Google Panda 4.2 is Rolling Out – What’s Next?
After a month of expecting and waiting for the other shoe to drop, Google has finally announced that Panda 4.2 has arrived and will begin rolling out slowly. If your site was affected by last September’s Panda 4.1 rollout or you’re seeing organic traffic declining and you’re unsure as to why, you already understand the effect that Google’s algorithmic updates have on websites, and for those who dare (or unintentionally) cross the line between producing great content and bland, thin words on a page, the results can often be disastrous.
What exactly is Google Panda?
Launched in early 2011, Google Panda is a filter that assists their search ranking algorithm in rewarding sites that satisfy their core content requirements while ensuring that sites that fail to meet the criteria are punished on the search engine results page (SERP). In short, Google has developed a filtration system for search listings that take into account for both the content on-page and what they feel is useful, relevant and engaging to the end-user. Panda is a site-wide issue, meaning that unlike its link-focused Penguin counterpart, it doesn’t just demote certain pages of your site in the search engine results, but instead, Google considers the entire site to be of lower quality. In some cases though Panda can affect just a section of a site such as a subfolder, blog or one particular subdomain. Since the first roll out, Google has launched numerous refreshes of their content-based algo update, often with some sort of update or fair warning. With Panda, the focus is all about on-site content quality – it’s not that you need content, it’s that you need great content.
How do you define “great content” when talking about Panda?
When it comes to ensuring that your site passes the oft-nebulous Google Panda standards test, developing vibrant content that answers all questions is crucial. Of course, Internet marketers have been espousing the benefits of “great content” for years, and for some, this can come across as euphemistic technobabble. However, developing great content is easy once you understand what the angle is.
If you want to understand Google Panda, first understand what it deems “unworthy”. This is a short list, but it gives you a decent idea as to what Google looks for when it comes to judging your site:
- Thin content – Beautiful pages with ten words. Or pages with 500 words (but half of those are your brand or product). Are you saying enough about the topic?
- Duplicate content – Do you have redundancy on your site? Do you have multiple pages for a single entity or topic?
- Distrust – Does your site answer a question? Does it get the end-user to where they need to be or provide them a clear-cut answer to their original query?
- Weak editing, grammar, prose – Does the content flow and read well, as if it were actually written with humans in mind? Or does it feel like one big sloppy advertisement designed for clicks rather than shares?
- Engagement – Do people bounce off of your site as soon as they arrive? Does the mere thought of having to reach your site’s pages instantly generate complaints? Would you say that your content is bland, uninspiring or incomplete?
In general, there isn’t one simple thing that Google looks for when it comes to your site’s content quality. The ultimate goal is to produce content that evokes a desired reaction and provides value to your target audience, keeping them on your site as long as you can.
I think my site was affected by Google Panda 4.2, what next?
First spotted and confirmed around July 19th, the Panda 4.2 refresh is reported to be a slow-moving launch. It can take up months to fully roll out and even on a site by site basis, not all of your pages will be picked up by the roll out for some time, potentially for months. For some, the Panda 4.2 refresh was a blessing in that it allowed for recovery after being affected by the prior 4.1 refresh of last September, and I’ve begun to hear chatter on the web regarding how it affects individual sites in terms of traffic rebounding and SERP position. However, it should be noted that if you think you’re susceptible to a Panda smackdown, it’s too late to resolve any issues that come with Panda 4.2’s launch. Any changes made now wouldn’t take root until the next rollout, whenever that might take place.
No, really – what next?
It’s simple – focus on content and spend some time on quality. If you have thin content, place the focus on turning those few sentences into a couple of paragraphs. A good content writer can explain the merits of purchasing a low-flow toilet, but a great content writer can make you excited about the notion that you could own an ecologically-friendly toilet that uses up to 50% less water and saves you money on your bottom line. Find the angle and develop a great call to action that gets people genuinely interested in what you have to say. If you have great content but you find that you’re repeating yourself, first determine whether or not the content is duplicate by accident, by purpose, or by design. If it’s on accident and you end up having six different pages extolling the virtues of purchasing a new sofa near Seattle spread out across your site, consider pruning your tree and having one page that is built for success.
If it’s on purpose and your reasons for duplicating content are a by-product of using a templated approach to producing content, I highly recommend taking a step back and asking yourself whether or not the right plan of action involves using the same message repeatedly in a stale, boilerplate method. Success isn’t easy and if it were, anyone could make it big. Take some time and produce works of art that catch the eye and produce results. However, if your duplication issues are by design and your website offers a large number of products for sale, with each product having its own page for each color and size variations all identical at their core, your best move would be to use a canonical tag and let Google know that your duplicated content is neither accidental or on purpose, but rather, by design.
It can be challenging to wrap your head around the Pandas, Pigeons and Hummingbirds of the organic search world. Often, we spend so much time looking for the angles when it comes to driving in traffic that we forget about the basics that got us there in the first place. By spending time and effort in developing original semantic content with a powerful message and a resonating call to action, you can reap the rewards of a successful organic campaign while staying cool in the age of Panda.