Google Panda – What is it, how does it work, what should I do?
Google’s Panda Update is a specific algorithm run on a regular basis that targets low-quality sites.
That is; the algorithm focuses on on-page content factors and user-experience to reward or punish sites with higher/lower rankings and more/less traffic – ultimately Google’s aim is improve the quality of its search results by rewarding high-quality sites with greater visibility.
Google’s Panda Update targets the following factors on your website;
- Quality of content
- Originality of content
- Modality of content
- Positioning of content
In this article we will look at exactly how the above factors translate into real-world aspects of your website, how Google might be measuring these and what you as a business owner can do to improve your pages in-line with Google’s guidelines.
Quality of website content
Possibly the first metric that it is possible to calculate how high-quality an piece of content is would be its length. Whilst the sheer number of words in a piece is no indicator of true quality, it is a useful first filter – any article of less than 300 words is unlikely to be able to impart too much useful information. If you have two articles on how to get stains out of a carpet, one is 250 words and one is 2500 words, which is likely to be more useful and comprehensive?
What should you do?
Well, have longer, more comprehensive articles on your site. If you have pages on a similar topic combine them to form a single ‘super-page’. Content is not just text – it includes images, videos, slideshows, map embeds, interactive surveys, etc. Therefore you should always add relevant images to your web pages, embed videos and slideshows and use maps where appropriate and useful.
Originality of content
If you want Google to value your content then it must be original. But what does original mean to Google?
Google uses a technique called ‘chunking’ to check for duplication – it will divide the page into discrete sections or chunks and then search the web for other instances of that chunk.
Essentially it is very easy for Google to check if text content is original or duplicate. If your content is just copied and pasted from elsewhere then Google will not rank you as your website is offering no value to the user that they cannot find elsewhere.
In recent years curated-content has become more popular and this is fine as long as you add in your own commentary and ideas. This is a scenario whereby someone may quote extensively from another blog post or web page and outline their own response and perspective on the topic. This is fine as long as the quoted content is heavily interspersed with original text.
Google, through its reverse image search can also identify images as originating from the same core image even if the image has been resized, edited, renamed, saved as a different file-type or had text over-layed.
What should you do?
Make sure your content is unique and original – write your own text, or hire a good writer and take your own photos and use those instead of stock images!
Modality of content
Google likes multi-media content as it provides a better user-experience so be sure not to have a website that is 90% text content with just a few stock images thrown in as an afterthought!
We have mentioned taking your own images to use on your website and images are another modality – these are not only photographs but could be graphs or charts, etc.
Other modalities are video, slideshows, PDFs, podcasts, etc.
What Should you do?
Video on a web page is always good – it does not have to be your own video if you haven’t the time or ability to make them. Go to Youtube and find a relevant, insightful video on the topic you are writing about and embed that in the page with a little commentary.
You can do a similar thing with Slideshare for Powerpoint embeds.
For PDFs you can just take you text content and turn it into a PDF then upload to Scribd.com and embed on your webpage, or upload to your server and add a download link for anyone who wants to read the article in PDF rather than online.
Positioning of content
This is not such a great problem for business websites generally, although sometimes there can be issues.
One of the problems Google was faced with was sites that had good content but then pushed that content down the page and filled the top half with offers, ads and outbound links. Now Google looks for how much content is ‘above the fold’.
How does it distinguish between real content and ads or affiliate offers?
What should you do?
Have as much good content as possible ‘above the fold’ (that is visible to the user without scrolling).
When you upload an image to WordPress do not leave the image in its default linking setting. In WordPress when you upload an image to a page the image is automatically linked to its upload URL – see image below.
This is bad for a number of reasons so always set the ‘Link URL’ to ‘no link’.
Have a thinner header on your site. Many sites have ‘thick’ headers which take up a significant amount of space on the page – by removing as much white space as possible around the header, logo, menu bar, etc it will allow more content to appear above the fold.
See this image of a good example of a website that has a number of Panda-friendly elements above the fold;
This is the bottom-line for Google and is really a summary of the above than a new item altogether!
User-experience is how satisfactory, useful and stimulating a web page is for its users and all of the above points ties in with it.
A good user-experience will involve original, relevant and useful content in a variety of formats with maps, surveys and other interactive elements involved as appropriate.
A good user-experience is one where the user can find what they are looking for quickly without being bombarded with ads or confusing navigation.
A big part of Google’s algorithm is based on user experience and engagement – a site which does not have useful, multi-media content and is full of ads is unlikely to have visitors hang around for long and so they will click away – this is a ‘bounce’.
Google records bounce rate and will reward sites that get good click-throughs and low bounce rates.
So, if you want to stay on the right side of Google’s Panda follow the above advice as much as you can.
Here is an excellent video from Moz which goes over what we think Panda is looking for;