Last weekend saw a fair amount of discussion going on amongst SEOs, thanks to the latest algorithm update, Panda 4.1. The update has been rolled out slowly since September 25th and according to Barry Schwartz writing for Search Engine Land, it’s still being rolled out now.
This has been confirmed by the guys at Google it seems, so if you’re seeing some fluctuations in traffic to your site, then there’s a very good chance that the culprit is Panda 4.1. Of course, there are always some losers when a big update hits, so let’s first have a look at the winners and losers of this one. To help us with this, John Rampton helpfully took a look through the Searchmetrics Suite – Winners /Losers visibility charts in order to analyse which companies have lost out to Panda and which have won out in a Forbes article last week.
Firstly, a little about this update. Panda is generally concerned with finding and penalising low quality content. The algorithms can recognise, poor spelling and grammar, duplicate content, excess links and so on and if these are present in your content then it’s likely that your site will be demoted in the SERPs. It’s thought that the benefactors of this update will be small to medium-sized sites that produce good content and that the update will affect around 3-5% of all websites.
Panda 4.1 Losers
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that there’s no real evidence to prove that Panda is responsible for the changes seen in the rankings of some sites and this is purely from analysis of the sites listed by Searchmetrics and their visibility. However, it’s very likely that it’s Panda that’s caused the fall in ranking.
In the US, yellow.com along with similarsites.com appear to have come off the worst, with a 79% change in ranking. Following on from them are:
- Free-coloring-pages.com (76%)
- Dwyer-inst.com (76%)
- Updatestar.com (71%)
- Office365.com (70%)
Taking a look at yellow.com, the site is the online version of the Yellow Pages directory and does of course have some use. However, the site contains little in the way of content and nothing in the way of a blog and so has been sent down into the low-ranking realms because of this. Similarsites.com is another resource which could be considered useful to some but which actually is nothing more than a directory. The site allows you to find similar sites to your favourites by analysing the content of 100s of sites with its ‘similarity engine’ and delivering you the results.
So, these sites have been demoted by Panda for not containing a lot of useful information, but the nature of the sites is pretty basic. The discussion point here would be in how useful these sites truly are. Whilst they serve a function, they are at their heart nothing more than search engines and since we already have Google, Yahoo!, Ask, DuckDuckGo and many others, do we really need more? Google certainly doesn’t seem to think so and I tend to agree. I remember the time when SEO was being abused so badly that searching was almost guaranteed to send you to one directory or another just because there were so many around. It spoiled the searching experience and was intensely irritating so I for one am glad to see the back of low-quality directories.
However, I’m not sure that these two examples fall into that category, especially yellow.com as it’s a household name in many countries.
Panda 4.1 Winners
When it comes to the biggest winners, comdotgame.com came out well on top with a whopping 1353% change in ranking. That’s massive and the site owners must be very happy with that. The next change was still huge, with a 406% ranking rise for hongkiat.com.
- Others included:
- Mediamass.net (308%)
- Hotelguides.com (285%)
Babble.com is a lifestyle blog from Disney and contains lots of articles surrounding subjects such as parenting, food and entertainment. It has a lot of contributors and as such is always full of fresh content that’s well written. I can see why it would have won out when it came to the Panda 4.1 update, no surprises there.
How Do I Know if I’ve Been Hit?
If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in traffic when looking at analytics or Webmaster Tools, then it could be that you’ve been affected by the update. There’s no guarantee that it’s the problem so you should look at your analytics and study traffic patterns from the past.
Google won’t help you out with this, it’s something that you have to determine and then set about making amends. Firstly, carry out a site audit, looking primarily at your content as this is what Panda is all about.
- Do you have enough content on the site?
- Is the content well written, with no spelling and grammatical mistakes?
- Is the content duplicated elsewhere on the web?
- Have you overused keywords?
Putting Things Right
Hopefully, a site audit will have flagged up where you’re going wrong and you can address it. You would be wise when carrying out the audit to have people other than yourself looking through it. Sometimes familiarity means that you don’t spot even the most obvious mistakes, so get fresh eyes on it.
Then, get your content up to scratch:
- If you can’t write well, or even if you can, employ a professional to craft content for you and ensure each page has a minimum of 300 words.
- If you don’t have a blog, now’s the time to start one and ensure that it’s informative, well-written and entertaining. Longer form blogs tend to perform better in the SERPs, so don’t just bang out 300 words extolling the virtues of your latest product, write something meaty that solves a problem for readers or provokes emotion.
- Duplicate content is an absolute no-no. Make sure that everything you write is unique and contains supporting links to the information you’re giving to authoritative sites.
- Be very careful about keyword density (keep it very low) and use synonyms to ensure that you give your writing (and Google) extra context.
- Add images and video to your blog posts to mix things up a bit and make sure that your site is seen to be useful to your audience.
- Write about things in your industry niche only, don’t write about what you had for breakfast unless you have a food-related site.
Luckily, it’s not a huge disaster if your site is demoted by Panda 4.1. The update seeks to find sites with ‘thin content’ that it believes isn’t useful to the reader. With that in mind, you really just have to get writing in order to address it, but if you’re not a natural writer then it’s worth paying for an expert to do it. You should also consider keeping a blogger on a retainer and get them to write blogs for you at an absolute minimum of once a week.
However, it’s not always possible within a small business budget, so take a careful look at your overall marketing budget to see where you could perhaps cut down on ineffective advertising and replace with content marketing.
Make the Most of Content
If you want to recover from a Panda update, then content is where you should be placing all of your energies. Remember that content is a business asset and a highly effective way of marketing your business online. When used alongside social media and email campaigns, your content could very well bring you in much more business, so invest in it and then make it work for you.
Many companies are loathe to pay out a lot of money for content, but quite happy to pay for other forms of advertising. It has to be understood that decent content takes time and expertise to create and should be seen as an investment into your website and of course, business.
Look at it that way, get involved with social to distribute it and create a buzz and you’ll never have to worry about a Panda update again.