Panda 4.1: How to Handle Google’s Latest Update

Will Panda 4.1 affect your organic search rankings?

Panda 4.1 and SEOThe Panda update can work in your favor, if you know what it’s looking for.

A few years ago, Google released an update it called Panda, which aimed to weed out low-quality content in its organic search results. While the intended target was so-called “content farm” websites that had loads of lousy content to boost their search rankings, many reputable businesses also took a hit.

Those businesses then had to go back and reevaluate their website content, based on Google’s guidelines (more on that in a minute). Results were mixed: many regained their former rankings after a while, some surpassed them, and others saw no improvement at all. Subsequent updates often made matters even worse.

Understandably, businesses get gun shy whenever Google announces another Panda update.

With its newest update, Panda 4.1, the search giant is hoping to rectify its negative impact on legitimate websites. In a Google+ post last month, the company said:

Based on user (and webmaster) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.

 Depending on the locale, around 3-5% of queries are affected.

Of course, Google didn’t go into details. It has always been “cloak-and-dagger” about the 200 or so search factors it uses to determine search rankings. Just because an earlier update had no effect on your rankings doesn’t mean you won’t be penalized by this one, and vice versa.

If you notice a dip in your rankings, what should you do? First, check to make sure Panda is actually to blame. SEO tools on the market can match your analytics data with Google updates to determine whether or not Panda was the culprit. It might turn out your rankings dropped due to other factors – even a different Google update.

And if it is Panda? Instead of fretting over this particular update (a futile exercise since we don’t actually know what it does), Google suggests you focus on producing the kind of high-quality content Panda was designed to detect. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what exactly Panda wants.

Google’s Panda Guidelines for Content

Back in May of 2011, Google posted 23 questions to consider when creating website content. It hasn’t updated or changed them in three years, so it’s a good bet this is still the yardstick Google uses. As some of them are redundant, I’ve included what I consider the 10 most important here:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

At this point you may be asking, wait … who is Google to decide the value of my content anyway? Now that anyone can publish anything online, you might say Google has taken on the traditional role of an editor. And the editor always gets the final say.

Want to get on page one? Punch up the copy.

Optimizing Your Website Content

Step 1: Conduct a content audit

Use Google’s content questions as a starting point to conduct a thorough, page-by-page, content audit of your site. Flag pages or posts that don’t conform to a majority of these guidelines. After that, it’s time to clean house.

Step 2: Fix weak pages

If a post or page really doesn’t offer something useful to your visitors, get rid of it. You can:

  • Delete it altogether
  • Merge it with other pages covering the same topic
  • Look for ways to expand what’s there into something more substantial.

If you believe the page is necessary as is, but don’t want search engines to find it, you can utilize “no index meta tags” to keep search engines from crawling that page. (Google has a brief tutorial here.)

Step 3: Eliminate duplicate content

Assuming you’re creating original content, duplicate content shouldn’t be that much of an issue. However, there are times when your pages may use very similar language to describe similar products or services. Or when you’re syndicating content for publication elsewhere.

When that happens, you can use something called “canonical URLs” to tell search engines which page you’d prefer them to index. (Here’s more information from Google.)

Step 4: Create new, valuable content

Before you publish a new piece of content, revisit the questions above. Google’s goal is to please its users, so it wants to return the freshest and most valuable results it can.

In truth, you should always be thinking of ways to answer consumer questions and provide useful information that will make it easy for them to use your product or service. Do that, and you won’t really need Google’s content questionnaire – you’ll have beaten them to the punch.

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