Wholesale Anti-Panda Approach – Wildcard Friday

By Nik


We know you’ve been shaken – if you were hit by the Panda update, we understand how much of a hit your online revenue could have taken. I’ve been hearing stories left-and-right from the e-commerce world about how Panda – innocent at first look – has ravaged through the organic revenues of mid-to-large size online retail stores, who in many cases have cut back on plenty of their most successful investments and/or were forced to lay off employees.

Well, there’s a ray of hope out there – and from the most unlikely source: Matt Cutts. In his 126 character, almost cryptic tweet, may lie the answer to the daunting question: how do you get out from underneath this over-”bear”ing algorithm update? Today, we’ll visit the “wholesale anti-panda approach” to getting your online retail company back on track after this recent update.

They say his name comes from the approach he takes to bleeding his victims dry to the bone – I’m kidding, Matt – Matt Cutts is the always smiling and often bald-shaved spokesperson for the main unit of Google’s algorithm business: the search quality team. These days, you’ll see him virtually joined at the hip with Amit Singhal, the man running the search quality department at Google.

Amit and Matt have come forth on several occasion since Feb 24th’s first release of the Panda update in the US – effecting ranking orders a significant portion of search queries – and badly maiming countless businesses who have built their sites by Google’s standards over the years. Since then, victims of the change have followed Matt and Amit closely, deciphering every word spoken, written or tweeted by them.

There’s a sense of frustration in the online retail space as those whose businesses are down these past few months feel that nobody has the answer to Panda – and that even after heeding pieces of advice by the dozen, nobody is seeing significant updates to ranking based on all their efforts – it’s almost as if nobody is watching them do all these good deeds and they are still in a form of purgatory.

Well – on May 6th, Matt answered a tweeted question about how the Panda update is deployed – Matt’s answer: “short version is that it’s not data that’s updated daily right now. More like when we re-run the algorithms to regen(erate) the data.” What does that mean? If you have been furiously working to get back in line with Panda’s new requirements of quality, you may be doing everything right, even if you haven’t seen the results yet – when Panda’s data is refreshed, your dozens of dutiful deeds will get the credit they deserve. It’ll probably result in a significant reshuffling of 1st page results when it does get updated again. Let’s recap what those dutiful deeds should be.

Panda’s Update is essentially a quality score given to every site. That quality score then gets taken into consideration for each site’s various keywords and search phrases that it ranks for in Google’s SERPs.

In a nutshell – Google measures positive and negative signals of a site. Every site is then judged by it’s balance of signals – sites with higher levels of bad are effected negatively and sites with higher good signals are effected positively by Panda’s update.

Bad signals are essentially bad pages of your site. Google wanted to “ding” sites that were trying to get low quality pages in the index – this includes those pages on your site that have no content, or really shallow content. If you have 50 variations of the same product and the description is nearly the same, you’ve got bad signals as well.

Think about why they would give a low score to a site that has this type of content – A. it’s self-serving. If Google can whip every webmaster into shape and get them to stop forcing low quality pages into Google’s index, then Google will have less junk to sort through. As the internet expands, Google has to enforce rules that allow them to scale down the internet to fit within their cost and bandwidth structures. B. it’s for the users. Panda’s goal is to serve up sites that people could trust – and would enjoy – and essentially penalize, to a degree, those sites that people wouldn’t want to visit.

That being said, by using tools such as canonical links and noindex,nofollow commands in your meta tags, you can compromise with Google. They won’t care so much if you have low quality content on your site – you know, the stuff that they think will effect users – as long as you don’t shove that content into it’s index. They choose self-service over users-benefit in this regard. If you can reduce bad signals on your site to a significant degree, then you’re following Google’s instructions, on how to game Google. And they’ll thank you for it.

After reducing the bad, you’ll need to add more good.

  1. What’s the most important good you can do? Adding more high quality content – not volume of content, quality of content – let’s define that and contrast it against a growing interest in copy. Your new content must be high quality – that means it’s experiential – it uses your brand name, feel and voice in it. You don’t need to hire a fancy copywriter that charges $2,000 per page, but you can’t go and hire somebody who charges $1 either. It easily takes 5+ minutes to research and plan a page of content on your site, even product pages. If you calculate that your copywriter can write a page in under 5 minutes, then be weary – it will surely have the mark of low quality content: too short, too repetitive or just a re-hash of product specs. This is not unique content, it’s not deep content, and it’s not helpful content. Your money will be wasted as Panda’s goal was to target low quality content. Amit Singhal, in a March 3rd interview stated it best when he stated how Panda was conceived to correct an issue from Google’s caffeine update a year earlier: “we basically got a lot of good fresh content,” he said “and some not so good. The problem had shifted from random gibberish, which the spam team had nicely taken care of, into somewhat more like written prose. But the content was shallow.” Panda’s goal was to correct for this low quality content. So, don’t invest in low quality content as your Anti-Panda strategy. Invest in good quality content. At Exclusive Concepts, we’ve revamped our content program to help our clients add new high quality content to their sites to stay in line with Panda, and the spirit of Google’s many updates.
  2. Second, you have been hearing from both Google and SEO insiders that experience matters. Usually, I’d dismiss those type of claims as the hocus pocus portion of today’s SEO knowledgebase. Qualitative efforts rarely fall into quantitative measurements that make up an algorithm. But, lo-and-behold our team has uncovered a series of experience-based patterns that have helped reshape the rankings since Panda’s update. They are a mix of Boolean “yes/no” type of qualitative measurements – and many more complete measurements that scale with improved or decreased effort. But sorry folks, we won’t share these golden nuggets with anybody but our own clients.
  3. Finally – your brand matters – if you’re competing in a space where nobody knows one brand from another, your rules are different here – in that case, your commitment to a particular universe of keywords matters more than your brand and experience. If you have a site dedicated to the no-mans-land of “popcorn machines” for example, then your mom-and-popcorn store is getting a serious boost right now. But if you are competing in a space where people know the names of stores and product brands, you need to show a correlation between your brand and the industry in which you play. Social’s a growing player here – our SEO team has been pulling together significant correlations between social links to pages and their ability to rank post-Panda. Matt Cutts has already made it clear that you should invest in Social presence for future updates as well. Secondly – and more important in my opinion – is to start using your brand name in more of your backlink strategy. Backlinks after Panda? Yes. Panda didn’t effect anybody’s ability to rank well through backlinks – but it does credit sites based on their diversity of in-bound links (blogs, social, etc) and diversity of anchor text links. Keep your in-bound link investments in play to stay ahead of your competition, but keep them in natural patterns and utilize your brand name in the strategy.