Say the words “Google” and “Panda” in the same breath and you just might hear a collective groan coming from the ranks of webmasters and content marketers who manage search engine optimization (SEO). The Google Panda algorithm can either make or break the search engine rankings for a website. So Panda must be taken very seriously in the world of SEO and Web Content Management.
Understand Sentiment – What is the Original Intent of the Search
Though a lot of marketers may be anxious over how Panda could affect their SEO strategies – the algorithm is an advantage to those who pay attention to SEO basics and the original search intent of readers.
To better understand the intent of the Panda algorithm, think about today’s search queries. Gone are the days when one-word or two-word phrases are used as search terms. Gone also are the days when users were willing to click page after page on the search engine to find the result they were looking for.
People today are asking search engines value-based questions to solve issues based upon needs, wants, and pain points. At the same time, user expectations have become more demanding. They expect to find a relevant answer to their query on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
As the Panda algorithm evolves its ultimate intent will be one of relevance – satisfying the original intent of the search query.
Panda is simply trying to make the SERP a better place for everyone – a fairer, nicer, better gateway where the users find links to the right answers. With Panda, the SERP becomes a place where no one individual or vendor can dominate the gateway through manipulative tactics. It is the great equalizer.
What Google Panda Measures & How It Affects Your SEO Rankings
Panda isn’t just any normal algorithm that Google has put out in the past. It is a quality filter applied to websites. This quality score changes how online channels rank depending on how Google measures the quality of content on each page. The algorithm runs against the database of Google-indexed websites – adding a quality score, which then affects ranking.
The first Google Panda algorithm was introduced in February of 2011. Google’s Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal conducted extensive qualitative research with focus groups of search engine users to learn what type of sites are considered low quality and why.
They used the results of this research to develop a mathematical algorithm that defines low quality and scores a website accordingly. Among the many issues raised within the research, the algorithm takes into consideration:
- Does the website contain duplicate content?
- Is the website low on original content?
- Is there a higher ratio of advertisements over content?
- Is the content and page title tag relevant to the original search query?
- Is the website “over-optimized” with keyword phrases?
- Does the website or optimized webpages have a high bounce rate?
Score negatively on these or other considerations in the algorithm and Panda will drop the entire website in the search engine rankings – not just individual pages.
Now you understand why the Google Panda algorithm is not taken lightly by marketers and webmasters.
Guide to Surviving Any Google Panda Update
Complying with the Panda algorithm doesn’t have to be a painful process. Amongst the many considerations, it’s simply a matter of making your website a location where your target audience can satisfy their original search intent with relevant quality content.
Here are a few steps that you can take:
1) Avoid Duplicate Pages or Thin Content – This sounds easier in concept than it is in practice. Throughout the lifecycle of a website, there can be a number of reasons why content gets duplicated – not all of which are for the intent of manipulating search engine rankings. But the fact is, there are numerous websites whose creators have tried to manipulate the rankings and dominate a SERP by duplicating pages and simply adjusting the H1 tags or title tags. Other methods have included the wholesale copy & paste of content from external sites. Though it means harder work for content marketers, Panda gives a higher quality score for original content.
As for thin content, Panda will slap you with a low score for short or unsubstantial articles. Again, consider relevance for the reader’s original search query. They are seeking relevant information to understand a question, solve a problem, or fix a pain point. A good measurement for each web page that you develop is to ask, “Does this article add value to the discussion and help solve the reader’s issue or pain point?”
2) Avoid “Over-Optimization” – Panda is considering your Keyword Density with this score. No one can tell you the magic ratio for this. There are Keyword Density Analyzer tools available that will tell you the magic number is 2-3%. But don’t rely strictly on a Keyword Density Analyzer to decide whether or not you have satisfied Google Panda’s measurement of this. These calculators have no methods to analyze the distribution of your keyword phrase usage.
You must use keyword density in a strategic manner that is natural to the flow and readability of an article. The minute you try to dump in keywords into every other sentence to rank high in the search engines – watch out for the big Panda slap!
Here are some ideas for optimizing keywords:
- Use once in the title tags
- Use once in the URL (don’t go crazy on this – keep URLs short)
- Use once in the H1 header
- Use once in the sub-header
- Use 2 to 4 times in body content
- Manage the proximity and distribution of keywords throughout the article – evenly distributed at the beginning, the middle and the close. The amount of times depends upon the length of the article.
- Use once in the alt tags and meta description
3) Limit the Ratio of Advertisements Over Content – Ever conduct a search query and click on a link that you think is going to answer your question,only to be taken to a page that is bereft of relevant content? Instead of an article that adds value to your research, you are slammed with a wall of advertisements and links to product pages that are completely irrelevant. These website creators, have only their agenda in mind and are not contributing to the exchange of ideas. Panda will slap websites with a high ratio of ads.
While Google is not penalizing websites for having advertisements, Panda will score you higher if you have a well-balanced ratio of content and ads. Put yourself in the shoes of your intended reader – Does your web page scream of “Buy, Buy – Sell, Sell?” Or does it respond to the intent of the original search query?
Use Google Analytics as a Measurement
Here’s a final test as to whether or not your website will score well with the Panda algorithm. Take a close look at your Google Analytics report each month. Is your website experiencing high bounce rates of 60 to 70%? That means that six out of 10 viewers are exiting your site upon arrival. Is your average time on site low? These are indicators that your website is at risk.
Panda is measuring the number of viewers who are exiting your site. If that ratio is too high, Panda has determined that you do not have relevant quality content.
These are just a few ideas how you can survive any Google Panda update. What are some of the SEO initiatives you’ve undertaken within your web design and marketing teams to resolve this?