The Panda update first started rolling out back in 2011, and when its algorithm changes took effect, it turned the world of SEO on its head. Over the course of the next three years, the Panda update kept pushing for more advancements and more changes, from major algorithm change iterations to minor data refreshes to keep the system up-to-date. Now, with Panda 4.1 behind us and Panda’s overall influence cemented into Google’s main search algorithm, it’s time to audit your SEO strategy and make sure you aren’t using any tactics that could warrant a Panda-related penalty.
Panda’s main goal, like the goal of every Google update, is to improve user experience on the web by providing more accurate, more relevant, more pleasant results. Specifically, the Panda update was developed to punish sites with low-quality onsite content or sites that practiced keyword stuffing, and reward sites with ample, fresh quantities of high-quality content. There are a number of strategies which were once effective, but now have fallen by the wayside as potential penalty bait.
Make sure your SEO campaign steers clear of these strategies:
Back in the days before Panda, keywords meant everything. Rankings for given keyword phrases were based almost entirely on which sites used those keywords the most, so search marketers could stuff their content with their target keywords and be set. As Google caught on to these keyword-stuffing schemes, they started penalizing sites who practiced them, and in response, search marketers started being sneakier with their stuffing techniques, including keyword phrases as two to three percent of the total word count of the article.
Today, any variation of this keyword stuffing strategy is obsolete. Google’s algorithm analyzes user intent with semantic search capabilities, and produces the most relevant results, regardless of keywords involved. Instead of writing content based on keywords or including specific keyword phrases in the body of your content, focus on writing detailed content based on topics you know your audience wants to read.
This was a popular strategy for the overworked search marketers looking for a way to include large volumes of new content or new content based on old keywords without much effort. Search marketers would take old posts and either repost them verbatim or reconstitute them with just enough changes to make them distinct.
Today, the Panda update is advanced enough to detect when a piece of content has been directly taken from a preexisting piece, even if there are enough wording changes to make them legally distinct. That means unless you’re writing new content entirely from scratch, Google will notice your duplication and will penalize you as a result. Keep your content original and fresh.
Before Panda, search marketers would scramble to get as much content written and posted as possible, usually within a short time frame. At the time, it was possible and easy to outsource this writing to non-native speakers from other countries, who would be able to produce large quantities of content for extremely low wages. It was once a cost-efficient way to stuff your blog full of content that, while poorly written, could easily rocket you to the top of SERPs.
Today’s Panda update is sophisticated enough to detect the non-native use of language. So even if your articles are passable, Google will notice that your work is not fluently written, and will take action as a result. While it’s still a cheap way to get lots of content, it’s only going to work against you.
First, let me say that press releases are still a highly valuable SEO strategy. Getting your name out there with a solid link from a highly reputable external source does wonders for your domain authority, and producing high-quality content can increase your authority and relevance even further. But in order to get picked up and see those SEO benefits, you need to produce the highest quality work, and only submit press releases when you have something truly newsworthy to report.
Before Panda, it was possible to push out as many press releases as you wanted, for questionable topics or reiterations of accomplishments you’ve already reported. Today, it will hinder your efforts more than it will help them.
Since each article you post will have some factor in how Google sees your authority level and relevance, many webmasters make a false assumption that more content is always better. They’ll set an arbitrary minimum, such as two posts every day, and do everything they can to make sure that minimum amount of content is produced.
However, post-Panda, this strategy is ineffective. You can post as much content as you like—if all of it reads as low-quality, it’s going to hurt you instead of help you. Quality needs to be your priority. Only focus on quantity once your quality is locked down.
Just like with your general content strategy, it’s a bad idea to stuff keywords into the meta tags and descriptions of your site. Before Panda, it was a good idea to take one or two core keyword phrases and use them throughout the meta fields of your site. However, today it’s better to write naturally—the semantic search capabilities of Google’s algorithm make it more advantageous to simply describe your business and the pages of your site rather than try to strike a set of specific keywords.
Just like with press releases, guest posting used to be a strategy that people would follow blindly. They would post content on every possible external source they could find, earning links and gaining relevance on irrelevant platforms just as frequently as relevant ones. Today, this strategy is ineffective for two reasons. First, Google takes the subject matter of your content and the placement of your content into consideration, so you can be docked for posting irrelevant content on a niche blog. Second, if you post too often or post the same content over and over, you could be considered a spammer.
The subject matter of your content matters to mark the relevance and niche of your site. The quality matters because Google favors sites with easy-to-read content. But the specificity of your content is also taken into consideration. Post-Panda, Google favors sites that post highly detailed content, with how-to guides or illustrations that substantiate its material. Writing general content, like overall descriptions of a topic instead of an in-depth examination, is no longer a viable content strategy.
While there are likely more iterations of Panda on the way, both as major updates and as minor data refreshes, the general course of the Panda update will remain fixated on rewarding sites with great content and punishing those without. The key to staying on Panda’s good side is relatively simple: write consistent, new content that your users would want to read. If you make your users happy, you’ll make Google happy, and you’ll climb to the top of the ranks as a result.
Editor's note: This article was updated in 2019; some tools were removed, and others added, based on what I'm finding…
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