Pandas may be endangered on planet Earth, but they are far from being endangered in cyber space. Since February of 2011, Google has been churning out their infamous Panda updates at a fast and furious pace.
On February 27, 2012 Google announced on its official Inside Search blog that it had made 40 changes to improve search results. This is nothing new for Google and other major search engines that typically make algorithm tweaks almost daily. In fact, the recent list of changes is part of a monthly series of updates Google announced last December in an effort to be more transparent about their changes. Buried at the bottom of the list of 40 (which is actually 36 by my count) is a brief mention of a new Google Panda update:
Google Panda Update. This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.
For those of you keeping score at home, this update is known in the SEO community as Google Panda 3.3. Before I get into the changes of Panda 3.3, here are a few popular phrases to help keep all this Google search engine jargon straight:
Google Panda – When Google makes internal changes that impact search results, you may see them referred to as updates to: Panda, search quality, and ranking factors.
GoogleBot – Remember when everyone referred to the Internet as the, “World Wide Web?” GoogleBot is the spider constantly patrolling its vast web for content to display.
Google algorithm – This is Google’s “secret sauce” for determining which websites appear in organic (non-paid) search results. I like to think of it as Google’s ever-expanding brain. It has over 200 ranking factors it considers when a user does a search and it’s always learning and growing in an attempt to provide more relevant results.
**Specific elements changing within Google’s master algorithm are often referred to as: Panda filters, signals, classifiers, triggers, ranking factors and scoring functions.
So where did all the pandas come from?
In February 2011 Google announced a new filter designed to push down results for hollow websites. The goal was to reward websites with good, unique information and penalize websites that copy information from other websites or have minimal substance. If your site got flagged by the panda filter, it could see a noticeable drop in organic visits which could lead to a decrease in conversions. The filter runs periodically and is constantly evolving. Some of the changes over the last year include incorporating other languages and spreading out the implementation of the updates over a period of time. SearchEngineLand has a great infographic describing each of the Panda milestones.
Panda 3.3: The Newest Member of the Cyber-Panda Fam
Unfortunately, there is little information regarding the latest Panda 3.3 update. Google notes that the update is intended to make the filter more responsive to recent changes on the web. Since the outcome of Panda can be a penalty for low quality sites, we view this update as an opportunity for penalized websites to recover more quickly. While purely speculation, it seems Google wants to make it easier for websites that have made an honest effort to remove their poor quality content to recover their pre-Panda search rankings.
This is great news for websites that have a true content marketing strategy. Whether you experienced a drop in your rankings or not over the past year, Google appears to be speeding up GoogleBot so new content gets indexed faster. Static websites with no content changes will continue to suffer while active websites with new information being added regularly will flourish. What can you do to keep the Google Panda happy?
1) Don’t copy content from other websites. If your competitor has a great “How To” guide or news story that’s relevant to you; resist the urge to copy and paste it onto your website. If you’re stealing someone else’s work, the Panda is going to bite you.
2) Develop a long term content strategy to update the pages on your website and create new pages.
- Systematically go through all of your existing pages and expand wording. Not sure what to change? Consider questions that you receive in your “Contact Us” forms or over the phone. If you answer those questions directly in your website it will show Google that you are refreshing your content to be more helpful for your visitors.
- Follow news and blogs about your industry and create new content on your site to address relevant and trending information. Is being eco-friendly important to your audience? Make a page describing your green business practices and certifications.
There will always be changes to Google and other search engines that impact search results.
As long as you regularly add quality content the Google Panda is harmless.