In our last post, we talked about Google Penguin, an algorithm which focuses on backlinks and off-site SEO. In this post, we’ll talk about Google Panda, which over the last couple of years has had a huge impact on Google’s on-site SEO factors.
If you’ve spent any time in SEO over the last few years, no doubt you’ve heard the name Panda. But what exactly does this algorithmic update do? Why has it had such a huge impact on search? And what can you do if your website has been impacted by Google Panda? In this post, we’ll answer these questions and more, as we explore the details of this hugely important Google algorithm.
Let’s Talk About Search Quality
Before we can really understand what Google Panda is all about, we need to understand search quality in general. Whatever your opinion is of Google as a business, one thing is clear: they really, really care about search quality.
For Google, having users experience quality results is key to the overall success of their business. Google wants satisfied users, and makes every effort to shape the search results to allow the best results possible to surface.
During the time that Panda was first released, in early 2011, Google’s search results were heavily populated with websites that were often called “Content Farms”. These were sites that had authoritative domains, and produced very large amounts of content on a huge range of topics. This content was often very cheaply produced, low in quality, and would leave users unhappy.
You’ve probably experienced this in the past – you do a search, click a link that seems relevant, only to find that the actual page doesn’t have an answer to your question. You might just find some barely-relevant article, content that sounds like it was written by a robot, or even worse, just the text of your search repeated back to you.
This was the exact problem Panda attempted to fight. With the Panda update, Google was attempting to remove thin content from the search results and only show users pages that offer truly high quality content.
How Does Google Panda Work?
Of course, Google doesn’t really know when a page is “high quality”. The quality of something is a subjective judgment made by a human – Google can’t tell how “good” something is in a qualitative way. Instead, the Panda algorithm uses various technical methods for attempting to distinguish quality content from junk. Some of the Google Panda quality filters include,
- Duplicate Content. Websites that copy content from around the web generally don’t have much value. Likewise, websites that have many internal pages that are duplicative or very similar are also usually poor. Google Panda punishes sites that have excessive content duplication.
- Thin Content. Usually, a page with just a few words of text isn’t what a searcher is looking for. Any website that has loads of pages that each have only a few words of real content will probably get punished by Panda, since Google knows that users are usually looking for a page that offers some reasonably substantial information.
- Cheap Content. Let’s suppose there are two articles online about the pyramids of Egypt. One is written by a college professor with a career of experience in Egyptology, the other written by a $5/hour copywriting shop in India. Which is the better article? Of course, the answer to us is obvious, but for a search engine, the difference is harder to spot. Google Panda included various techniques to help Google identify “cheap” content, such as website trustworthiness, author authority, writing quality, and more. How exactly each specific element of the “cheap content’ filter works isn’t known exactly, but in general, the goal is to reward expertly written content and punish cheaply made, junky content.
Recovering from a Panda Penalty
If you think you might be suffering from a Google Panda penalty – don’t panic! Many webmasters have gone through these issues over the last few years, and many websites can fully recover from Panda. Your first step is to diagnose the issue.
You should first be sure that you really are dealing with a Panda penalty, and not some other problem. Honestly, most small business owners with small sites probably won’t have Panda problems. We often find that business owners who complain about Panda are actually dealing with a Google Penguin issue, or just low rankings without really having a search engine penalty.
Ask yourself – does my website contain many pages with limited information? Have I been creating many very similar pages for SEO purposes? Does my website CMS autogenerate pages? Is much of the content on my website similar to content that can be found elsewhere around the web? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you might have a Panda issue. If not, the problem likely lies elsewhere.
If you find that Panda is your problem, some recovery steps include –
- Invest in Quality Content. There’s no way around it – to succeed in search today, you need to bring some real quality content to the table. Before you get started digging into SEO technicalities, you should understand that at some point, to perform well in modern SEO, you’ll need some real content. Start planning what sort of content is best suited for your niche, what your audience wants, and how you can get this content created. Although content creation is an expensive process, it is ultimately critical to real SEO success.
- Do a Technical SEO Audit. Sometimes, Panda problems can be caused by technical issues. Some content management platforms are really messy and produce multiple URLs for each piece of content. This can cause Google to think you’re creating junk content, even if you’re really not intending to. Dig in to your site’s architecture and figure out exactly what URLs are being generated and crawled by Google. A simple site: search in Google can be a great place to start.
- Send Quality Signals to Google. Google uses dozens of different techniques for attempting to judge a site’s quality. While we described a few key ones already, the list goes on. Check out this post from Google’s Amit Singhal, which describes a huge range of factors that Google uses to assess quality. Read this list, and try to build these quality signals into your website. Just remember – your goal isn’t to trick Google into thinking your website is high quality – the goal is to actually create a quality site!
Hopefully this post gives you some background in how Google Panda works and what you can to do analyze and fix problems you might be having with Panda. If you’re interested in learning more about Google Panda, or if you need help recovering from a Panda penalty, the team at Tech-Critic can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.