Google Panda: How One Algorithm Update Forever Changed Content Creation
Google’s algorithm updates over the past few years have become increasingly strict, with a far wider impact than before. The purpose of these updates is not only to maintain their position as the dominant search engine, but also to improve the user experience. The success of any search engine is dependent on the quality and accuracy of the results it returns for any query, and regular updates are necessary to not only ensure that the results are always relevant, but to also eliminate any exploits that some site owners employ.
What Panda Did
Panda is an algorithm change that Google first introduced in February 2011 and continue to update almost three years later. The Panda update focuses on quality of content, penalizing content farms, sites with too many ads and sites with low-quality content. The impact was immediate, with almost 12 percent of search results affected when it first rolled out. Those affected negatively were mostly large content farms, including sites such as suite101.com, ezinearticles.com, mahalo.com and hubpages.com, and many of these have never fully recovered. The impact was not all negative, and many high-quality sites saw a significant improvement in their ranking and traffic after the change.
Image Source: Search Engine Land
How to Reduce Your Risk
Only those heavily invested in the success of content farms will complain about the more noticeable impact of the Panda update, but Panda’s impact reaches far beyond content farms. The update has been very successful at removing poor quality sites from top SERPs, but an unfortunate side effect is that many smaller sites have also been affected. It is therefore better to protect your site against future algorithm changes, instead of scrambling to recover each time a major change affects your traffic. Changes you can implement right now include:
- Fully understanding the differences between White, Grey and Black Hat SEO, and avoiding any of the riskier techniques.
- Reducing the number of advertisements on your site, particularly above the fold. Monetizing a website through advertisements is not bad practice, but it should never be at the expense of the user experience.
- Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines faithfully. Google has not changed the rules, as some people have suggested, but instead they have started to apply them more strictly. The science behind search is constantly evolving and you can expect Google to continue enforcing existing rules as it becomes easier to monitor and adjust.
- Eliminate any unnecessary links, especially outbound links to unrelated websites. If you need to keep certain outbound links but are concerned that they might affect your ranking, add the rel=”nofollow” tag to them. Inbound links can be just as problematic, but you should first ask the owner of the site linking to you to remove the link before resorting to Google’s Disavow Links tool.
- Improve your website architecture. Simplify the overall structure and navigation so that finding relevant information is easy for site visitors. Doing so also improves the ability of the search engines to properly crawl and index your site.
- Improve your site content. This is discussed in detail further down.
- Reduce the bounce rate on your site. Bounce rate is the percentage of your visitors who do not click through to any other pages on your website. Various factors influence the bounce rate, but having high-quality content and an easy to understand site layout and navigation will help in keeping it low.
Improving Your Content Quality
Less than three months after the Panda change was first introduced Amit Singhal from Google posted an article providing some guidance on what counted as a high-quality site. There is considerable overlap on the 23 points mentioned in the article, but they can be simplified as follows:
- You are writing for an audience, not a search engine. Structure your content for easy reading, using headlines, sub-headings, lists and relevant images to break up long paragraphs into smaller pieces.
- Avoid spelling and grammar mistakes. Proofread your articles, or ask someone else to do this for you. This serves two purposes; first, it will help you find any mistakes that made it through the first edit, and secondly it allows you to see that the article reads and flows logically. Using a service such as Grammarly can also help in the beginning.
- Use keywords, key phrases and relevant synonyms in a manner that makes your content discoverable by your audience, and understandable to search engines. Past practices usually involved overuse of heavily optimized keywords that made the content more discoverable to search engines, but severely affected the readability. This is no longer acceptable and can easily result in penalties being applied to your website.
- Write to inform and engage. A general rule of thumb is that only 20 percent of your content should relate to selling, with the rest all about helping your audience. Assess each piece of content based on what a reader will learn from it, not what you will immediately gain from it.
- Don’t skimp on detail. While 300-500 word articles are still acceptable some of the time, they can also be seen as being a bit thin and lacking in real substance. Instead of having 10 articles covering a similar topic, combine them into one long article that addresses all the relevant issues.
- Include internal and outbound links. Use internal links to direct readers to related content elsewhere on your website, and outbound links to direct readers to sites and articles that you quoted in your own text, or that can provide further information.
Don’t be afraid to outsource the writing of your content. Not all site operators have the resources available for full-time content creation. Although outsourcing your content creation can be cost-effective, it is not without risk. Regardless of whether you use a content marketing agency or a freelance writer, make sure they have a proven track record and verifiable references. Ask to see published examples of their work and ask if you can contract them for two to three test articles first. Don’t publish any articles without first proofreading them yourself. Outsourcing can be of great benefit if you have large amounts of existing content that needs to be rewritten according to the new best practices of content creation.
Finding High-Quality Content Ideas
One aspect that many site operators struggle with is finding a regular source of high-quality content ideas. There are several solutions to this problem, with many being obvious but usually overlooked.
- Most websites have a Frequently Asked Questions page that provides basic answers to common queries. Identify which of the questions and answers you can expand into a more detailed article and start posting these as separate articles on your company blog. If any of the FAQs are very similar, or overlap, combine them into one article. Don’t remove your FAQ page after you have done this. Keep it in place but add a link to each of the detailed articles after the relevant question and answer.
- Similarly, if you have a technical support or customer service department, speak with the staff in these departments to find out what types of queries and calls they regularly have to deal with. Use these again to create detailed articles that provide standard solutions.
The best content provides solutions. It is about identifying the pain points of your audience and then helping to eliminate them. Improving your existing content, and then consistently creating new content that informs and engages, will benefit both you and your audience.
How did the Panda update affect your website? Are there any negative effects of Panda that you are still struggling to eliminate? Share your thoughts in the comments below.