By Joe Pulizzi published April 21, 2011

4 Steps to Make Google’s Panda Update Work for You

An abbreviated article based on this topic first appeared in BtoB Magazine.

Arnie Kuenn, President of the Phoenix-based search and content agency Vertical Measures, calls the latest Google algorithm update (dubbed the Panda or Farmer Update) “one of the biggest, most significant updates from Google in years.”

Google Panda Update

The goal of the Google Panda update involves the filtering of low quality or duplicate pages that are deemed “not useful” to users. Google has called out so-called content farm sites such as the eHow and Answerbag juggernaut Demand Media, as well as those sites that feature a disproportional amount of advertising over informative text. The result has impacted millions of pages in almost every topic area. Those pages have been squeezed out of their organic search rankings with one push from the hand of Google.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Jason Calacanis, founder of human-powered search engine site, almost immediately announced a 10% employee reduction due to the impact the Panda update had on his website. “It’s hard not to be disappointed since we’ve been spending millions of dollars on producing highly professional content,” said Calacanis in an email to staffers.

Whether deserved or not, it’s happening. Kuenn states that “…it’s not personal. Since this was an algorithmic update, Google does not judge sites individually. Low quality pages on a site can cause rankings for the entire site to decline, even the high quality pages.”

While some struggle with the impact, others are cashing in. Our own Content Marketing Institute site has benefited from slight increases in search engine rankings from Google almost across the board, resulting in traffic additions of about 10% since the Panda update. Sean Jackson, CFO of Copyblogger Media, a content marketing resource for freelance writers, says the Panda update “has had only positive outcomes”.

“The Panda update shows us the importance of social media’s impact in search,” added Jackson. “Once we release a new post on Copyblogger, hundreds of users retweet the post on Twitter or share it on Facebook. Google sees that as confirmation of great content and rewards us, while ignoring those duplicate sites that pirate our content.”

No one can discount the importance of social media in search anymore. Bernie Borges, CEO of search firm Find and Convert, says that “…Google is indexing more social content from sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Quora and tying it to the authority of websites, in turn affecting how sites rank. They are also focusing more on quality and relevant links from authoritative sites.”

This comes back to one, singular ingredient for both content marketers and publishers to succeed the Panda battle – create valuable, compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis to a targeted user base. This is something that publishers have long known, but which corporate content marketers are just beginning to drink the Kool-aid.

So, what to do besides just creating great website content like a publisher would? Lee Odden, CEO of Minneapolis search agency TopRank Online Marketing, seems to have the answer. Odden insists that content marketers who focus “too heavily on content repurposing, duplicate, short form content, or content that does not get promoted or shared may feel the effects of the Google Panda update.”

Odden prescribes four steps for suffering content marketers:

  1. Evaluate your own site(s) for content with characteristics of: duplication, short form, low information value, too many ads. Remove, move or “noindex” that content or make an effort to make that content more useful and valuable by adding information. Someone with substantial technical SEO and web development experience should be doing this.
  2. Continue to focus on creating, original and useful content.
  3. Promote your content so that it attracts links from other web sites
  4. Make it easy for readers of your content to share socially – via Twitter, Facebook or other social channels. Social engagement with content and social sharing (links) are valuable signals for both search engines and users

While some legitimately helpful sites will get caught up in this update, the Panda update is a boon for content marketers – those brands that continue to feed the content beast with content that solves customer’s pain points – less selling-oriented content, and more informative content will win in the eyes of Google.

If it wasn’t already happening, Google is forcing non-media brands to think and act like publishers. What could be better?

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Impact_Mike

    Good post Joe. It’s also worth noting that Panda is still an evolving algorithmic update and has already been tweaked since launch. Therefore sites that feel they have been unfairly penalised (little adds, mostly UGC) may still find redemption as the update is tweaked further.

    A few sites have written open letters on their blogs (e.g. Review Center) and now seem to have less of a penalty. ‘Don’t panic’ seems a little naieve but there’s still a chance damaged sites may reclaim their rankings.

  • Bob Leonard

    I think Panda is a wonderful advance. High quality, relevant and useful content gets rewarded. Low quality, derivative, redundant content gets punished. Everybody wins except the developers of crap content. Good!

  • Anexxia

    What’s been interesting to me is seeing how after this update, in some blog areas, such as those focused on the World of Warcraft MMO, the search results actually come up with MORE junk results than they did previously. I’m wondering if that’s due to some of the repetitive nature of the jargon/slang associated with online gaming.

  • Suzanne McDonald

    Panda is 100% validation for site owners and consultants who value visitors.

    As I argue in my presentation to the Boston SEO Meetup, Google and search engines are businesses with competitors, e.g. Facebook. Remember, Google’s core market is searchers; AdWords was a monetization method that came later.

    Anyone online — SEOs content marketers, site owners — who respects that reality will be immune to algo updates. Tactics to boost rankings will always be under threat and therefore should be considered a short-term investment.

    Quality content and usability remain optimal investments.

    Panda Update SEO Presentation highlights & slidedeck

  • Stephen Turcotte

    For marketers, I think the take away from this should be that the best investment into marketing is producing high quality relevant content. I will add that marketers should not rely or expect that simply producing a steady stream of original content is all that is needed to produce great results. If a company is going to invest resources into producing great content then there also needs to be process/plan in place to promote the fact that the content exists beyond natural search.

  • Gail Gardner

    Panda was another in a series of updates intended to favor big brands over small businesses. It particularly hit sites that compete with Google and those that made it easy for consumers to find products on small, independent sites.

    I documented what types of sites were most seriously impacted by Panda with screen captures showing the difference between the stores those sites share and what Google provides us for shopping choices in a post about how Google Favors Big Brands.