Panda version 4.0 hit the search engine circuit this year in May, and as expected, the algorithm update kept webmasters, search marketers and SEOs thinking as to just how it could, if at all, penalize a website, and what might. Remember the days when the first Panda and Penguin were rolled out? Most SEOs had no clue what and how their sites disappeared from the search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
This time with Panda version 4.0, there wasn’t that much drama but curiosity levels among search experts remained the same (or even higher, from what I’ve seen in forums). Most SEOs I know or work with, have opined that Panda updates made them revisit their search engine fundamentals, which is why I thought it’d be a good idea brush up my SEO basics especially during the aftermath of new Panda and Penguin versions.
“Search is a complicated and evolving art and science, so rather than focusing on specific algorithmic tweaks, we encourage you to focus on delivering the best possible experience for users.”
Providing the best possible user experience is the central idea around which all Panda updates are designed and rolled out.
Amit Singhal asks webmasters to ask the below questions in order to understand Google’s psyche behind the venerated “High-quality Site”.
Related – How to recover from Google Panda
Questions webmasters should ask in a post Panda era
– “Would you trust the information presented in this article?
– Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
– Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
– Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
– Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
– Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
– Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
– Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
– How much quality control is done on content?
– Does the article describe both sides of a story?
– Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
– Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
– Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
– For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
– Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
– Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
– Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
– Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
– Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
– Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
– Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
– Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
Would users complain when they see pages from this site?”
The questions are brilliant, and this Webmaster Central post does a great job at making SEOs think from the Google’s point of view.
Those who really know what it is about will learn and implement, and those who have no clue will find it hard to understand the core Panda idea.
Let’s cover few SEO basics revisited after the Panda 4.0 release.
In Google’s terms, “Trust” is something that could compel a user to pay for a commodity or service online without thinking twice. Whether this website is trustworthy or is my money and credit card credentials safe? This “Trust” as Google calls it, needs to be earned rather through providing a user experience, trust signals (https, VeriSign verified, certifications, etc.), and every Panda-friendly website will score high in this regard.
Keywords remain the key ingredient in modern day SEO, if used naturally. Google Webmaster Forum and Matt Cutts have repeatedly underlined keyword stuffing and over-optimization as parameters that help a site accumulate bad (negative) search points. In all fairness, keywords are still useful when used naturally in the title, header, meta and page body. Keep it natural and beautiful. Google will notice and add positive points in your website’s trust equation.
Panda 4.0 like all previous Panda updates has tightened its noose on websites with duplicate web content across different web pages that looked and felt similar. Panda updates are developed around gauging a website’s user experience, and if Google’s bot crawls and is unable to differentiate between web pages, then a penalty should be visible in the offing. Hence, all pages that carry similar or duplicate content must be linked together with the “rel=canonical” tag.
Ad to content ratio
A Panda-hit website must have minimum ad to content ratio in my opinion; otherwise recovery would never take place. Long and big banner ads are a strict no, as there were numerous websites that suffered the wrath of Panda on account of their huge obscene banner and affiliate ads. For non Panda-hit websites, maintaining a clear and user friendly browsing experience is must, and hence the site’s webmaster should keep a look on ads displayed and their influence over rankings.
Defining user experience (UX) can be subjective, but still there are few things that can’t be missing on a website with good UX. Page speed, for instance, is an important variable that Google uses in rating a website. Social media sharing buttons, clear design, seamless browsing are other factors that contribute towards UX. Also for better indexation, you must submit HTML and XML sitemaps to Google via Webmaster tools.
Panda 4.0 has had several casualties till date, and unlike Penguin, site owners have the authority to get back their rankings if they are hit by Panda. Understanding Panda and implementing recovery procedures successfully are two different things. If you know the basics, but have no idea how to deploy them correctly, then things could get complicated.
I’d suggest thinking from users’ perspective while auditing your site for Panda, and honestly accepting things that are going wrong. It works every time in my experience.