Our definitive Guide to Google Panda: Everything you need to know and what you need to do

Google – Staying Ahead

Google has long been the dominant search engine in terms of market share.

A recent report based on data obtained by SEOmoz, Alexa, Karma Snack and several other trusted analytics sites shows us that as of July 2012, Google has an unbelievable 87.6% share of the search engine market.

So, how do you ensure you keep up with Google?  Here’s our breakdown of how it affects you and tips on how to stay on top:

Latest Updates – Pandas, penguins & search optimisations.

To keep its advantage, Google has undergone frequent upgrades and changes to improve the way in which it carries out searches and indexes information.

Each of these updates focuses on a particular aspect of the search engine.  The Google machine has been slowly transformed and upgraded one cog at a time since its official start up in 1998.

The latest of these upgrades are referred to as the ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ updates.

Roughly speaking, Google Penguin is aimed at finding and penalising dodgy link-building, questionable SEO tactics and in particular, a spammy approach to SEO. We’ll look at Penguin in more detail at a later date.

The Panda update aims to improve search engine results by rewarding informative and unique content, while penalising the opposite. 

The Panda Update and its effects

Panda 1.0 (also known as Farmer) was launched on 24 February 2011 and immediately affected a whopping 12% of queries indexed by Google.

After Panda was initially implemented, CNET reported a surge in the rankings of news websites and social networking sites, a change that suggests Google was successful in achieving its aims as both of these generate a huge volume of original and engaging content.

Sistrix, an independent SEO-software firm, raked through a huge amount of data after the initial update and published a table of winners and losers.

According to Sistrix, the pages that were worse hit are those we call ‘content farms,’ sites that rely on third-party writers to provide large quantities of low-quality articles and content in order to remain high in SERPs and generate profit through advertising.

Many other sites and digital bodies looked into the effects of the algorithm update and noted many other types of site that were adversely affected.  These include:

-Voucher & discount sites

-Review sites

-Price comparison sites

These are all sites that generate huge volumes of thin and deficient content.

 

Panda vs. Small Businesses 

One issue that has been consistently raised against the Panda update is its consistent penalisation of small businesses.

The problems for small businesses

Because the importance of ranking well in Google is so widely understood, and has been for a while, many smaller businesses, in the years leading up to the update, took to implementing SEO tactics to improve their online visibility.

Because most small companies simply do not have the time, budget or knowledge to do this in (what Google would now call) ‘a legitimate fashion,’ the rankings of small businesses were hit particularly hard by the update.

In addition, the very nature of local business websites makes them natural targets for the Farmer upgrade.  This is because:

–       They contain minimal content,

–       Businesses dealing with products will often have descriptions and information from the manufacturer/supplier, which will result in the site being flagged as unoriginal.

–       Due to both a lack of time and fresh information, it is very hard for small businesses to frequently update their content – something else that Panda penalises.

After the release of Panda 1.0, hundreds of articles and posts were published either investigating the negative effects of the update or outspokenly attacking it for takingmoney out of the pockets of honest people that feed their families with their internet business.’

Google, trying to appease these voices, has released many guides outlining how to avoid being penalised as well as plenty of information on optimising sites on startup.

Tips for winning: How to appease the Panda

One of the most frustrating challenges for SEOs is that these algorithms are constantly being upgraded and changed.  So how do we stay ahead?

There are a few basic rules, which if stuck to, will always greatly reduce the chance of your website being penalised by the current Panda or any of its descendants.

Consistent Updates – You must keep your site up to date and fresh wherever possible.  Try to review and replace any content that is too old, and try to add new pieces of material at least every week or two.

A blog, even for a small business, dealing with industry news, reviewing products or technology etc. can be a great way of generating new content and gaining Panda’s trust.  Content such as white papers, webinars, slideshows, infographics or guides can generate buzz, links, comments and discussion, which also counts as valuable new content.

Nine out of ten organisations are marketing with content these days; make sure you don’t lose out.

Make sure your content is unique – Make sure your content is original.

If you need information from elsewhere (regarding manufacturer information for example), read it, learn it, and then rewrite it in your own words.  Panda hates nothing more than copying andcontent scraping.’

The other very important rule is to make sure you have no duplicate content by posting any of your work elsewhere or allowing other people to use it.

Make your site easily navigable and understandable

Panda will punish sites that are vague or unclear.  Sites will also be penalised if they are tricky to navigate or move from page to page.  To avoid this, make your site as simple and clear as possible.

 

 

Make your site valuable

When you are writing, keep your audience in mind rather than the Google spiders. Avoid keyword stuffing or unnatural-sounding sentences.

Encouraging the publication of interesting and engaging information is Panda’s main role and while ‘examining’ a site, Panda takes into account bounce rates, return viewers and average time spent on pages to ascertain the value of your site to its human visitors.

If you follow these four key rules regarding content you are highly unlikely to be penalised by Panda.

Other Advice and Help

There are many guides and blogs that focus on helping site owners to adapt to the Panda updates and continue to optimise their websites in terms of Google rankings.  Here are some of my favourite:

A Beginner’s Guide to SEO

What Google’s Panda & Penguin Updates mean for the Future of SEO

Dealing with the Increasing Complexity and Volume of SEO Tasks – due to changes with Google

Google Panda Update:  Say Goodbye to Low-Quality Links

131 Legitimate Link Building Strategies

How to Avoid being Penalised by Consistent Google Updates

5 Common SEO mistakes & How to Avoid Them

The Holy Grail of Panda Recovery

Panda 3.8 – The latest Update

The reason we decided to write about Google Panda was because just over a week ago, the algorithm was again updated.  Although Google, as always, remains decidedly quiet with regards to its aims and strategies, there are a few pieces of information that may be useful.

The Panda was updated previously on June 8 but before even a month had passed, on the 25, Google confirmed on Twitter that it would be releasing Panda 3.8.

There has been a little confusion around the web as to why the update was released so soon after its predecessor, when in the past, Google updates have usually been run 4-6 weeks apart.  Google explained this release was to ‘capture’ websites that needed to adjust to Panda modifications as well as to release those who had complied.

Google confirmed that there were no major algorithmic changes in the ranking signals during this update; it was simply a data refresh – a rerun of the algorithm.

It also claimed that only roughly 1% of search queries would be affected by the update.

Google recommended reading their previous guidelines to cope with the algorithm update.

The Panda update is just 1 of roughly 500 search improvements expected to be rolled out by Google in the year 2012.

If you have noticed any changes in traffic to your website, whether an increase or decrease, since June 25 or would like to talk to us about how we can help you with your SEO please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.