Update on Google’s Panda Refresh

You may remember that not long ago we reported on how Google was performing a refresh of its Panda algorithm which is used by Google to determine whether or not the content on any given website is of a decent quality. The Panda 4.2 Refresh that we originally reported on appears to have in typical Google fashion been rolled out in a way that hasn’t been as clear as was originally expected. In this article we aim to clear up a few points on what we feel has happened since the changes to the Panda refresh began rolling out.

A Quick Recap

Jul 2015
Just to recap in case you missed all the excitement that happened back in July; we reported on the Panda 4.2 Refresh that Google was going to put which introduced a more aggressive algorithm that would essentially begin to demote websites who had poor quality content and reward those who had great content. We recommended that in addition to fixing any issues with your content sooner rather than later, that implementing a canonical tag could be a fix for the issues that a number of Content Management Systems (CMS) introduce due to the way that they work, subsequently fixing any unintentional duplicate content issues. Back in July reports pointed towards the refresh being rolled out over the following few months, but something changed.

Google Changed Something

Google Typewriter
Google tends to keep its cards very close to its chest, and short of the occasional updates being leaked, official announcements of changes are few and far between. Google is known to make countless changes to its algorithms on an almost daily basis, but the majority of these tend to be minor tweaks to performance rather than sweeping changes that affect a great number of people. When these come along we usually get some indication that something is going to change aside from an elderly man holding a ‘the end is nigh’ sign. It appears that back in July Google began to roll out the Panda 4.2 Refresh before something odd happened not long after the initial rollout; it appeared to stop. Some people reported that they had seen a noticeable dip in traffic and rankings, and others saw a favourable spike, all as was to be expected, before these changes seemed to have been reversed. It currently appears that Google is making the original Panda 4.2 Refresh an incremental update, meaning that month after month parts of it are being rolled out, almost as if Google has serialised it rather than putting out the full length feature in one go.

What This Means to You

Web Traffic
In essence this means that little has really changed, it’s more of an issue of timing. What it does mean is that sites that managed to escape seeing a drop in their traffic and rankings as a result of the originally proposed 4.2 Refresh aren’t necessarily out of the woods yet. It appears that the way the Panda algorithm will work now is to slowly affect your rankings, so for instance instead of seeing a sudden drop off, you’ll see a steady decrease over a period of time. The big advantage of this is that if you see a steady drop off and have a problem with the content on your site you can treat this as a warning sign, and take advantage of the extra time you’ve been afforded to fix the issues on your site. There’s no way to know if you left your site unattended how long it could keep treading water for before it eventually goes past the page five marker of doom on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP), but we would obviously recommend not testing this, unless you have a site that you can afford to sacrifice in the name of research. Thankfully the steps that you need to take to avoid being hit haven’t changed.

How to Avoid Being Panda Slapped

Panda Silhouette
The term ‘Panda Slap’ was tossed around the offices at MB Web for a while when we started working on the implications that the Panda 4.2 Refresh could have on the websites of our clients, but perhaps now the term ‘Panda Tap’ is more appropriate. The way that Google is making the changes to Panda far more incremental is more of a tap on the shoulder from Google saying that “there’s a cliff up ahead”, rather than a straight out disciplinary slap. If you need to address the content on your website then essentially you want to do what you should be doing in the first place and ensuring that your website is full of rich, engaging, fresh unique content. If the Panda taps you on the shoulder and you’re still not sure what you should be doing; here’s what you need to do with your content:

Remove Stolen or Cannibalised Content

This should be a given, but not everyone is paying attention, and unfortunately you can’t stop other websites from causing you problems. The type of content that we’re referring to is the type of content that can be found elsewhere, so for instance if you’ve found a great blog or article and decided that it fit your purposes, only to rearrange the paragraphs and add in an opening and closing comment, you’ll need to either remove this from your site or in some case a complete rewrite can save you. You should also avoid sharing out the content of your website with other websites, whether you own them or not as this is cannibalised content that we’ll cover shortly. A different domain name won’t fool Google and tip them off that something is wrong. Unfortunately little can be done if another website copies your content over to their site; depending on a number of factors your site can be penalised for this, so it’s worth doing the occasional check to see if this has happened and rectifying the problem on your own website if the offending website owner won’t remove the content. After all you should be making frequent updates to your site anyway; otherwise you fall into the trap of stagnating.
The same thing goes for cannibalised content wherein you have a sister site that has similar or duplicated content as the original. You want to ensure that the content on every domain that you look after is unique and fresh so that Google doesn’t give you a Panda Tap.

Plump up Thin Pages

This can be the simplest step that you can take to rectify your content issues. If any of your pages have thin content, plump them up! By thin content pages we’re referring to pages that have below 300 words, and whilst some pages can get away with having so few words, for instance your cookies policy and contact pages will be fine, for everything else you want to bolster the word count. Ensure that this is done in a natural way, and don’t fall into the trap of keyword stuffing or other obvious SEO no-nos.

Remove Duplicate Content

If you have any duplicate content on your website you want to remove it as soon as possible. Unlike stolen content, or content that has been cannibalised from a sister website, we’re referring to issues where in content has been duplicated within the same domain. For instance some CMS can create a duplicate listing for a blog article that Google can crawl, and while there it’s clear to the human brain that there is only one blog article, Google will see this as being duplicate. This can easily be remedied by correctly implementing canonical tags to advise Google that the content has been duplicated for good reason and of the location of the original.

Moving Forwards

Moving Forwards
Google makes countless changes to its algorithms day in, day out, and they have a habit of not advising people that these changes have occurred, so it’s up to us to do a bit of detective work to figure out what exactly Google is looking for in websites that it wants to rank. This guide will to an extent become redundant in months to come, but it’s unlikely that the core message will change. Ensuring that your website is full of engaging unique content is just common sense, and feeds into your user experience, so it makes sense to ensure that this is the case regardless of changes that are made at Google’s end.

How We Can Help

At MB Web we do our best to keep on top the latest changes to Google’s algorithms, whether they’re part of Penguin, Panda or any of the other menagerie of past and present updates that there will be. Our SEO team work hard to ensure that your content is in the best shape it can be to avoid any future penalties that may be introduced. If you want to find out more about what you can do to better benefit your SEO campaign, or to get some help from our talented team with your web marketing; don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact James Golding by completing our online contact form, by sending an email to hello@juddassoc.com or by calling our Lewes office on 01273 478822 to speak to a friendly member of the team.