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September 6, 2016

Panda essentials: What you need to know about Google’s Panda update

Google Panda put content quality firmly on the agenda for SEOs. Get up to speed with our whistle-stop tour.

Google’s Panda update launched in early 2011, and targets websites with low-quality content. Its job is to ensure that the best and most relevant sites for a given search are ranked over sites with thin, repetitive or unoriginal content.

Early days: the Panda filter

When it was first released, Panda was separate from Google’s core search algorithm, being applied as a filter only after the core search had occurred. Filters are not updated as regularly as the core search, so websites that tweaked their content following a Panda penalty often had to wait for the next update before Google recognised the changes. This could sometimes take as long as several months.

Panda joins the core algorithm

In January 2016, Google changed Panda from a post-search filter to part of the core Google algorithm. While Panda’s overall impact on websites didn’t change, it got more frequent maintenance and updates – which was good news for sites that had been working to Panda-proof their content.

For search-watchers, the move was confirmation of Google’s long-term focus on quality. Panda’s shift into the core algorithm demonstrated the importance the search giant places on using quality signals to determine where a site should rank.

What does the Panda update target?

When Google was developing the Panda filter it used quality testers to evaluate a range of websites based on certain criteria. For example:

  • Is the site authoritative?
  • Would its content work in a magazine?
  • Is the ratio of adverts to content excessive?
  • Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card?

This analysis enabled Google to piece together definitions of high and low quality content.

It can be tricky to know how Google sifts and sorts high quality content from poor content, so here are a few core factors to consider.

  • Is your content packed with irrelevant keywords?
  • Is your content helpful and well-structured? For instance, are you using subheads to help readers navigate long written content?
  • Is your content repetivite – for instance, do you have numerous articles on exactly the same subject?
  • Is your content spammy? Is it constantly pushing the user to buy something?
  • Are your comments healthy? Or have you let spammy posts slip through the net?
  • Are your pages cluttered with adverts or packed with affiliate links?

Panda myths

There are some common misconceptions about Panda that need clearing up. The most prevalent is that Panda penalizes sites based on isolated instances of poor content. That is not the case – you need to be sending consistent poor quality signals to incur a Panda penalty. Poor pages still matter, of course; they may not earn you a penalty, but at the same time they aren’t likely to rank well, which still hurts your visibility. As ever, the advice is to make every page as good as you possibly can.

Other myths point to Panda penalising duplicate content, broken links, content under a certain word count, and content that uses images and videos instead of text. Relax: you would have to do all of this constantly and very badly for Panda to bite.

Staying on the right side of Panda

It’s Panda’s job to ensure Google users receive the highest quality content in relation to their search query. For content marketers this means producing relevant and valuable content that cements your brand as a trusted authority. So what can you do to improve your content operation?

  • Get a strategy in place: High quality content is underpinned by a solid content marketing strategy that outlines its purpose, the target audience and what the business goals are. It should define why you are producing it and how it will add value and benefit the reader.
  • Work on your page recipes: What does a good page look like for your business? How should your landing pages and posts be laid out and structured? Having a clear idea of that makes it far easier to brief content creators and producers. Poor-quality content is often the result of a shallow, ambiguous brief.
  • Test and refine: Panda’s key message is “Be useful to your visitors”. So keep an eye on your web metrics to see which pages are proving popular. Try new features, and if they work, make them part of your standard page recipes. When pages show signs of poor performance – low time on page, high bounce rate – figure out why and address the problem, then see if you can implement what you’ve learned elsewhere.

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