Mar 8, 2012

Life After the Pandocalypse

When Google rolled out the initial “Panda” update to their search algorithm a little over a year ago, a lot of formerly profitable websites abruptly disappeared from the search engine. The update was touted as an attempt to sort out “quality” content from the vast wave of repetitive, duplicate and/or barely literate riff-raff on the big, wide Internet.

The definition of “quality,” obviously, is subjective. Duplicate content is pretty easy to spot, but deciding what constitutes “quality” content is a bit more difficult. As it stands, 67 percent of the search world (Google’s market share) has to play by Google’s definition of quality. Some of Goggle’s take on quality is yet being argued in court cases, but regardless of the various legal results, the basics of Panda-friendly website construction aren’t going to change for the average site owner.

PandocalypseDid your website take a “hit” from Panda, and are you still trying to recover to the traffic levels your site had before the search engine’s change? There are a lot of stories online — both horrible and happy — that you can read about life after the Pandocalypse, but most of them boil down to three essential points:

Refresh Content — If the text content on your website hasn’t changed in a while — say a year at most — Google will assign it a lower quality score regardless of how well-written and relevant it may be. Search users are looking for recent information, so the most recent website content makes the new Google algorithms happier. Invest some time to prepare new, quality information for your website and get it online as quickly as possible.

Reduce Ads — The quality of a website’s user experience (UX) plays an important role in Google’s rankings. One method the search algorithms use to figure this out is to calculate a ratio between the area of a given page that’s dedicated to content versus the area on the same page given over to the display of advertising. This includes spaces on the page populated by Google’s own AdSense advertising. Cutting down on the number of ads displayed on your site can help boost your search rankings.

Reconsider Links — This includes both incoming and outgoing links. By now it’s well known that the old link-building strategies like link exchanges and web rings can seriously dent your search rankings. But paid links — such as the links embedded in some forms of banner ads — are now bad news under Panda. Make sure that any advertising you do for your site includes links that are “scrubbed” so they don’t pass page rank to your website. Direct paid links that pass page rank are now one of the Google hot buttons that can put a dent in your SEO efforts.

The Panda update inflicted heavy damage on websites known as “content farms” in particular. Those are sites that specialize in publishing literally hundreds of thousands of pages of inexpensively produced content, most of which either borders on duplication, or is thinly repetitive at best. Many of them saw their search referrals — and revenue — drop by 75 or 80 percent overnight when Panda was implemented, and subsequent updates (Panda 3.3 “data refresh” was implemented at the end of February) haven’t made life any easier for those that are still in business.

Google’s content guidelines make it pretty clear what the search engine is looking for. Under the Panda “process” relevant, original content will fare better in the long run than anything else. Are there websites still showing in the search results that have poor content and use shady SEO practices? Sure. Google hasn’t eliminated all of them. Not yet, anyway. But that doesn’t make taking shortcuts and following the exceptions a good long-term development strategy.

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