On September 27th, Google rolled out yet another update to its Panda algorithm, dubbed “Panda 20” because it is the 20th iteration. Google reported that only a small number of queries would be affected, around 2.4 percent, but judging from the near-hysterical reaction from the blogosphere and search engine optimization industry, the impact has been a tad greater in real life. To make things worse for some webmasters, Google acknowledges it has not completed the launch, causing even more uncertainty and fear.
Who will be hurt most by Panda 20?
Essentially, anyone who has been more focused on search engines rather than the user will be negatively impacted. This means websites with little crawlable text, excessive ads, or duplicate or poorly written content. All of the trickery of the past is coming to light, and the price is that any formulaic, keyword-stuffed pieces of fluffy “articles” are simply going to have to be discarded or rewritten.
A recent mass email to writers from a large content-production site confirms this. In it, the CEO reveals that Google’s algorithm updates have resulted in a “significant change” in their business: a large drop-off in cheap article orders, and a large backlog of high-quality ones, as webmasters seek to replace poor existing content in response to ranking penalties.
In the email, some writers are even implored to improve their writing skills in order to qualify for taking on these better-paying assignments, indicating the dire need for professional writers to replace the poor-quality work churned out for many years by the cheapest hands available.
The white hats are winning (finally)
Website owners who focused on writing, or hiring pros to write, better quality material, are also reporting being hit by Panda 20 — in a positive way. I can personally vouch that my daily traffic has doubled since Panda 20; if you have read any of my earlier articles, you know I invest zero time whatsoever on any SEO “magic” beyond the basic, logical things I cover a little further down.
When one writes naturally, seeking to please and inform an audience, with the hope of converting some of them into paying customers, keyword phrases that people might search for tend to spring up organically without any need for black hat marketing tricks.
How to maintain your ranking after Panda 20
Producing quality content is, now more than ever, the key to protecting your site. Here are some tips to help you survive should Google decide to release “Panda 21,” or maybe even a “Platypus,” “Porcupine” or “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
1. Think like a publisher. This is what content marketing is all about. Compare your existing website to a quality magazine full of useful, interesting articles, and it should reveal something about why your site might be suffering after Panda 20. Who wants to read a magazine with more ads than writing, and in which the content is poorly-written and boring anyway? A website is no different.
2. Perform search engine optimization, the right way: Common sense should prevail here. Don’t try to “trick” people into visiting you, but DO use all of the tools at your disposal to tell searchers what your site is all about. This means filling out the site description and title fields, tagging blog posts with relevant keywords, site maps, etc. This does NOT mean adding hundreds of keyword phrases to the bottom of a page in really small letters, hoping no one but a search engine will notice them.
For more SEO tips straight from the horse’s mouth, check out Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
3. Don’t be anti-social. Social network marketing is still very much a developing field, but one which promises to reduce the importance of search engines somewhat, even as Google tries to incorporate social media in its rankings. In fact, video search company blinkx reports that three quarters of people are deciding to ingest content based on word of mouth or tips from Twitter and Facebook, and that search engines are being relied on less.
One last note: any brand which blames Google for its lack of traffic and sales shows that the foundation of that business is quite thin. Think about it: if a computer algorithm change, which is completely beyond your control, decimates your income, there is probably something wrong with your business model somewhere. Diversification of income streams and marketing channels would probably be a wise choice, instead of relying strictly on search engine traffic -- an error far too many marketers make.
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