Google algorithmic updates are often met by fear. It’s understandable, of course. Google has a reputation for both making and breaking websites. A strong ranking can boost business while a Google penalty can send your site into a search engine black hole. The recent Panda 4.0 update left webmasters wondering if they should duck and cover. However, many small business owners can relax their guard. As per previous Panda updates, Panda 4.0 focuses on weeding out shallow or spammy content, and every update since Panda 1.0 has prepared webmasters for the regular Google quality check.
What is a Panda update?
In February 2011, Google introduced Panda updates. These were algorithmic updates that were meant to stop websites with poor-quality content from reigning in search results. Back then, this was a big shift. Approximately 12% of Google search queries were affected, leaving some sites suffering 90% drops in traffic. Small businesses took a large hit when Google rolled out Panda 1.0. They sank to the back of search engine rankings while big brands took over.
Regular Panda updates have forced sites to undergo major SEO changes since then. Sites that cater to search engines no longer enjoy success. Instead, sites that cater to users now dominate the rankings.
What does Panda 4.0 mean for small businesses?
Before the release of Panda 4.0, Matthew Cutts (the head of Google’s Webspam team) made an announcement at the SMX conference, where he stated that the new update would be a “soft” update that would favor small businesses. How accurate was this statement?
There has certainly been a switch in regards to the websites suffering under this update. Well-known big businesses have taken the hit this time. Ebay lost 80% of their organic traffic overnight due to its thin content on landing pages. Popular informational sites like Examiner and Health lost due to a lack of text content. Meanwhile, less well-known websites have risen in the rankings. It seems the advantage now given to small businesses is that they can rank alongside or even higher than big brands that were previously considered authorities. Content is king with Google, and evening the playing field is a beneficial move for small businesses willing to work hard and play by the rules.
How do businesses obtain strong ranking?
There are ways to survive each Panda update. If you’ve dropped in ranking at some point, the next update can even reverse the damage. Here are six ways to stay ready for a Panda update:
- Original, quality content: This cannot be stressed enough. Copied content is penalized. Low quality, thin, uninformative content is penalized.
- Longform content: Google considers short content to be unsubstantial. Aim for at least 500 words when possible.
- No overoptimization: This includes practices such as keyword stuffing and suspicious backlinks.
- User-focused design: Focus on a good user experience. Content should be easier to find than ads.
- Natural links: These are the opposite of links used on overoptimized sites. Use relevant links to expert pages. Links to social sites are also considered in rankings.
- Know the ‘right’ sites: The last thing you want is to be guilty by association. Make sure your links and your partner sites are all of good quality.
How to recover a ranking
You can recover if you have been affected by Panda. As mentioned above, another update could fix your ranking. Don’t count on it happening without work though. Good sites can and have gotten hit in Panda updates, but don’t assume a drop in ranking is just bad luck. Use the tips above to double-check your website quality. If everything seems fine, check for any background issues. Broken links, confusing site maps, and unseen technical issues that impede Google’s crawlers can all affect your ranking.
(There are ways to fix up your site and send in a reconsideration request to Google. However, this usually does not work with algorithm updates since you have not technically been penalized.)
Will your website survive these Panda update and every update to come? Be brutally honest about this assessment and make changes to your site if needed. The Panda 4.0 update has given some businesses a chance at the high rankings that they haven’t been able to attain since Panda 1.0. Provide quality content and user friendliness, and this chance could be what’s needed for your business to benefit from Google ranking.