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It’s not Kung Fu Panda but Google’s update kicks some butt

Google’s overarching mission is to not be evil and they’d like it if website owners and SEOs returned the favour. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous people on the net who have no compunction about buying links, plagiarising content and spamming their websites with ads. To make these unsavoury characters pay, Google spent over a year working on an algorithmic update that would penalise websites that paid only passing attention to their content. The result: see-sawing Google rankings and a flood of panda puns (because the update is called Panda – natch).

It’s also called Farmers’ Update because, one assumes, one of its main aims is to rid the web of content farms. The term “content farms” sounds somewhat dodgy, doesn’t it; like it’s the place where good content goes to die? In a sense this is true, but it’s also not.

Content farm owners prefer that you call them news or information portals. eHow is the most obvious example, Associated Content is another. Unfortunately for SEOs that favour article distribution, Ezinearticles, Buzzle and Articles Base are also considered content portals. In general, the difference between ezine sites and sites like eHow, relates to quality. eHow tends to be recognised as a site that supplies quality information, while ezines (for all their quality control measures) are considered less discerning.

There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes articles on eHow make you wonder if Starbucks was giving away literacy certificates with each Caffe Vanilla Frappucino, while an ezine article will make you weep in admiration. Nevertheless, ezine distribution sites are being thumped in search results.

Then there is the fact that algorithms aren’t perfect. Some high-quality sites have belly-flopped to the bottom of the rankings, while some obvious stinkers have found themselves elevated above their greatest expectations.

According to Lee Odden (TopRankBlog), websites and SEOs that have been following Google’s content guidelines all along are unlikely to experience any negative side-effects –not long lasting ones at any rate. In fact, Odden suggests that Panda will be the kick in the pants that many people need to improve their content strategies and ensure that they don’t publish any old thing on websites.

To avoid plummeting to their digital deaths, Odden recommends that markers make informed decisions rather than educated guesses. This requires work, research and long-term planning. In other words, all the things you should already be doing.

Determining factors

Adam Bunn, Director of SEO at Greenlight, believes that Google will rely primarily on click data to determine quality. He cites four aspects of click data that Google might find particularly interesting:

  • Rarely clicking on the suspect page, despite the page ranking in a position that would ordinarily generate a significant number of clicks.
  • Clicking on the suspect page, then returning to the SERPs and clicking a different result instead.
  • Clicking on the suspect page, then returning to the SERPs and revising their query (using a similar but different search term).
  • Clicking on the suspect page, then immediately or quickly leaving the site entirely.

Avoid penalties

At the risk of the stating the obvious, to avoid falling down the SERPS you need to ensure that the quality of your content is beyond reproach. Equally obvious is the fact that you’re not going to be able to publish Nobel-winning writing all of the time. Everyone has off days, including writers. What you need is for your good content to dramatically outweigh the bad.

If you’ve got ego blinkers on and can’t distinguish the good from the bad, best you make your way to Google Analytics to find out which pages don’t perform well. Look for pages with high bounce rates. As a rule, assumption is the mother of all screw ups, but you can reasonably assume that pages with high bounce rates are not meeting your audience’s needs. They’re falling short in some way and more often than not that way is content.

Rework the page if possible, if not, chuck it.

Danny Goodwin recommends that you look at how well your pages are balanced. Do you have a high ad to content ratio? Break it down financially: how much money do the ads bring in per month? Now, how much money will you lose if you site stops appearing for search queries? Can you afford to keep running scores of ads?

How many links do you have a particular page? If almost every line of content contains a link you’re overdoing it. Change your attitude towards links. If you think that there is no such thing as a bad link then enjoy your time at the bottom of the search food chain because Google will take you down.

You know what they say about good intentions

Google seems omnipotent and omniscient, but even though it has the best of intentions when it comes to improving the searching experience, it occasionally gets things wrong. Many well-known and reputable sites have seen their rankings drop after Panda was launched. They petitioned Google and Google acknowledged its mistakes. What’s more, it has even rectified them. It was a little too late for at least one company though, as Matt McGee reports that it had to cut 10% of its staff after losing a significant chunk of revenue.

If you find that you’re suddenly in the garbage tip, maybe you should query Google as to why. It’s more likely, however, that you need to do some serious soul searching and come up with a plan that delivers good content consistently.

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