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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?