I can absolutely understand why people focused in on Panda. It was a major shift in the Google algorithm – more substantial in its impact of traffic than Google Instant or any other recent algorithm update. And more than that, there were numerous innocent victims. I’ve had the chance to work with some of them myself, and I can see how unfairly Panda has mauled them. But since that time the world of SEO has used the term “Panda” as a buzz-word for getting more attention to any news story related to algorithm updates.
The “Next Big Update”
Case-in-point: Search Engine Land recently reported that “Panda 2.2 is on its way.” This is all coming from a he said, she said chain of hearsay, but assuming that the report isn’t making things up, Panda 2.2 is an idea based on tweaks to the Google algorithm that continue to focus on spam. The specific confirmation came from an interview with Matt Cutts at SMX Advance conducted by Danny Sullivan.
Here’s what was said, specifically:
Danny Sullivan: Where are we now? Panda 2, Panda 2.1? Are we at Panda 2.2?
Matt Cutts: There’s another change coming soon. I don’t know when we’ll launch fully internationally, not just in English.
So, here’s the actual translation: Google is continuing to make changes and tweaks to the Panda update. As expected. Because Google updates their algorithm more than once per day on average. It’s not news that this is continuing as expected. It’s not news that there are new waves of releases that will gradually help sites damaged unfairly
And here’s what people heard: Google is coming out with another Panda update that will we world-shattering and/or world-saving, and I really need to keep my eyes on this! Not so, my little SEO compatriots. This is just business as usual. There are no earth-shattering alterations to speak of – even though the word “Panda” made its way into the conversation on the topic. When Cutts talks about Google, he talks about continuing iterations in this sector of development – not about bringing a new Panda to the game.
Actually Relevant Upcoming Updates
So, there, you’ve got my whine and moan about how the industry has come to use the term Panda as a scare tactic. That doesn’t mean that the update – or the interview – didn’t have anything useful. It just means that the focus has been on surprisingly narrow portions of what was actually said. Here are a few relevant points on what Google’s working on and what you can expect in general trajectory for algorithm updates:
- One of the major problems not addressed by Panda is “scraper sites,” or sites that pull content from elsewhere on the web and – due to improved SEO – actually outrank the original content. Cutts has assured us that they’re actively working on this issue.
- Cutts confirmed in black and white language that there haven’t been any manual exceptions. His words?: We haven’t made any manual exceptions. So stop saying they have and, please, stop asking them to do so.
- Google has been on the hunt for more signals to differentiate thin sites from quality ones, but this is primarily a re-computation of data that affect sites in a minor to moderate way (i.e., not a huge shift).
- Site usability is not a factor in Panda. Exactly what this means (such as an arbitrary judgment of architecture or actual site performance indicators, such as time on site) isn’t clear.
Site Survival Tips for a Post-Panda World
In previous entries I’ve discussed ways that you, as a webmaster, can make steps toward success in the post-Panda world. There are a couple points I want to reiterate, and then I’ll give you the fast breakdown of key things to consider in constructing a Panda-friendly site.
Thing to Consider #1: Don’t rely on Google changing in a specific way. Assume that if your site has been damaged, that damage comes from something you did wrong – or that, to Google, would make it look like you did something wrong. One example of this is someone I’ve worked with who had a site with duplicate content on it; several of their pages were identical because they’d moved from one version to another to another. That will flag you for duplicate content, a sign of being a thin site.
Assume you’re guilty, and try to make any fixes necessary, if you really want to see progress. Don’t assume “I was fine before and I think I’m quality, so I should be set.” You may just discover some glaring site problems.
Thing to Consider #2: Google is always trying to improve their evaluation of high-quality sites. If your site is legitimately high quality and you’ve avoided the flags for being thin, future iterations of the Google algorithm – be it in the Panda sector or elsewhere – should be of benefit to your site.
Okay, that said, here are some quick tips:
- Check for spam flags, such as:
- Duplicate content from pages in your own site.
- Oversaturating for keywords.
- Excessive grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
- Missing meta titles and descriptions.
- Duplicate content from off-site (including checking whether off-site pages have duplicated your pages).
- Poor user performance (time on site, bounce rate, etc.).
- An excessively high “ad to content” ratio.
- If you’re being scraped, take advantage of the new “authorship” markup language from Google. This certainly seems to be intended as a scraper countermeasure.
- Normal SEO rules still apply. More links are good, especially from quality sites. Better content will get you better results. Optimize for the user experience. Continue sharing your site in social spaces, doing guest content, and whatever else you can to increase visibility.
- Social elements are becoming more important, and they’re not being gamed yet. User experience as an SEO factor, despite it not being integrated into the algorithm, has never been more important. Additionally, you should absolutelyget Facebook Like, Twitter Share, and Google +1 buttons on your page.
So there you have it. The world of Panda isn’t one we should be obsessed with. It’s happened, it’s an integral part of things, and every iteration now will be fine-tuning. Don’t freak out when you hear the Panda name being thrown around. Nothing it does now will be even a fraction as extreme as the initial update. Just take the standard precautions, focus on user experience, improve the quality of your site, and engage in smart SEO practices, and you’ll survive.