The word “quality” in reference to Web content has always been a subjective term, but now, with the Google Panda 2.3 update, quality has become demonstrably measurable. Have you been told Panda has affected your search engine results but are not really sure what that means? Have your website’s rankings taken a nosedive recently, but you changed nothing on your site? Has your site disappeared from page 1 of Google? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you will want to know about Panda 2.3.
Let’s start at the beginning. The main mission of Google is to answer search queries with a list of the most high-quality sites possible, and to do that, Google employs ranking algorithms and updates them approximately 500-600 times a year. Most of these updates are unannounced and go virtually unnoticed by the average site owner, but every once in a while, Google will launch an update that is named (Panda) and announced, “Official: Google Panda 2.3 Update is Live.” Most Google algorithm updates are not announced because the changes do not have far-reaching effects on searches and sites. Consider the Google algorithm is a recipe, and an update is the chef (Google) simply adding a quarter of a teaspoon of additional salt to the recipe. Now, along those lines, think of an update of the magnitude of Panda 2.3 as a major change in the recipe’s main ingredients—say, changing beef to pork. That is a change a lot of people would notice. And that is a change the chef thinks his guests should know about. I wonder what Panda will think of me borrowing that analogy from another article about the update? Panda does not like duplicate content.
What Is Panda 2.3?
Since many people may not even know what Panda 2.3 is, let’s start with a brief explanation. I think Danny Sullivan summed it up best in his article, “Why Panda Is More a Ranking Factor than Algorithm Update”: “Panda is a filter that Google has designed to spot what it believes are low-quality pages.”
Panda 2.3 identifies what are called content farms—sites that employ a large number of freelance writers to create a large volume of content that is written solely to get ranked on the search engines for long-tail keywords (three or more words). Even when content farms produce original content (vs. duplicate content), it is often poorly written and not substantive. Panda penalizes those sites by not ranking them (or taking their rankings away). Panda 2.3 differentiates high-quality sites from low-quality sites by evaluating content quality, keyword density, and advertisements (to name a few). Here is a list of what Panda 2.3 looks for when evaluating a site’s “quality”:
- Poorly written content
- Duplicate content
- “Thin” content (not substantive, inaccurate)
- Ad-to-content ratio
- Content that’s not useful
- Link schemes
- Cloaking (presenting different types of content to search engines than to visitors by detecting IP address)
- Pages with irrelevant keywords
- Hidden text
- Hidden links
What to Do with Your Content
Here are some suggestions from the article “20 SEO Strategies for Sites Affected by Google Panda” for what you can do with content if you have lost traffic following a Panda update:
- Identify and rewrite weak pages
- Identify and rewrite duplicate content
- Make high-quality authority pages internally link to the site’s important pages using targeted keywords as anchor text
- Optimize the site’s important landing pages by beefing up content
- Link blog posts to important pages on the site
- Include strong calls to action
- Create high-quality support pages for each targeted keyword
- Only present pages that are offering some value to users
- Write better (and original) content overall
The Panda 2.3 Update Schedule
Each time a Panda update is run, sites may see traffic drop, and if you were affected by a Panda update in the past and have made changes since then, then you have to wait until the next update is run to see if your rankings change.
Here is the Panda update schedule to date:
Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011
Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011 (about 7 weeks later)
Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011 (about 4 weeks later)
Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
Panda Update 2.3: July 23, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
Protecting your Website from Panda 2.3 “penalties” simply takes some effort. Content free of errors (grammatical and stylistic) is something Panda likes to see. If you pay for good content to be written and optimized, that content will typically work. Avoid keyword stuffing—keyword relevance is crucial to a well-written page. Content must flow, make sense, and keyword placement must be meaningful. Make sure your site’s information is factually accurate and write original content. Panda will penalize pages it finds to be duplicated from another site. If you want your rankings to plummet (and no one does), then cut and paste content from another site. Don’t over-advertise on the web page. Make sure your ads are not distracting and spammy.