Content Marketing

Google announces the birth of Panda 4.0

Pandas are notoriously bad at reproduction, so you can be sure it’s big news when, like with Google’s Panda yesterday, a new sprog is announced to the world. Sure, the Panda in question is not so much a cuddly new family member as it is Google’s latest major search algorithm update, but it’s unexpected news nevertheless. So what does this mean for your content marketing?

Potentially, quite a lot, but all in all it should be a good thing. There have actually been quite a few algorithm refreshes since Panda began driving Google’s search engine results pages in early 2011, but yesterday’s big arrival does represent somewhat of a new incarnation, hence the cute name 4.0.

Softening approach

SEO and creative content marketing agencies awoke this morning to a tweet from Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, announcing the search giant “is rolling out our Panda 4.0 update starting today”. The big update follows Cutts’ recent announcement that his team is ‘softening’ the search algorithm, to help smaller business websites with high quality content rise to the top of search rankings. In the meantime, the search crawler will act as policeman and prevent sites with poor quality content achieving good rankings, as well as penalising more sneaky so-and-sos trying underhand tactics to gain rankings without creating any content (so-called Black Hat SEO).

The algorithm streamlines and prioritises web results to boost the ranking of good quality websites with good quality backlink profiles (i.e. where you’re linked to a plethora of other quality websites in your neighbourhood or industry). To do this, it also needs to identify the naughty sites that will forever be evolving to stay one step ahead of Google.

Match goes to penalties

For all its good intentions, however, it is just an algorithm – an incomprehensible load of computery maths and rolling calculations – and can only react to pre-programmed signals that do need refreshment. Panda’s older siblings targeted dodgy link-dump and content farm websites (which hosted tonnes of links, often bad ones, and copy-and-pasted reams of other people’s content, for the sole purpose of boosting rankings), but were infamous for their damaging effect on business website rankings, especially those just starting out in the big wide world of web marketing. Some of these innocent sites naturally had the relevant content, but it wasn’t necessarily presented in a way that Panda liked, and through no fault of their own may have unwittingly picked up some dodgy links (trust me, it happens to the best of us). As a consequence, some business owners experienced extremely detrimental hits to their rankings, and worse could not understand why.

So, little Panda 4.0 is here to set the search world to rights. It will prioritise good quality, relevant content and more or less supports the principles of Google’s Hummingbird update last year.

For businesses doing content marketing right now, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. If your content and backlink profile are relevant, of high quality and make for a positive user experience, then yours is exactly the kind of website that should be supported and not penalised. Incidentally, Southerly seems to have gained a few places here and there, so, bully for us.

Panda 4.0 will be welcome news for the smaller business websites that can take all sorts of positive steps to improving the quality of their content and keep it fresh. Quite simply, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ll be fine.

On the other hand, perhaps big corporate sites should start to take heed now. If you’ve been resting on your big brand laurels and haven’t sifted through your content with a fine-toothed comb since this time last year, then today will be a wake up call. Check the back-end of your website hasn’t picked up any dodgy links of late, check that your sitemap is fluidly connected and easy to navigate, and above all check that your content is relevant and not keyword stuffed. If not, you may find a few upstarts in your field chomping at your heels.

5 ways to feed the Google Panda

  1. Quality content – Create original, relevant content, and keep it fresh with new blog posts and social media updates.
  2. Quality backlinks – Check your backlink profile and ensure you’re only cross-linking with good quality, authoritative sites.
  3. Quality meta – Check your back-end meta. Meta descriptions are not necessarily technical SEO drivers any more; they are the shopfront to your pages. Make them sound snappy and unique to your page.
  4. Quality user experienceCheck your web design is inviting and your sitemap is easy to navigate and that your site can perform all its tasks. That means no 404 error or re-directed pages, please.
  5. Quality SEO – Check your site isn’t stuffed with keywords, try and target more long-tail, niche keyphrases, remove all bad links and if you have them, limit the number of ads on your page.

Remember that Google indexes pages and ultimately ranks your site on the basis of the user’s experience, so if the content sounds clunky or unnatural, chances are it simply shouldn’t be there.

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