While the Google panda update is still new, we do have some insight into the algorithm change. In this post we will focus on how the Google panda update has affected websites. We will also make a few recommendations on how to alter your SEO to improve post panda update rankings. There have been many posts focusing on what the Panda update is hurting; in this post we will focus on what the Panda algorithm update likes.
First, let’s get one general thought out; it is very difficult for search engines to determine “quality” content. The issue is that quality content is largely objective, dependent on the person evaluating it. This causes this update to be controversial and in some cases confusing. On the other hand, the reduction in rankings/traffic for sites creating large amounts of less substantive content (according to the Google algorithm) has created more room for other websites to breathe in the search space. This causes the update to be successful in many ways.
A large focus of the update was reducing the amount of “content spam” on the web. The issue of course is in determining what constitutes content spam. I think it is safe to say that we do not know exactly what content spam is at this point; we would need to better understand the exact evaluation criteria utilized by the Google algorithm. We really need to know, how the Panda update evaluates content specifically. However, at this point we can deduct information based on trends we have seen in website rankings and traffic over the past couple of weeks following the update. We also can gather information from other posts around the web covering the topic. So now that we have gotten some introductory thought out of the way, let’s try to figure out what Pandas Like about SEO content.
Pandas Like Good Content
We know this to be the case, but what does it really mean? It basically means that Google does not want to index pieces of content that lack substantive information. According to Google, they feel that at this point their update has been successful. SEO Inc. has always recommended developing good content as a core SEO best practice.
“Based on our testing, we’ve found the algorithm is very accurate at detecting site quality. If you believe your site is high-quality and has been impacted by this change, we encourage you to evaluate the different aspects of your site extensively.”
Google then goes on to provide a recommendation, “Google’s quality guidelines provide helpful information about how to improve your site.” Quality is the major issue here. In order to ensure that your website has quality content we must evaluate the quality guidelines provided by Google. I took the liberty of browsing through these guidelines. Here are a few bullet points to focus on when reviewing your current content and creating future content, in a post panda update world. We will focus on content quality specific remarks in this section and leave non-relevant info from the quality guidelines out.
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
- Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
- Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the “ALT” attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.
- Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
- Check for broken links and correct HTML.
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
OK, so the bullets tell us a few things. Basically they say to keep basic SEO ideas in mind, make sure nothing is broken and write really good content. While this is the case, this still doesn’t give us much insight into why certain sites were hit by the Google Panda update. So let’s jump into this part of the post now.
Pandas Likes Expert Sites
The main sites hurt by the Google panda update were all inclusive content creation sites, Google has stated the change only effects 12% of US results. This was mainly websites that created content on a variety of topics in many different areas of interest. This does not fly in a post panda update world.
What we have seen is that the new algorithm is allowing sites with a clear focus to better succeed in their niche. Websites with a particular theme, which cover topics with expertise and more in-depth are thriving in this new environment. Allow me to show some quick data.
Sites that lost traffic (Source SEL):
- Articlebase.com (-94%)
- Ezinearticles.com (-90%)
- Hubpages.com (-87%)
- Howtodothings.com (-84%)
Sites that gained traffic (Source SEL)
I would like to comment on a few trends above. Many of the sites that benefited have an ecommerce focus. This is a trend we have seen. On queries that normally would have been clogged with content filled search results, many ecommerce pages are now being allowed to climb closer to the surface. But why did eHow.com, Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers experienced gains? We can only speculate that Google is providing these sites with better rankings do to their credibility. Overall, we have seen that websites that have a clear niche and/or have a lot of authority benefited by the update. This has been the trend in most cases. In some cases however, it is almost as if Google selected specific sites to remain on top, such as in the case with ehow. In this situation we must point to the authority of the eHow website, which has a page rank of 7, and the quality of the content. Which apparently is better than the other How To websites that were chosen to be negatively effected. I would like to mention that we are only providing commentary on certain relationships we have seen. Again, the panda update is still in its early stages. All ideas at this point are exploratory.
Pandas want you to be Social
A large part of what makes a site an authority is social shares, i.e. how many times a piece of content or page is shared on Facebook wall, Twitter post, Linked page/group, etc. We recently saw a great post on this by SEO Moz that made it clear that there is a correlation between top ranking pages and the amount of social media shares. We have of course known this was the case for some time; however, the post did a good job of further proving the level of influence. While this is the case, it has become clear that social media shares carry importance in relation to the current state of the Google algorithm for a number of reason, one being, the benefit of supporting early indexing of content. Quick social media shares mean the search engines will pick up a piece of content quickly. This gives you the opportunity to be more clearly established as the source of the content. In addition, more shares can translate to higher rankings for the content.
Pandas Like Content: But get Confused about Originators
An interesting issue has been occurring post panda update in which Google has been incorrectly determining the originators of a piece of content. In particular, Bryan Crow, the Chief Technology Officer of WonderHowTo.com wrote on this in a recent post. His main issue was the following; ever since the implementation of the panda update, his website has been experiencing issues being perceived as the originator of its own content. In the post he even went so far as to demonstrate many websites out ranking him for a piece of content his site had created first. This is becoming more and more prevalent in Google. If you would like to maximize your chances of being picked up as the originator of a piece of content consider the following tips.
Publish the content to your website first. If you generally distribute content around the web, which can make it much more difficult to make it unique and is not always a best practice, make sure to publish the content to your website first. Make sure Google picks it up on your site before offering it to others.
Get Social Shares.Once you publish the content to your site work to get social shares right away. This will build backlinks to the content around the web and tell Google you are the originator.
List the Full Version on your Site: If you must send the content to others, try to have a little more information on your site. That way the content being republished on other websites will be duplicate content and yours will be unique.
Pandas Don’t Like Blocked Websites
Many of you are aware that you can now completely block websites from your search results by logging into a Google account. At first, Google said they were not incorporating this data into ranking factors, stating that it would only be used to block sites when you are logged into your Google account (I will have a full post covering this topic appearing on Search Engine Land later in the week). This has now changed. Here is a quote from Google on their new policy regarding dealing with blocked website data.
“In some high-confidence situations, we are beginning to incorporate data about the sites that users block into our algorithms.”
From what we can gather, if Google has already, in a sense, red flagged your website, then the blocked website data will be used to confirm any already suspected low quality issues. We will need to keep our eye on this to see how it develops. We referenced the blocking option in this post simply because if you have poor content which is blocked by many users, it could hurt your site.
Things are changing very rapidly in the search engine optimization and social media marketing space. The Google panda update is still very new. At this point all insight is in its infant stages. If your website has been hurt by the update consider where you lost traffic and rankings. Once you have pinpointed the areas, create a plan to remove the content, block the content or improve the content. You may want to take this time to improve the focus of your site. On the other hand, if your website gained traffic from the Google panda update, enjoy it!