Fighting the Panda – Keeping High Rankings Through Google Search Updates

Although most internet users remain unaware, recent changes to Google’s search algorithm Panda has web administrators and search engine optimization experts frustrated and perhaps a bit flabbergasted.

Panda 2.5.3, the update made on either October 19th or 20th, dropped some websites down several pages in search rankings. As a result, many web administrators complain their web traffic has been hit between 10% and 50%.

These rapid changes reflect an industry that has to grow and adapt quickly to remain relevant. Web developers will need to accommodate these changes or find alternative methods for reaching their audience.

Is Google’s Panda Coming After Me?

It is no surprise that the innovative team at Google has finally found a method for combating abusive SEO. However, the new algorithm blocks more that so called “black hat” techniques.

This latest iteration of Google’s Panda formula is affecting many websites that are now considered “low-quality”. A quick check of the search engine traffic page on Google Analytics can reveal if your website has be blessed or cursed by the recent update.

Here is an analytics shot of Panda affecting my rankings.

On the dates of Panda updates –listed at the end of this page — traffic may have experienced a large change. Those users that saw the worst hits may have:

  • Very little original content
  • Few returning visitors
  • Low page view times
  • Repetitive content on multiple pages

Understanding how Panda works can help you or your web designer improve these problems and increase search engine rankings.

What Is This Panda Thing Anyway?

Also known as Farmer, Panda was first released in March 2011. It represented a major paradigm shift in Google’s methodology. This new system target specific features that users the impression a website is high-quality or low-quality. Ultimately they claim to have developed a formula that accurately predicts which content will satisfy the user’s needs.

While the exact methods the algorithm uses are a carefully guarded secret, a February post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog explains that each successive update will be placing more importance on both the quality and credibility of a website hosting it.

Google goes on to say in a May post that web developers can succeed by catering to certain questions. These are a summary of their suggestions:

  • Does the information seem credible?
  • Is an article in-depth or shallow?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?
  • How does the content compare to similar pages?
  • Is this content worth of publication in a magazine or book?
  • Would users be dissatisfied with the content.

Outsmarting the Panda

Outwitting past versions of Google’s search engine has been achieved with little difficulty, yet Panda presents an exceptional challenge to SEO experts. It seems that there are only two options left.

Get with the Program

The requirements that Google is coding into its search engine are not unrealistic. In reality, they represent a standard of quality that is not dissimilar to that of published content.

In the process of acclimating to the new requirements, you will be improving the overall quality of your users experience. This will likely result in improved customer experience and ultimately increase your non-search engine traffic. The key steps to focus on are:

  1. Ensure your websites are entirely functional (without 403, 404 errors).
  2. Reduce click counts and simplify site page hierarchy for improved user experience.
  3. Review current content and remove duplicate or poor quality pages.
  4. If you have not already, implement a good content management system (Joomla!, Drupal, etc).
  5. Establish high standards for content production.
  6. Build branding to improve your customers confidence in your information.
  7. Increase total number of backlinks from credible, high ranking sources.
  8. Setup a quality-control check system.

Following these steps should accommodate your website to the latest Google requirements.

Get Out

The other option you have is to focus your efforts on alternative SEO techniques. These can improve traffic and ultimately increase page ranking as well. However, these tools will not replace quality content. Instead, they should be used in tandem with quality content for the best search engine results.

  • Increase presence on social networking websites and Youtube.
  • Take advantage of the approximate10% share other search engines hold. Publish content geared toward Yahoo, Bing and Ask.
  • Encourage users to recommend pages on Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s new +1 feature.
  • Employ reputation management techniques to improve your reviews on 3rd party websites.

Updates to the Google Search Engine

Ultimately the most effective method for defeating Panda lives in staying updated on each new iteration. Because Google has been releasing these updates every few weeks, keeping track can represent a challenge for web developers.

Reviewing Panda’s recent changes provides a better idea of where Google’s programmers are leading the system. These are the updates made to Panda so far:
Panda 1.0: Announced on Feb. 24, 2011, this was the first panda release and focused on filtering out “low-quality content”

  • Panda 2.0: Released 7 weeks later , 2.0 improved on the accuracy of the algorithm and added it to all queries in the English language
  • Panda 2.1: Google emphasized that this May 10th release was not a 3.0. They also did not release information on the percentage of queries affected but claimed the number was vary small.
  • Panda 2.2: On June 16th, ; Google’s Matt Cutts announced this update, which affected queries worldwide and in the US, had a 2% impact. This update focused on penalizing “scrapper” sites that remove and republish content.
  • Panda 2.3: Keeping with their Monthly patter, Google released 2.3 on July 23rd. This release incorporated some new identifiers for recognizing “high-quality” content. Impact statistics where not released.
  • Panda 2.4: 2.4 came only 3 weeks later and affected queries in all languages but Korean, Japanese, and Korean. This update mostly focused on content quality for non-English queries.
  • Panda 2.5: The most recent confirmed update arrived September 28th.

These do not include smaller updates that were not confirmed by a release or statement from Google employees. This is the case with the 2.5.3 update which saw an apparently large impact with no word from Google.

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