasters and SEOs attempting to fix their content to make it more Panda-friendly, which is difficult because it’s not always clear if changes in site ranking are due to a new Panda update or if they’re simply the result of Google’s thousands of ranking signals that are changed and updated on a yearly basis.
In light of that, there are several things marketers can do when they believe a new Panda may have rolled out, but they aren’t entirely sure. Here are some tips.
How Panda Affects Content and Twelve Tips to Help You Cope
When a new Panda update does roll out, it has a marked effect on a site’s ranking. While many SEOs have theorized about how to “fix” content for Panda, Google recently provided TheSEMPost with some guidelines. Here’s what we know:
1. Don’t remove content
For years, people have been under the impression that, in order to improve your Panda ranking, you should be removing all of the content that Panda doesn’t like from your site. As it turns out, this is misguided. In fact, Google engineers state that instead of removing content, a webmaster should simply add more high-quality content to a page. In today’s search environment, this means creating authoritative, trustworthy content that is written by an expert on the topic.
2. Focus on fixes
Remember that each page you publish is a page that Google gets to index, potentially making your site more visible to people trying to find you. If you’re going through your site and removing content, you could actually be harming your search ranking more than you realize. In light of this, it’s important to focus on fixing your low-quality content rather than removing it. According to Google, this means updating content, improving the link strategy within it, proofreading more carefully, and generally revising low-quality content where you can.
If you can’t fix old content, Google recommends using a no-index tag to prevent these pages from appearing in search. This approach is helpful for situations like user-generated content that may be low-quality. Taking this simple step will help ensure your site maintains its rankings, even when a new Panda shows up.
3. Keep creating
One of the most important aspects of ranking well in Google is creating plenty of fresh, high-quality content. This gives Google Panda new pages to index and helps push down any low-quality content on your site. Additionally, adding fresh content to a site can help ensure that the site ranks well, even if Panda dings some of the poor-quality content on a site.
4. Focus on the foundation
It’s impossible to predict how Google Panda will change next. In light of this, it’s more productive to focus on the foundations of good content than it is to try to cater to the changes the next Panda might present. That said, focus on ranking for keywords, writing authoritative content, and creating pieces that help satisfy the needs of users. Doing this is the best way to keep your site relatively safe in the face of Panda, both now and in the future.
5. Stay away from duplicate
This one almost goes without saying, but duplicate content is bad. In order to protect your site from being negatively affected by Panda or to reverse negative effects that have already taken place, it’s important to clean up duplicate content that might be lurking in your pages.
6. Combine similar content
If your site specializes in something like how-to information or breaking news, it’s very likely that you have multiple pages that aren’t duplicates of one another, but which are quite similar. In this case, it’s wise to spend some time considering how you can combine those similar pages to condense and target your traffic. The best way to do this is to glance at your referrals pages to determine which pages are actually getting traffic from Google. Once you’ve determined that, you know which pages you should focus your consolidation on. Don’t forget to redirect the URLs of any old pages you consolidate.
7. Don’t worry about 404s
While it’s been a long-held belief that 404s on a site can negatively impact ranking, Google engineers report that 404s don’t actually impact the way Panda ranks sites. Phew – one less thing you have to worry about.
8. Enlist someone to give feedback
When attempting to improve your content, have someone who isn’t you run through the site and give you some feedback on the experience it provides. Google’s engineers have long recommended this and, while it may seem simple, it’s one of the best ways to fix what’s not working.
9. Pay attention to word count
First things first – Panda doesn’t look at word count when considering how to rank a page. That said, you’ll want to ensure that every piece on your site is long enough to adequately address the issue at hand. High-quality, valuable, unique content is what Google Panda is looking for – not content that hits X number of words.
10. Don’t be afraid of various formats
While many people believe that Panda penalizes sites with little written content, this isn’t inherently true. As long as all content presented is unique and high-quality, Panda is more than happy to give videos, images, or infographics high rankings.
11. Make your advertising user-friendly
There are few things Google hates more than a site that’s riddled with obtrusive advertising. To help preserve your site’s rankings, ensure that any ads or affiliate links you have on your page are positioned well (not too many above the fold) and easy for users to navigate around. The general guideline here, as everywhere, is that if it’s not useful, it shouldn’t be there. Ads and affiliate links your readers want to click are a different beast than intrusive ads they can’t figure out how to click out of.
Comments can be a great ranking signal (if you’ve got dozens of good ones) or a poor one (if you’ve got dozens of spammy ones). To make them work in your favor, focus on weeding out poor-quality comments in favor of the ones that are valuable.
The Verdict: Did Google Release a New Panda?
Thanks to Panda’s notoriously slow roll-out schedule, it’s difficult to determine whether changes in site ranking are due to Panda or not. The last Panda update that was widely reported was Panda 4.2, which rolled out around July of last year. In light of this, it’s more important to focus on improving your site as a whole than it is to try and implement hurried Panda-specific updates. The trouble with these actions is that they can actually hurt your SEO more than they help it.
With that said, webmasters can do well to remember one thing: everything in moderation. As TheSEMPost points out, if you feel that the issue is your comments, it’s a better idea to moderate low-quality comments than it is to remove all of your comments entirely. This also extends to the concept of removing content. If you’re considering removing content from your site, take some time first to truly evaluate whether or not Google is directing traffic to those pages, and whether they can be better served through an update or a consolidation.
While Google’s Panda is a notoriously slippery beast, it’s a good thing to talk and think about. Panda is an algorithm that’s focused almost exclusively on content, which means users who create unique, valuable, quality content will continue to fall into the Panda’s good graces. While we can’t always definitively tell whether Google has released a new Panda, the simple realization that it could keeps us on our toes in terms of SEO and site quality. And, hey, a high-quality site never hurt anyone.
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.