10 Ways to Beat The Panda and Penguin In Your Content Strategy

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Change might not always be fun, but sometimes it is necessary to get ahead in the game of Google. Over the last several months, Google has rolled out two fresh updates to shake up the bad content and spammy link world once again: Panda and Penguin. At this point, Panda and Penguin updates should almost be expected. Although the two updates did not rock our world quite as bad as we anticipated, there is almost always someone who suffers when an update strikes.

10 Content Strategy Tips to Beat Panda and Penguin | SEJ

Panda and Penguin are notorious for rolling out harsh penalties, and it is best practice to stay with the tide and keep those penalties at bay. If you are in need of a content strategy upgrade, these techniques should help repel any pandas or penguins that cross your path.

Panda’s Push For Quality Content

The purpose of Panda’s update is to encourage quality content from websites and downgrade offenders in the SERPs. Google introduced Panda in 2011 as a solution to wipe out low quality content farms. The update was not exclusively designed for this purpose, but Panda offered a helping paw to help make farms disappear.

Content farms were ranking well on Google due to content that was high in volume — not because the content was actually any good. Another ploy that content farms used was over optimizing their articles with excess amounts of keywords. A combination of those two techniques helped content farms rise to the top of Google, while other high quality content websites suffered somewhere on page 2 and beyond. Content farms had their heyday, but Panda has done a pretty decent job of ensuring that low quality content does not have the limelight in the SERPs.

Now that the glory days of content farms are mostly over, there is still bad quality content that needs weeded out. Panda’s first update shook up a whopping 11 percent of the search results, but that number is increasingly becoming smaller. Panda updates are more like tweaks these days, but the update is still serving its purpose.

Drilling Down on Google Update Panda 4.1

Panda 4.1 is the latest version of Panda to occur, with its roll out starting on September 25. Panda’s blow was notably softer this time around, impacting 3 to 5 percent of search queries. However, overall, it is still a somewhat major update with those numbers; just not as major as the original Panda. 

Although Panda’s aim is still removing bad content from the search results, Panda 4.1 has been fine-tuned to help promote small and medium-sized websites with high quality content. This is encouraging news for lesser-known websites, as competing against large scale websites can feel like a never-ending endeavor. This could also be an attempt to encourage small, local businesses to produce high quality content. Competition in local SERPs can be tough, but perhaps this Panda update can help small businesses with a content strategy win on Google. Time will tell.

How Panda Picks Its Victims

In order to stay on the safe side of Panda, understanding which websites it chooses to penalize can keep you from the path of destruction. As we already know, Panda is hungry for bad content, and it particularly enjoys plucking low quality websites from the SERPs. However, what exactly does Panda consider as bad content? There are several elements that distinguish this description, and these are a few bad quality content clues.

  • Bad user experience. Google strives to provide the best possible user experience for its users. Un-engaging and uninformative content is the perfect recipe for bad user experience; if your content is failing to provide value, it will be a strike against you during the next Panda update.
  • Content that is too thin. Great content can come in all shapes and sizes, but long content is what’s hot right now. Long content adds value to your website because it generates more traffic, encourages audiences to stay longer and interact, and it also reportedly has a higher ROI than short form content.
  • Duplicate content. Duplicate content has resulted in Google penalties for quite some time now, and this is still the case with Panda 4.1.
  • Keyword stuffing. Unfortunately, the days of keyword stuffing are still not over. The fortunate part is that keyword stuffing doesn’t really work. Even if your attempts slip through the cracks, the positive results will be short-lived.
  • Outdated content. I’m not talking about that valuable blog post that you wrote a year ago, which still brings value. This kind of content is the kind that sits stale, generates no search traffic, and is not used as a source of reference. 

Penguin’s Play in Low Quality Content

Penguin is geared toward eliminating spam — especially in the form of spammy links. Link farms are prime offenders, but so are repetitive and unnatural link building strategies. Although there may be some grey area as to what constitutes as a natural link, it is hard to deny that people will link to content that is strong. Spot-on content that serves as a solid source of reference will likely result in natural links. The key is to create effective content without worrying about link generation. It’s supposed to be a natural occurrence, and most of the time Penguin knows the difference. 

10 Tips For Playing Nice With Panda

We just gave you a few clues for low quality content and spam tactics, although there are quite a few more. If you are an offender of these bad quality content traits and need a bit of guidance, read on for an (almost) Panda and Penguin proof content strategy.

Tip #1: Increase Content Quality

Panda typically plays nice with high quality content, so ensuring that your content meets the mark is of utmost importance. It is easy enough to say to deliver quality content to your audience, but knowing exactly how to develop content that is of value is a different story.

High quality content is mostly related to Google’s mission of best user experience. You can increase your content’s quality by:

  • Researching thoroughly before you write: What kind of content are your customers searching for? Having your ducks in a row and understanding your audiences’ needs can help you create content that hits the mark almost every time. Not to mention, you won’t waste time creating content that doesn’t suit your audience.
  • Keeping up with hot and trending topics: Staying on top of what’s trending in your niche can help feed your audience with useful and timely content.
  • Using concrete examples and illustrations: Providing examples and illustrations in your content can help your reader fully understand your thought process. Provide links to relevant sources, or hire a designer to create a standout info graph.
  • Don’t forget formatting: The format of your blog post is highly important when it comes to user experience. Break up your paragraphs with snappy headers, and use bullet points to organize thoughts.
  • Proof read, edit, and proof read again: Not knowing the difference between there, their, and they’re – well, that’s a really big turn off. If you aren’t confident in your proof reading skills, ask someone to look over your work. Believe it or not, incorrect spelling and grammar can actually hurt you in the SERPs.

Turning bad quality content into something useful can take time and dedication. However, you will be far better off in the long run by taking action now. When another Panda update is looming, you won’t have to wonder if your content meets Google’s quality guidelines.

Tip #2: Stay Updated and Relevant

One of Panda’s pet peeves is content that is no longer relevant or useful. For example, old published studies that contain outdated (and incorrect) information are subject to Panda penalties. If your website contains outdated information, try to make an effort to get the facts up-to-date. Better yet, you can use this opportunity to create new content that is relevant and timely.

Tip #3: Go Evergreen

If you are concerned about constantly staying on top of new content and keeping things fresh, consider going evergreen. Evergreen content is a fantastic addition to any content strategy, as it provides a timeless approach to content that almost never gets old. Examples of evergreen content include:

  • Step-by-step instructions for a particular task
  • Reference material
  • Top tip posts
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Guides to industry jargon

Evergreen content is great for your content collection and useful to your audience; an all around win-win.

Tip #4: Keep Keyword Density in Check

Your keyword density can make or break your chances with Panda, and it’s fairly safe to say that it has an impact on your audience as well. Your keyword density is a ratio based around the number of times your keyword is used versus how much text is in your content. However, there is a fine balance between too many keywords and hitting the quota that is just right for Google.

In order to generate some organic traffic to your website, you have to implement keywords at some point. Luckily, there is a formula to follow that can help you stay on top of your keyword density. In general, a safe range is around 2 to 4 percent. With that said, it can be challenging to give an exact number because Google’s algorithm is always changing. So, how do you make sure that your content provides enough keyword juice to help with SEO without aggravating Panda?

The truth is that you don’t. Sure, you can use a keyword for direction. But it is highly advised to create your content with a natural tone; forcing keywords into your content is pretty obvious, and there is no doubt that it is a turn off to your audience.

Tip #5: Don’t Duplicate

Remember when plagiarism in school spelled big trouble? This rule applies just the same to Google. You might not get detention, but your website can take a hit. Copying other content word-for-word can land you right in the path of Panda. It’s OK to find inspiration in other sources, but use your own words and imagination.

Tip #6: Go Long

If you are really looking for a way to impress Panda, it’s time to add some serious meat to your content. Long form content performs best these days, and it has a direct correlation with performance in the SERPs. You don’t have to write your life story, but 2,000 words and up is a good starting point for long content.

Tip #7: Stay on Topic

When your website was created to serve a certain purpose, straying from the original topic can actually harm your content and SEO efforts. If your website is a resource for home improvement tips, you don’t want to publish content that pertains to fitness. This might sound like common sense, but this can happen when you don’t know what to write about. To resolve this issue, curate content and use an editorial calendar.

Tip #8: Formatting Matters

As I mentioned earlier in this post, poorly formatted posts can make your content take a hit from Panda. Headers, sub-headers, bullet points and proper paragraph can work wonders for your formatting. 

Tip #9: Link Worthy Content

In order to not lose the war with Penguin, creating link worthy content can help attract high quality links from outside sources. Think of the kind of content that you personally would link to on your own website. If you would link to it, chances are that someone else will, too.

Tip #10: Engage and Educate

Content that engages and educates is always highly valued in both the eyes of Panda and your audience. Informative and engaging content translates to great user experience. If overall user experience is high, your content is doing its job.

Remember, Panda and Penguin can wreak havoc, but there’s no need for you to lose sleep. Keep your content strategy in line with Google’s updates, and you’ll be well on your way to developing Panda, Penguin, and people-friendly content everyone will enjoy. These tips overall can help any website and business owner succeed in creating content that Google (and their complete zoo) will favor, rank, and love.

It’s all about being naturally engaging and avoiding anything that’s low-quality. In other words, don’t cut corners. Take the time and make your content investment matter.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Google and designer Josh McCoy
Image#1: Hung Chung Chih via Shutterstock

Julia McCoy
Julia McCoy dropped out of nursing school at 20 to follow her passion and build a copywriting agency, Express Writers; and today, it has more than 70 writers and hundreds of clients around the globe. Julia is the host of The Write Podcast on iTunes, #ContentWritingChat on Twitter, and just wrote an Amazon bestseller, So You Think You Can Write? The Definitive Guide to Online Writing.
Julia McCoy
Julia McCoy
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  • http://reviewturtle.com/30-best-seo-friendly-wordpress-themes-blogs-newspapers/ Nikhil Ganotra

    Hey Julia,

    Yeah, I truly agree with your points. One of website got penalized due to thin content. It used to be a coupon website in which I didn’t bothered to deliver any content.. So, my bad luck was that I got penalized..

    From the next time I will follow the 10 golden rules you mentioned above to stay safe from panda and penguin. I truly appreciate your efforts.

    Thank You!

    • http://www.expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Glad to help, Nikhil! Thanks for reading!

    • https://www.dbsitsoftware.com.au/ Mike Lowry

      We did the same for our website which have some duplicate and stuffed keywords content, we revised the same with our content writer and the website is doing good. Thanks Julia.

      • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

        Great stuff, Mike!

  • http://mihaipintilie.com Mihai Pintilie

    They both look nice but they are agents undercover. It’s a must to stick with good quality content and so staying on the safe side. Every week I meet people willing to trick Google and hard to convince the power of success is in quality.

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Oh man, I hate when SEOs still have to “convince” their clients of the need for quality. Thankfully, I rarely come across that in our clients, who usually come to us already knowledgeable of that need.

  • http://www.lohrisms.com davinder

    500-1000 word is enough for each post in my web? i seen lot of site with low quality contents rank good too why ?

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      500-1000 is a good starter word count. For more in-depth posts, consider longer pieces. You don’t have to make every one the same length. Be natural, vary with your topic.

      Google hasn’t caught up with everybody yet. But eventually, all sites with poor, thin and low quality content WILL get caught up with.. that’s why we want to be on the safe side and stay far away, with the mindset to increase in rankings instead of be in the danger of decreasing.

    • http://www.davidurmann.com David Urmann

      Smaller to the point articles can be better. Would you rather read in 2000 words what someone else can say in 500. It can actually be more difficult to write small short articles that contain all the points. I would focus on engaging your readers and writing interesting material over counting how many words in the article.

      • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

        Smaller articles absolutely have a purpose, but remember, if you can *REALLY* write a thorough post in 2000 words, do so. It’s evergreen content and you will get serious return from Google.

  • Niladri Chatterjee

    Hey Julia,

    Enjoyed reading your article. I totally agree with all the points you mentioned. One thing which I learned from my previous mistake is that ‘keep-updating-your-blog’, no matter whatever happens. Pets from the Google Zoo hate stale content, seriously.

    And thanks for sharing this precious article, it’ll help me a lot. 🙂

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      That’s right, the Zoo really does hate stale content – fresh is always the best 😀

  • Toneri Stampaci

    It all seems so complicated with these updates, but in my experience the quality of a website is all that you should think about, and I think it all comes to this.

    Of course, when you have already did everything Google recommends.

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Quality matters – for sure!

  • Shanu Sarkar

    Hello Julia,

    This is a great strategy for all. I really appreciate this. But I’m confused about something you mentioned here. Which content is outdated or not, how can you optimize? If all contents are generating very few search traffic.

    Waiting for your valuable reply and also want to know more about it from others


    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Fresh is better when you’re not sure if you’re optimizing outdated content. Just overhaul and redo it at that point!

  • Tim Koster

    We’re just starting our fourth year of Panda punishment– even though we’ve twice been named a PCWorld top 50 site, have been online since 1997, and have been consistently ranked #1 for public records by Google since their inception. The reason for our punishment? Duplicate text, and three years of work hasn’t solved the problem. Over the years we used consistent ways to describe the same type of public record in different jurisdictions (e.g. county court records in Iowa received the same description for each county– with the county name changed. The result of our panda punishment is that we’ve lost 90% of our traffic and meager income, and most of our employees. We are facing our demise– which we could have avoided if we’d known 15 years ago how Google was going to change their rules, if there was an appeal process, or if they actually helped us solve our panda problem. The worst part? Asking for help on the Google Webmaster Forum and getting trolled for having the temerity to question Google’s strategy.

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      GoodNESS, I feel for you Tim!

      We’ve come across some technical based, very similar clients in our years of content writing. My current tech writer used to write for IBM among other top brands. We’ve been able to successfully vary up jargon-specific tech content enough to get unique content. I would say that no matter how specific and similarly-worded your content is, a good writer can get you unique pages, for each page.

      There just isn’t another way to satisfy Google…I guess if you let one duplicate content in, you let them all in, better be safe than sorry.

  • White Glenn

    Hi Julia,

    You shared useful strategies for website. I am agree with all points you mentioned. By implementing these various ways, anyone get best defense in the face of pandas, penguins, and what’s to come.

  • Branson

    Google still needs to make lots of improvement in Panda algorithm, many times Google’s pets harm innocent webmasters and forget to penalize those who are really going against their guidelines.

  • http://www.webhostinindia.com Nirmal kumar

    400 words is enough in a post. But the quality should be high and one important factor is advertisement. Do not put more ads at the top of your post. You can use sidebar instead.

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Less ads is always better. I don’t have any on my blog and never will. 400 words is not enough consistently and long term – although it can work in a post here and there.

  • Ryan

    The word count really bugs me. What advise do you have to e-commerce sites? I am managing one and product descriptions barely reach 300 words each.

    • https://expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      For product descriptions, anywhere from 200-300 words is actually a very typical range. I think Google will know the difference from an insider blog, using a lot of research and some visuals, and expect that to have a much heavier word count – than a dozen or more product descriptions. Keep EACH one original and all of them optimized with the product keywords (H2 tags, metas, etc). Remember, the more of those you add to your site, the more original content you have = more return.

  • Yasin Rishad

    300-450 word how is it? and is there any ranking factor if i keep a inbound link on header(h1 or h2)
    Looking forward for your suggestion.

  • http://www.discoverhere.com Idris

    Hi Julia,

    Thanks for giving us these wonderful tips. Any Digital marketer/SEO will understand the importance of these tips. As someone rightly said here that there are a lot of people who still try to trick Google and don’t really bother about quality, and even most business owners tend to believe them. I am sure most of us here will agree with the following two things that i am going to state.

    1. Management buy in is really difficult when comes to Content driven SEO. Many business owners I have come across really don’t understand how important quality content is to their business but still prefer staying on top. How do we tackle this issue?

    2. Writing quality content is not an easy task. Even many SEO companies jump in to creating the so called quality content without doing much research on the client’s industry, customer/audience profile, types of content to generate, content mapping, distribution strategy, success measurement, etc… When we say content people just think about content writers alone. Can you please throw some light on what skills you think that a content driven SEO team should posses and what task they should be doing?

    • http://www.expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

      Idris, For your questions I’d offer these brief ideas:

      1. The biggest thing you can do for the naysayers to content marketing is to show them how well it works. They won’t be able to resist investing in content. Case studies are great. Here’s a good example of one case study I did: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/short-vs-long-content-whats-better-rankings-engagements-and-more-case-study

      2. An SEO driven content team should possess all the qualities that work together in delivering good content, starting as simple as timely and professional customer service (how well do the chat reps write?) to effective content management and delivery (they assign the work to your best fit writer, etc) and of course most importantly, an excellent final quality deliverable. If you’re not getting any of that, well, it’s not a real content team.

  • http://www.techiego.com Rahul

    I have a question – How can i know that if my content is duplicate, Is there any tool that will help me in identifying if their is duplicate content on my website?

    • http://www.moxiedot.com Kelsey Jones

      Hi Rahul, I enjoy using Copyscape.com. Their premium version has a site scanner tool that will flag dupe content for you and you can export it into a spreadsheet for easier use.

      • http://www.expresswriters.com Julia McCoy

        We use the premium version as well for every page we write! Copyscape is by far the best tool I’ve found out there to really catch duplicate content. (Premium searches are only 5 cents/search.)

  • http://escapegameslondon.co.uk Sandor L

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for the brilliant article. I have one question that bugs me.
    I’ve submitted my business/website to online directories but I had difficulties to give 30 different descriptions of my business, so I just copied some lines from my site that describe what we do and pasted it into directories. I understand that this might comes off as duplicate content.
    Can you suggest any tools or anything, how to avoid duplicates when it comes to business directories? Thanks a lot in advance!