Post Panda Web Content Makeover

In January, we were forewarned that Google had something big on the horizon to combat search engine spam in 2011.   

The infamous Panda algorithm change in February affected a colossus 11.8% of search queries performed. 

The affect was monumental – the New York Times (owners of about.com) reported a 10% decline in advertising revenues in the first quarter, “mainly due to a decrease in cost-per-click advertising.” 

Created by and named after Google’s lead developer; Pandas mission is to identify and penalise the rankings of sites that:

  • ·         copy or scrape the content of other sites
  • ·         have low-quality content
  • ·         have a high ratio of adverts to content
  • ·         lack brand trust

In other words – Google is penalising websites that don’t provide much value to the user. You can think of it as a new ranking factor – based on the metrics quantified in the update; it will influence where new and existing pages fall in the SERPs.

So, now the dust has well and truly settled, 6 months post Panda, how should it affect your SEO strategy?

Pandas Wrath
EzineArticles was heavily impacted; UK search data has EzineArticles with a drop in search visibility of as much as 93.69%. Suite101 was (as expected) another one of the biggest losers. Google even used it as an example of what they were targeting, -95.39%.  Hubpages took a -85.72% hit in visibility and eHow.co.uk -50%.  So, Google did what they said they would and Panda punished sites with what can safely be described as low value content.

Another notable trend was a dive in search visibility for technology news sites such as Pocket Lint.  These sites tend to be notorious for scraping web content so no surprise there either.

A lot of price comparison and review sites were negatively impacted. In the UK, Ciao.co.uk was a big loser with -93.83%, Dooyoo.co.uk -94% and airfaresflights.co.uk -95%. 

Significant UK winners were The Mirror, Independent, and YouTube.  All data has been provided by SearchMetrics. 

Read more about the impact of the Panda update this article shows a full list of the UK winners and losers.

What Does this Mean?
So, what conclusions can be drawn from the statistics so far? What does it mean for SEO and website content going forward?

Marcus Tober Co-founder of SearchMetrics made an interesting point about the significance of bounce rate.  Basing his observations on many Google updates from the last 6 months and the US/UK Panda algorithm change, he stated; websites you would expect to have a high bounce rate seem to have been most penalised. 

This makes a lot of sense.  Low quality content and scraper sites have clearly been hit but this theory also explains the visibility loss for price comparison and review sites.  On content farms – if the article is poor, you’ll click off it instantly.  If you click on a price comparison page you’ll most probably be referred away from the website to go and buy the product you’re interested in.  The winners are more trusted sources where users browse and look for more information.  Whereas on sites like YouTube and The Mirror, you would expect time spent and number of pages visited to be high.

There is definitely more to the update than merely penalising spammy content, many e-commerce websites that have held onto top positions despite the fact that their product descriptions are duplicated.

A far more important issue is that if these pages have lost their ability to rank they have lost their ability to pass a decent amount of link juice.  Many of the websites hardest hit by the changes can be described as article directories – Ezine (mentioned above, also check stats for Articles Base.  It’s no secret that for many SEO agencies article marketing is a core part of campaigns.  It will be difficult to judge the full impact of the update on organic rankings due to link devaluation.  In the coming months no doubt, evidence to substantiate this theory will be publicised.

What Can you Do?
Firstly, stop looking at is as a punishment, turn it into a positive – Google is actually looking to reward sites that provide high-quality, user friendly, unique content. Sky News headline was actually – Google Search Update ‘To Help UK Business’ Although, it can only ‘help’ your site if you adhere to guidelines. Here ‘s some help:

1/  To find out if you’ve been affected, examine your analytics reports. Here’s a list of when the Panda updates took place.
  • 24 Feb 2011 (USA-only)
  • 11 April 2011 (all English language results)
  • 10 May 2011
  • 16 June 2011
  • 23 July 2011
  • 12 August (all languages, probably not a new ‘English’ update)
  • 28 Sept 11
2/  Read the new publisher guidelines from Google on building high quality content. Here’s a list of factors that’ll make your site vulnerable to Panda:
  • High percentage of duplicate content
  • A high amount of irrelevant content (that doesn’t match the search queries a page ranks for) such as adverts
  • Unnatural language; including spammy onsite SEO and the overuse of a word on a page
  • High bounce rate on page or site
  • Low visit times on page or site
  • Low % of users returning to a site
  • Low click-through percentage from Google’s results pages
  • Low or no mentions or links to a page or site in social media and from other sites

3/  “If you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.” – Google. You need to review your site. Evaluate your web site for poor quality pages (not useful, poorly written, non-unique or shallow) and remove them.

4/  Develop a new content strategy that focuses on quality rather than quantity. This means:

  • Original content and original research – not aggregated or syndicated from other sources.
  • Authoritative information – meaningful and useful content, not simply words about a topic.
  • Web content that encourages user engagement and includes links and social sharing.

Written by