Asher Elran is a practical software engineer and a marketing specialist. CEO at Dynamic Search and founder of Web Ethics.
Trying to keep a decent ranking on the search engines is a vital part of business today. Unfortunately, for businesses at least, the constantly changing search engine algorithms mean that you are always trying to hit a moving target. However, since rankings are a vital part of today’s business landscape, it is essential to keep up with pace and make any necessary changes required by the algorithms.
As the undisputed king of the search engines with almost 1 billion estimated unique monthly visitors, any change that Google makes is sure to cause waves in the SEO world. Some of the biggest changes came from the Panda update of 2011, but that update wasn’t the last word; Google is constantly tweaking and updating Panda itself (and all other parts of the algorithm).
Now that the update has been in place for a while, some lessons have been learned that webmasters must apply in order to continue to rank well in the Panda era.
Content Really is King
This has been said so often that it sounds more like a little cliché, but it is truly one of the modern SEO realities. Google’s goal is to provide search results that are actually useful to people, and their strong belief is that people want original, relevant, useful information. After spending countless hours looking at meaningless sites that rank high but provide little or no value, it is a pretty hard position to argue with.
Given that content is so important, it is vital to realize that not just any content will do. Sites need to provide the right type of content in order to do well with Panda.
Businesses as Publishers
Given that Panda places such a high value on content, this creates a conundrum for online businesses. Their main purpose is to sell goods and services, but in order to do that they need to be easily found by online searchers. Unfortunately, sites that solely focus on the business of selling are going to slip in the rankings. This means that in order to continue in business, they are going to have to add value through meaningful content.
Many businesses are struggling with the transition from pure retailer to content publisher. It isn’t enough to add a blog post or two; visitors want new, fresh, updated information, so that means that Panda does, too. Panda exists to give searchers what they want. In light of this and in order to maintain high rankings, businesses must also become producers and curators of ever-growing libraries of articles and other content that will help them stay relevant and up to date.
There are several different ways that content can be shaped, but you will find some key insights into creating high quality content, the kind of content Panda is looking for in the list below.
Unless a business is an online news service or library, their target audience will probably be very specific and definable. That being the case, Panda expects content to follow the same lines. For example, a bike shop would need to focus on various aspects of biking, rather than sports and recreation in general. Even when an article would have a broader appeal as with an article about general conditioning for the athlete, it would be best if it were still specifically tied to the biking community in particular.
The web is about finding specific answers to specific questions, and that is what businesses on the web need to focus on. Your writing should reflect that.
The second key feature is that the content needs to identify the site as an authority. It needs to be the place where people go for expert information. Content needs to touch more than the surface. So, in addition to having a narrow focus, it also has to go deep into the subject.
In order to test whether the content has depth, some of the old ideas about length need to be reexamined. In the past, it was thought that a shorter blog post or article was often better, since the majority of people just want to quickly scan it. With Panda it seems that this idea no longer applies, or it at least needs to be questioned.
Since Panda is looking for knowledge centers and authority, it asks the question whether shorter content can really be authoritative. Are 300 to 500 words enough to really delve into a subject and provide something useful and informative? It appears that Panda responds with “No.” The algorithm seems to be giving more weight and better rankings to longer pieces that give an in-depth discussion of a topic – at least as long as there seems to be some quality content into the article.
So, instead of providing a number of short articles on a given topic, it appears that businesses will do better with articles as long as 2,000 to 3,000 words, granted that they can really find something meaningful to write about for that length. And it doesn’t hurt if these longer articles also have a related image or two.
Another key in delivering quality content is to consider the reasons that searchers are looking for this information. For a business, this could fall into three main areas:
1. Product guides – People are interested in purchasing a specific product or service, and they want to do some research before they buy. In addition to highlighting the features of the particular product of their interest, authors can also add value by talking about the market or product in general, as well as the advantages of their particular offering. By making this truly useful and informative, they will have a better chance of ranking highly.
2. Advice or How-to guides – Another phrase, often used in a search query is “how to do X.” By providing the answer through an informative guide, a business can demonstrate authority in their niche.
3. News articles – Sometimes people just want to know the current news and updates. Providing news content and status updates can inform and entertain, and let people know which direction the industry is heading, even if they are not currently in the market to buy.
Of course, quality external links that lead to your site have always been important, but with Panda, outbound links to authoritative sites also seem to carry a great deal of weight. The thought process seems to be that a content publisher who truly wants to be informative and helpful would naturally include a link or two to other helpful information.
It is also important to keep in mind internal links to other meaningful pieces of your content. As your library grows, you will have related articles that can give a more in-depth look at specific points. Rather than simply rehashing the same information, Panda expects sites to link to more of their own content, and seems to reward sites that do so.
Keyword stuffing has never been a truly acceptable SEO technique and Panda has really penalized sites that overuse keywords. It may be difficult though, especially with longer articles, to know when you have used a phrase or keyword too many times.
Instead of worrying about specific keyword densities, the general consensus seems to be that just writing naturally should eliminate this problem. As an author, it can be difficult to be sure whether you are repeating specific words or phrases too often, so editors and proofreaders are more important than ever. A new set of eyes can help to determine if the writing sounds repetitive or natural.
Another thing that Panda frowns upon is duplicate content, whether it is internal or external. This can cause some challenging situations for online businesses.
For example, an online retailer may sell many products that are very similar, maybe varying only in size or color. If each particular combination has its own page on your website, Panda may think that you are trying to play games with the algorithm. There may be very legitimate reasons for having nearly duplicate content, but Panda – at least at this point – can’t judge intentions.
It may also be that visitors can come to the same information via various paths through your website. If you have set up identical pages that fall within the hierarchy of those paths, that duplicate content could also get penalized.
As far as externally duplicated content, it may be out of your control. Certain scraper sites may pull your article to be published elsewhere. The problem arises when the copies rank higher than the original, and the original is discarded as duplicate.
This can all be dealt with, but it takes time, effort and vigilance. Unfortunately, that also means money that might better be spent elsewhere. This article on Search Engine Journal can give you some ideas on how to combat this problem.
Panda has introduced some far-reaching changes into the world of SEO. Whether they are improvements or not it is all a matter of viewpoint. Either way, for websites that intent on getting or keeping a high ranking on search engines, it is important to understand these rules so as to immerse deep into the game.