Editor’s note: For the latest information on the Google Panda algorithm, please see: A Complete Guide to the Google Panda Update.
While I’ve done a lot of reporting on the impact of Panda (the wins, the losses, the innocent casualties, the guilty somehow spared, what Google’s tracking, etc.), I have yet to give my opinion on what the best SEO approach is. Having seen this bit of sage advice over at Search Engine Watch, it seemed like it was about time that I tossed in my two cents.
What Did Panda Do?
While there are a great number of technical items we can bring up, Google’s Panda was aimed at righting one specific wrong: ranking sites that were gaming the search engine through “spamming.” This spam happened in the form of thin content, produced in ludicrous volume and on a consistent basis, and it happened most substantially on sites known as “farms” (user- or freelancer-generated content sites, such as article hubs).
Panda’s impact and action must be separated. What Panda actually did was looked for markers that flagged sites as farmed/spammy content, then stopped ranking them.
What Does Panda Tell Us, Really?
A lot of search engine optimizers out there saw the results of Panda and got incredibly frightened. Some old tactics were nullified. But rather than recognizing that those specific tactics (i.e., content milling) were just methods of gaming the search engines, some of those optimizers tried to develop new forms of search engine gaming.
Effective? In the short run, you bet. It’s how those optimizers get their fatted calf on the table: by showing positive results right now, and not paying attention to the long-term impact. But wise? Absolutely not. It ignores the fundamental message of Panda: Google cares about how your users respond to a site, and they’re dedicated – full-time and with tens of thousands of employees – to providing the results that users demand. Among other particulars, that means no spam.
Understanding where Google was coming from, conceptually, is an immensely important foundation. What it leads us to, however, is simple advice on how to respond to this major update.
How Should You Respond to Panda?
Rather than trying to figure out the finer points of Panda’s search engine earthquake, focus on the root point: Google wants to rank sites that users love, so you should make your site one that users love. There’s no single way to do this, but there are a a few basic pieces of common sense advice to cling to:
- Look at your site right now and see what’s performing poorly. Fix those pages.
- Don’t just bring in duplicate content from other sites (that’s cheating).
- Make sure you polish your content. Don’t know your spelling? Bookmark an online dictionary and use spell-check. Don’t know your punctuation? Go read Eats, Shoot & Leaves. And, above all, edit and re-edit the content your write before you publish.
- Don’t waste space. One of the big markers of spam is that the content doesn’t actually say much. Avoid redundant sentences, use concise language, and don’t be afraid of trimming the fat.
- Don’t over-advertise. Why would users want advertisements interfering with their reading experience? They wouldn’t, so don’t force-feed it to them.
- Focus on value. If you provide something of authentic use to visitors, you’ll win their trust, repeat visits, inbound links, time on site, and much more.
- Have a voice. Users like to feel like they’re reading content written by a person – a smart person who is fluent in the language the content was written in – and not a robot.
In the end, what Google wants is to promote sites that users respond positively to. It’s simple logic: if users find the best, most useful results on the top pages of Google, they’ll keep using Google. The only real way to win, in the long run, is to provide the highest possible quality for the visitors to your site.