On May 21, 2014, Google unleashed Panda 4.0, an update to their famous filter known for flushing out low quality content. Panda’s main aim is to remove content that’s thin, low-quality or spammy from rankings so that the user gets the highest quality results. Panda was first released in February 2011 and has had several updates. Panda 4.0 is the largest update and has affected 7% of queries. It’s main aim seems to be to flush out “thin content from top rankings.”
As soon as Google made the announcement for Panda 4.0, the search world was buzzing. Updates to Panda were monthly and an announcement of an update was unheard of. It meant that this was a huge overhaul. Within, a couple of days it was apparent that certain sites took a huge hit and lost almost 80% of their organic results. According to Search Engine Land in their winners and losers post, Ebay and ask.com topped the list of losers. Ebay has a lot of doorway pages that have little or no content, just meant to lead the reader to a product page.
I think that this update and Panda are actually reasons for content marketers to celebrate. Now more than ever before it’s apparent that your content is the most important thing on your site, something that content marketers have been saying for ages.
Panda goes after thin and low quality content which is a boon for content marketers. Panda targets content that is:
- Thin or little
- Low quality
What wins and comes up on top are sites that produce this type of content:
- High quality
So what do we do to ensure that our site is not the latest casualty? And more importantly how do we rank well for all the content we’ve worked hard to create? Here are some ideas that come to mind:
#1. Do a content audit of your site
A content audit will allow you to at-a-glance root out content that may keep you from ranking well. Doing a content audit, if you have a have a huge site with several thousand pages is a gigantic task. Here’s a good article on how to perform a content audit.
If you don’t have the time to do a full audit, use analytics to get a sampling of popular, average, and low traffic pages. Also, you only need to look at the last year to half a year of blog posts. But you’ll be able to unearth a wealth of info such as:
- Pages with duplicate content. A thorough content audit will point out pages that are redundant and need to be deleted.
- Pages that are obsolete. For example: last year’s Thanksgiving sale and items on discount for that event. If a visitor lands on this page, it creates a poor user experience.
- Does this page contain enough of content? The page should have at least 300 words or it’s considered very thin content.
- Is the content valuable to its audience? This is obviously somewhat subjective, but you can understand if it is once you look at your metrics such as bounce rate and time spent on the page.
- Does the content contain targeted keywords? Do they appear in the first few paragraphs? If you want to rank well, it helps to use the search terms people are using.
- Does the content have keywords stuffed in it? You want to include keywords in your content, but you don’t want to go overboard.
- Does the content have spelling and grammatical errors? Grammatically wrong content is a dead-giveaway to search engines on the lookout for spammy content. Spell check is your best friend.
- Is the content easily readable? This article goes into depth about making your content readable and how to check your readability statistics.
- Are search engines able to index this content? Do you have an XML site-map? Are you stopping search engines with your robots.txt file?
- Have a content calendar. This will keep you on track.
- Build plenty of pages targeting keyword variations. The days of keyword-stuffing are long past. If your site ranks well for certain articles, it makes sense to create variations around those terms.
- Google Webmaster Tools – Search Appearance – HTML improvements, you’ll see any duplicate titles and meta descriptions.
- Check for duplicate URLs
- Have a mobile-optimized site with responsive design. Search engines now prefer sites that work well on mobiles.
- Make sure that your site’s architecture is easy. If your audience has to drill down many levels to get to your content, that creates a poor user experience.
- Plan to market your content on all the social media channels that your audience may use such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+
- If you sell products that are good on visuals such as fashion wear or interiors, Pinterest and Instagram have growing communities that are worth tapping into.
- Try reaching out to people in the community who may be interested in your content. They may like your content and link back to it. Sites such as news sites or non-profits and charitable organizations that you may have donatated to are great for getting links.
After conducting the audit, for each page ask yourself:
#2. Have a content marketing plan in place
Search engines love fresh content and lots of it. And of-course high quality content. Your content marketing plan needs to include a plan for all the types of content you will be creating during the year. This includes blog content, social media content, customer newsletters and emails, any whitepapers or eBooks. the best way to sort yourself through this maze of content is:
#3. Do an SEO audit
Remember, when doing the SEO audit that you’re doing it to find content on your site that is Panda-unfriendly. Check for duplicate meta titles and descriptions. A great tool to use for this is Google Webmasters Tools. If you go into your account:
#4.Take care to only hire the best copywriters and content creators – you get what you pay for
Because of the need to constantly churn out fresh content, many businesses are outsourcing their content creation efforts. One caveat: you get what you pay for. High quality copywriters don’t come cheap but you are guaranteed original, high quality content. In the eyes of Google and even the world that’s priceless.
#5. Improve the user experience on your site
There are several ways to improve the user experience on your site. And most of these things you are probably already doing:
#6. Market your content
Marketing your content on many different channels ensures that your audience will see your content. This sends a signal to search engines that your content is valuable.
Was your site affected by Panda? Do you have more ideas on how to keep content high quality? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments below. Thanks.
Frederic Gonzalo says
Great post Gazalla. I believe these six tips are the core of any good content marketing approach, regardless of the Panda updates, or Penguin or Hummingbird for that matter. Brands should no longer rely on quick-fix approaches of black-hat SEO techniques, a solid web strategy needs to take into consideration a fresh and authentic content creation dimension, built to last overtime, through various online outposts: web, blog, social media, mobile, etc.
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Gazalla Gaya says
Thanks, Frederic. I agree. A good content strategy is important regardless of any Google updates. Not only will it help your rankings but it’s sure to delight your customers as well.
Great summary. Quick question, for your content calendars, do you use any tools or do you simply keep things in a spreadsheet / Google Doc?
Gazalla Gaya says
That’s an excellent question, Alexis. It’s also the topic for an upcoming blog post Stay tuned…..In the meantime, putting everything in a good old – fashioned Excel doc is a great idea.
I wasn’t really concerned about this update because I knew I was good. I do have a question for you though.
I remember a couple of years ago that Ana Hoffman had shared that we needed to weed out our content that really wasn’t benefiting anyone. I did go back to the very beginning and I ended up deleting 42 posts but the reason for that was I was doing affiliate marketing way back then and those posts were getting no views. They were also promoting products that were no longer online so all the links were broken and they just didn’t make sense for me to hang on to them. The only reason I wanted to was so I could look at my very early work and see how far I’d come.
So what about the posts that are like a year, two, three, four years old that either don’t apply anymore or if someone were to read it I would just hope that they would look at the date and figure out that it doesn’t work anymore. If we all did that kind of audit we would have to just be left with our fresh up to date content now. That’s one of the reasons I don’t understand why people don’t date their posts.
If I’m searching for something on Google and I find what I want but I can’t find a darn date for the life of me and not even in the comments I have no idea if what they’re sharing it up to date or not. I’ll usually just scratch it because I want to be sure.
Anyway, that’s my question about deleting older posts. Thanks for this update and I was really surprised the most about Ask.com. eBay not so much.
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Gazalla Gaya says
That’s an excellent question, Adrienne. And also a bit tricky. Search engines also rank you accrding to the depth of your site. In other words: How many pages does your site have? This actually led to spammy, black-hat practices where people would deliberately create pages of duplicate content to bloat their site and that was the reason Panda came about..to penalize those sites that indulged in these practices.
The other factor that I’d worry about when I delete pages, is that even though I’ve deleted the page from my server and site, search engines still have that page indexed and may show it in search results. When the user clicks on the page, he will be directed to a broken link, since the page no longer lives on your site.
If you must delete a page, make sure it’s also deleted from Google’s index. Here are Google’s instructions on how remove outdated content from their site:
and how to remove an entire page: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1663419?hl=en&ref_topic=1724262
Also, make sure that your when you delete the page, you have a proper 404 code that tells people that they’ve landed on the right site but the page is no longer there and you can help them find what they need. Here’s how to create useful 404 codes: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/93641?hl=en
You could also have a robots.txt file to tell search engines which pages not to index. There’s no guarantee that the content won’t show up since search engines only use this file as a reference.
That’s why I agree with you that it’s best to have the dates. People will see that the content is outdated once they see the date. Even if people don’t have a blog, it’s good to have a date and time stamp on web pages. Thanks so much for bringing this up. I think that it’s an important issue that should have been addressed on this post. Have a great weekend.
You don’t have to worry about me not removing them from Google indexing them. That’s definitely something I took care of immediately so they aren’t showing up anywhere. I also have a proper 404 pages set up as well as my robots.txt file too. I’ve learned a lot since starting this journey and this is something I stay on top of as well.
Thanks though but should I delete all of my affiliate posts that don’t even fit my niche anymore? I have no duplicate content on my blog at all, but posts that no one reads or has nothing to do with the direction my blog has gone. I mean I haven’t been penalized for anything although Google did drop my page rank again the last time. They can’t make up their mind with my blog for some reason.
I appreciate your response, thanks a bunch.
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Gazalla Gaya says
I was sure that you would have done all these necessary things. You’re a known influencer and well-known blogger. I think that the advice I wrote here is also more for others reading these comments (begininner bloggers) who many not know that it’s not so easy to simply delete pages.
I think that if your affiliate posts no longer align with your blog, then it makes sense to delete them. Again this would be in keeping with having content that matters to your audience. Agian, thanks for bringing this up. Have a great weekend:)
Wonder if some of landing page concepts are working well after Panda4.0. We planned to make sites on “car insurance Berlin” “car insurance Munich” and so on. Copys would be unique, because of some different content – different prices, local savings, local crash numbers … But at the end sites are at least similar and we don’t want to be pandalized.
By the way. Thanks for saying “hire the best copywriters and content creators”. This encourages.
Gazalla Gaya says
Ha ha, love that – you don’t want to be pandalized:)
I suggest that you create different content for both sites. There’s enough of content ideas on the web. Have a unique blog on each and different whitepapers and other content marketing material so that the content is significantly different on both sites. All the best.
Alan Eggleston says
Great article, Gazalla. Although I am surprised by a couple of the names on the list of losers after Panda 4.0 (such as livescience.com and webopedia.com), many of the sites I’m not. Ask.com often relied on answers from providers with no authority and a lot of repetition and supposition rather than factual answers. What Google wants is new information written by people of authority on the subject with substantive material of value – not short thought pieces. Panda 4.0 is routing them out.
Gazalla Gaya says
Thanks, Alan. You’re right. It’s survival of the fittest, most substantial I’m surprised by Webopedia too, I wish we knew why each site lost its ranking. Anyway, the fact is that Panda’s here to stay and we have to bow to the big bear or bow out. Quality content rules as it should. Thanks for your feedback as always.
Adi Gaskell says
Gazalla, for as long as I can remember now Google have been preaching that folks should concentrate on producing great content, and the rankings will then work themselves out.
The perception I’ve had is that over the years the seo thing has gradually dropped in importance, as Google have become a bit better at actually rewarding the good content. As the seo world has slumped, the content marketing world has risen.
Is that a fair summary would you say, or is seo still as big as it always was?
Gazalla Gaya says
You are absolutely right, Adi. The thing about SEO is that it’s now merged with content marketing and social media and there should really be a special term ( I guess digital marketing would come close) for these combined subjects that have morphed into one big marketing genre. I would love to write a separate post on this very topic. SEO these days is no longer just about search engine optimization. It’s everything that you need to do to ensure that your content reaches your audience. In that sense, SEO will always be relevant since we all want to reach and market to our audiences. One of the ways to do that is through organic reach but then PR, social media, content marketing are all other avenues and they’re closely related…..Also the other thing about the term SEO is that people instantly recognize it and know that your post is going to help them increase their organic reach. I was going to name this post “How to increase your organic reach after Panda 4.0” But I knew that most people might not know what organic reach meant so I went with my current title, because that would be what most people would understand organic reach to mean even though it encompasses so much more……
Barry Brown says
I also read about having too may Ads on the site. As a blog reader, I find those ad links a nuisance. I can probably bear a couple, but having more than that is a pain in the eyes. With the duplicate content, those who rewrite their articles for postings in multiple sites may have gotten away with this, don’t you think? Hmm… I also am reading about obsolete pages. I have to check out my site to work on these things. There’s a lot of valid points here.
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