grr - panda eating bambooPanda 4.1… oh no!

When it comes to Google, those in the field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are constantly reminded never to get too comfortable.  Google is notorious for unveiling updates that can turn once acceptable practices into black hat techniques that can penalize your website.  About a month ago (September 25th to be exact) Google started rolling out an update to their Panda algorithm. If you aren’t familiar with the significance of Panda 4.1, here’s a few things that you should know:

Thin Content. As with previous versions, Panda targets websites that contain thin content, or “fluff.” This means stuffing your copy with unnecessary keywords in hopes of better rankings will ultimately get you penalized. Additionally, content that lacks substance or relevancy is also going to get you penalized.

Duplicate Content. If there’s one thing that Panda hates, it’s duplicate content. If your content can be found on multiple sites, this is not good. There are a variety of tools that can help you determine if your site is violating this Panda rule; however, the simplest test you can conduct is to copy a sentence from your site and put it in quotes when searching Google. This will tell you how many sites have the same content, verbatim.
Google test for duplicate copy

Spun Content. This type of content is generated using a robot or program that assembles copy for your website. As I’m sure you can guess, because Google hates thin content that lacks relevancy and hates duplicate content, Google really hates any content that is mass produced. We see this happen often with micro-sites that are mass produced and sold under the guise of a “tracking site” by some unnamed marketing companies.

No More Warning. One notable change to this version (and those to follow) of Panda is that Google will no longer be announcing releases of Panda as they have in the past. Why is this important, you might ask? This announcement is significant because, now, you won’t know when and where Panda will strike. In the same breath, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Pierre Far, stated that with improvements to the Panda Algorithm, “we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely.” Far also mentioned that this could have a significant impact for smaller and medium sized sites (ie local businesses).

What you should do, today.

Review Your Site for Quality. Depending on the size of your site, this may be a task in itself. Rather than taking on the whole site, evaluate which pages are the most critical or receive the most traffic. It’s best to start there.

Consider UX. User experience (also known as UX) has become an increasingly critical element of website development and Search Engine Optimization. Google takes into consideration how intuitive the site is. Put yourself in the shoes of the Average Joe using your website. Can he find his way around? Better yet, could your kid navigate the website? How easy is it to get from one page to the next? Is your site intuitive? If you can’t say “yes” with absolute certainty, you may need to contact a web specialist for further consultation.

Quit Posting Thin Content.  When auditing your site, consider what your site really delivers. Does each page have a definitive topic and serve a purpose? Does it resolve a question or provide an answer a user might be asking? Also, quit copying and pasting content, even if it’s a few sentences here and there. Just don’t do it. Google can see this with ease.

Conclusion

Understanding how Panda works can save you and your website a lot of grief. After all, no one wants to fall into the obscurity of Google’s page 2 or beyond. Take a moment to evaluate your website. Copy a sentence or two and see if you can find other sites that are using the same content. If so, summarize and rewrite the content in your own words. While Panda isn’t the only update, it may be a contributing cause if you see a rapid decline in your search engine rankings.

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