22 May Google Panda 4.0: What You Need To Know.
Beginning in February of 2011, Google began upgrading it’s ranking algorithm to remove low-quality and spammy websites from its first page search results. This update was named “Panda” after Navneet Panda, the gentlemen who created it. As of March 2013, Google had made 25 updates to the algorithm. On May 20th 2014, Panda 4.0 was released, and has resulted in a flury of fear and speculation. Here’s what you need to know.
First, Google has not “changed their mind again.” If we understand the end-goal of Google search, and view each of these updates as incremental shifts moving them closer to that goal, we realize they’re not changing their mind at all, they’re just forcing the rest of us to change our minds, and get on board with their vision. With that in mind, let’s dig in.
What we can learn from eBay.
High quality SEO companies have been beating the content drum hard for a long time. “Content is King!” “Content is King!” They shout it from the rooftops. And it’s true. Unfortunately, although some businesses have taken this advice, and worked hard to systematically create high-quality and relevant content, others have not.
After the Penguin 4.0 was released 2 days ago, eBay saw 80% of their organic rankings fall off. That’s a major blow for this industry giant. As a result, many business owners are left wondering if they’re next.
According to Larry Kim at Businesss 2 Community, there are 2 significant reasons why eBay was so terribly penalized. Thin content, and doorway pages. If you want to dig in for a more technical analysis of his findings, I suggest you give his article a read. However, since this blog is not directed to fellow SEOs, I’d prefer to offer a brief explanation of each of these, and tell you what you can do to keep or position your website in Google’s good graces.
What is meant by Thin Content?
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, says that “Thin Content is content with little or no added value.” Sounds pretty straight forward, and it is, but here’s specifically what you need to look out for:
Shallow Content. Having a website without deep content is a sure fire way to prevent your site from ranking high in the search results. Put yourself in the shoes of an average consumer. If they were to land on this particular page, would they see it as a valuable resource? Are you providing them with unique insight? If not, you should fill out these pages with higher quality information.
At a minimum you should have 300 words of unique copy for a page you want to rank. However, that’s not a hard & fast rule. Don’t write content only for SEO purposes; write to connect with the reader.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the content you’ve developed before publishing and calling it good.
- Is this piece of content filled with fluff?
- Do I answer all of my reader’s objections?
- Does the keyword blend naturally with the rest of the copy, or does it stick out like a sore thumb?
- Have you included a Call to Action to illicit the next click?
- Have you adequately communicated the value of the product or service you’re highlighting?
- Have you connected with the reader in a meaningful way?
Don’t copy & paste content you found from another website. It’s okay to cite quotes, or even provide unique insight into a syndicated article, but if your website is filled with duplicate content found somewhere else online, what unique value are you really presenting to your visitor? Why couldn’t they just find it somewhere else?
Thin Affiliate Pages
An Affiliate is someone who gets paid a commission by referring their visitor to purchase a product found on another website. There’s nothing wrong with this practice. However, you can’t simply post tons of links or banner ads on your page without providing deeper insight to your visitor. Instead, provide an in-depth analysis or review of the product or service. Discuss the pro’s and con’s of the product so that it’s not completely one-sided. When you’re finished, pass it through the filter of questions outlined above and ask yourself whether the content on this page is rich, or if it’s still pretty shallow. Don’t publish until it’s right!
What is a Doorway Page?
Technically, doorway pages fall under the banner of “Thin content with little or no value.” Specifically, this could be any page that is developed for the sole purpose of ranking for that keyword/phrase, and is designed to direct visitors to a single destination. An example of this would be multiple location-specific pages.
Say we want to rank for “Detroit SEO,” but we realize that Metro Detroit is made up of many smaller communities. We might be tempted to create a page for “Macomb SEO” and others for “Rochester SEO” and “Troy SEO,” because we want to cast a wider net. If a visitor lands on the page for Macomb SEO, things may seem natural to them, however, if the content is the same on the other pages, with only the city name changing on each, Google will recognize this as a doorway page, and your website will be penalized. This is an outdated SEO practice, which webmasters should halt immediately if they’re engaging in.
eBay lost it’s rankings with Panda 4.0 because its doorway pages had thin content. Similarly, you can expect the same thing to happen if you’re not avoiding these practices.
How can I recover from a Panda 4.0 Penalty?
Panda 4.0 recovery will require that you take a step back and look at your website. Is your site thin on unique and valuable content? Are you guilty of hosting many doorway pages? If so, spend time developing in-depth and compelling copy. Write with the end-user in mind – not Google. It’s important to note that you should include keywords and phrases within your copy, but stuffing the page with tons of keywords will get you penalized as well. It’s a careful balancing act to keep from sliding down the slippery slope on either side.
If you have doorway pages on your site and you’re fortunate enough to have maintained your rankings, request a website audit to determine the next best step. Chances are high that you’ll need to grieve what you perceive as a loss and move on. It’s simply not worth having a penalty associated with your domain history to pick up a few clicks here and there. Decide what you want to target, and focus with laser-like intensity there. Stop trying to game the system, or the system will game you.
If you’ve been hit by a Panda, Penguin or Hummingbird update, reach out for help. We provide expert analysis and recovery services that will address these, and many more issues, and remove penalties associated with your website. The investment will pay dividends as many of your competitors give and redirect their marketing efforts. Cleansing the system is a good thing for the strong who will survive. Be one of them.