First released in February 2011, the Google ‘Panda’ algorithm update shook up the rankings of low-quality sites and affected nearly 12% of search results worldwide.
The Panda algorithm change was so big, and affected so many websites (and resulting webmasters) that Google provided an advisory about it on its blog. Included within this advisory were 23 questions that a webmaster could ask about her content to understand if it is of value to the reader. These questions had initially been sent to outside users who were part of the decision process on what exactly constituted low-quality content.
Example questions included the following:
- Would you trust this content as a reader?
- Does this content have factual, spelling or other errors?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its chosen topic?
Although the Panda algorithm updates have been more minor since its introduction, the conversation regarding optimization hasn’t stopped. Google’s blog is regularly inundated with content surrounding Panda even today in early 2016, and certainly after the incorporation of Panda into the core algorithm. Here are some key points that have emerged from the buzz, and what they mean for your own optimization efforts:
1. Word count isn’t as important as you think.
Many SEO gurus harp on content length being a key indicator of quality. However, when the question of word count was posed to JohnMu (John Mueller of Google), he had this to say:
It seems that high quality content, even if it’s short and to-the-point, trumps long yet insignificant drivel.
2. Removing thin content isn’t recommended.
The going SEO advice has been to completely remove thin content in order to boost a site’s search rank. However, the issue with doing so is that you lose the traffic that’s going to those pages.
A better solution is to keep all thin content pages but to run Google Analytics on them and learn which keywords users are plugging in to find those pages. Sometimes, thin content pages are forced to fit searches because nothing else pops up from your site. You can alleviate this issue by adding in better keywords and then beefing up related content.
One of the easiest ways to increase your quality content is by inviting users to contribute. UGC (user-generated content) is definitely Panda-friendly and helps build your site’s online rank.
If the above approach fails and you are still being notified about having thin content, your better bet is to noindex the offending pages rather than remove them outright.
3. Duplicate content isn’t that big of a deal.
The evolving Panda algorithm has made most duplicate content not that big of a deal when it comes to penalties. Or, as JohnMu puts it:
This is good news if you are selling items on your WordPress site, for example, and have listed the same items over and over. In other words, your time is better spent elsewhere.
4. What about those 404 pages?
While it’s always a good idea to clean up 404’s, they really don’t affect how Google indexes your site. What proof do I have for saying this? According to Gary Illyes, who is a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google:
This makes sense when you think about it- a nondescript page has no real value in ranking. And competitors have yet to channel negative SEO attacks against 404’s, which would be easy to do since no one is really watching them.
5. Ads are still OK.
As long as your website’s advertising follows Google’s quality guidelines, Panda won’t penalize it. Thus, you can certainly insert ads, and even above the fold. What’s imperative is that these ads aren’t obtrusive; i.e., they don’t force the viewer to scroll down the page in order to see the content.
Likewise, according to John Mueller, ads should be relevant to the actual page content so that Google can organize them easily.
6. Affiliate links are OK…sort of.
According to John Mueller, affiliate links don’t hurt a website’s ranking; however, there are certain caveats to this statement. If there are too many links and thin content to boot, those links will affect ranking.
There is also the issue of affiliates who just copy and paste affiliate feeds to their websites. In many cases, those feeds are republished several times over. While feeds used to show up in search, and quite prominently, they don’t anymore. So, a solely feed-driven site has the look-and-feel of a thin content site.
To alleviate this possible issue, you should really provide value on the pages that you post affiliate links to. And while a feed can be included, it shouldn’t take the place of real honest content.
Some webmasters try to beef up the traffic going to their web pages by adding extra affiliate links. However, this is a losing strategy and destined to eventually result in an even bigger ranking loss (and traffic loss).
7. Comments aren’t always a good thing.
The general assumption is that lots of comments on an article or blog post help improve page rank. That’s true to a certain level. Comments that are curated can be of tremendous value to a website. Off-topic or even spammy comments, on the other hand, can derail a page’s rank.
Regarding flame wars in the comments section of a web page, they do not help improve page rank and may even hurt the website overall. Should your site visitors get into a heated debate that turns ugly, you’re better off deleting the entire war rather than hinging on the hope that “bad press is better than no press.”
The Bottom Line
Google’s Panda algorithm is still affecting website rankings, albeit not as drastically as it once did. To align yourself with the wishes of the Panda, you should worry less about links, word counts, and ads and more about creating high quality content. Also, be aware that even some UGC may not be the best content to display on your website.