What every business needs to know about Google’s Panda 4.1 release

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Have you noticed a change in the flow of traffic to your webpage lately? Some businesses have seen visitors skyrocket, while others have seen numbers plummet drastically.

What you may not know is that Google’s latest algorithm, Panda 4.1, has significantly impacted the flow of organic traffic Web-wide. If you want your website to come out high in search results, you will need about the major changes to the Panda algorithm, and how best to optimize your site for them.

On September 25 Google released the latest version of its content-focused search engine algorithm, Panda 4.1. In an effort to improve the user experience, this newest update targets low-quality web content, specifically:

 

  • content deemed “thin,” or of little value
  • duplicate content, which often happens on large-volume sites (like Answers.com), and
  • machine-generated, or “spun,” content.

Not surprisingly, pages with keyword stuffing, too many affiliate links, deceptive content, security warnings, broken links, pop-up ads and forced downloads were heavily affected. On the other hand, websites with valuable and niche content or a specialized focus (like OrganicGardening.com) were positively impacted.

Before going further, it’s important to note the difference between Panda, and Penguin. In October, Penguin 3.0 was released, which is the latest update on another of Google’s algorithms. It aims to penalize websites which use manipulative techniques to achieve high rankings. These techniques are widely known as web spam, or Black-Hat SEO, and do nothing to improve the quality of a website for the user. Panda, on the other hand (and in broad terms), aims to reward legitimate sites for providing useful content and a user-friendly experience over those that are comparatively lower in quality.

Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, said in a Huffington Post article, “[T]he [Panda] update should be good for small- to medium-sized businesses who prioritize the quality of their content. Ideally, the highest rankings of search queries should become more diversely populated with a wide range of different site sizes.”

This is encouraging to businesses for which Web and content strategy is a priority, but some small and mid-sized business owners may be seeing a hit to their traffic as a result — particularly those who may not be SEO-savvy. In fact, research from SearchMetrics showed that, since the algorithm’s release, some brands saw an almost 80 percent drop in their organic search figures.

Though this number seems staggering, many local and small business owners are not bothered by a potential drop in their website’s search engine ranking. Jonathan Barrie, president of the small, Toronto-based IT company 640K Solutions, explains why optimizing his site is not a priority.

He says, “I can spend more on optimizing the site for Google search to get new customers and sales, or spend less and have a simpler, static site which gives the five ‘W’s for people that are curious about the company and what it does. These are typically people with whom I’ve already had direct contact anyway, and who are looking up the website post-meeting. SEO isn’t of much value in this circumstance.”

Search engine optimization may not be relevant for your website and business. If it’s not, then you probably don’t need to be worried about Panda’s latest iteration. However, if web performance is important to your small or mid-sized business, you may want to consider implementing these key optimization techniques:

 

  1. Perform a “content audit” of your pages. Make sure the content on your website is relevant, strong, informative and unique.
  2. Check the integrity of your links and remove or correct any broken ones, or links that lead to blank pages.
  3. Avoid creating a “top-heavy” experience for users by overloading the tops of your pages with images, ads and affiliate links.
  4. Ensure your image-to-text ratio is not too high. Panda 4.1 equates too many images with weak content, a poor experience for mobile users, and reduced page speed.
  5. Once you’ve optimized all the pages on your website, monitor your organic traffic with Google Analytics to determine whether your changes have been effective.

For a comprehensive picture of how your webpage compares to what Google considers a quality site, you can refer to its search quality evaluation guide

Flickr photo via George Yu

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