Impact of the Latest Google Panda Update on Publishers

How to recover from the Google Panda update with high quality content

3d Cowboy pandaGoogle Panda has been strong-arming content producers into improving their content since 2011. Occasionally they update their algorithm, just like they recently updated Pirate 2.0 and Penguin 3.0., to make sure we’re doing our due diligence.

As a company that packs consulting, website development and content development into one package for our Gold Member clients, we have the distinct advantage of data. Every month we compile the data from each of our member portals to determine their ebbs and flows. With access to this data, and the brains behind it, we can actually paint broader strokes of analysis when it comes to SEO – because we can also watch the ebb and flow of Google and its algorithm.

Let’s talk for a minute about high quality content, and why Google needs updates like Panda. The reality is, their algorithm isn’t smart enough, yet, to tell good content from bad – they can only go on generic standards that a robot can read. I mean, they can read them pretty well, but they’re not human. Because of this, they fall back on things like keywords, external links and your own interlinking.

In some cases, their results are going to be questionable, and we’re going to be punished for things we haven’t done wrong, even when we focus on high quality content. It’s not perfect, but there is a quarter of a billion pages indexed on the web right now, and Google is doing its best to give search users the best results.

The gist of how Google’s Panda update impacted the 20 Mequoda sites that are using our Haven Nexus system is that only 25% of our clients felt the impact. From these sites, our Lead Analyst Norann Oleson looked at the five posts from each site that took the biggest hits (sometimes losing thousands of search visits per month) to determine the commonalities. Were they long? Short? Did they have interlinks? Is the content new? Is it old? We dove deeply into each set.

Other sites might also take into account whether the content was well written, or if there were typos and other issues that Google doesn’t like. Our advantage is we work with publishers – they don’t write crap. We don’t work with a single publisher who is not producing high-quality content. That’s table stakes here.

And as usual Google proves you can still be producing high quality content and still take a beating.

After 90 days of intense effort by the Mequoda Research Team and our Gold Member Organizations, we’re now ready to share our most current best practices with the entire Mequoda Membership.

These are the lessons we took from Norann’s results:

Update old blockbuster posts

Look at your top 100 traffic-driving blog posts, your SEO blockbusters. If you’re a Mequoda Gold Member, you can find these in the blockbuster section of your Google Visibility Report. Add any posts that have not been updated in the past year, to your editorial calendar.

Google used to love historic content, but our results show old blockbuster posts are dropping quickly from our reports since Panda, whereas they used to hold strong. Publishers who have since begun updating their old blockbuster posts are beginning to regain their rank.

We recommend adding a note to the bottom of your post, like “This post was originally published in 2008 and has been updated.” We do not recommend including the exact original publish date because we’ve discovered Google will often confuse it with the current publish date and use it in their search listing.

Old content can cause bad bounces in Google, which may be a signal they’re taking more seriously with Panda. A bad bounce is when the user clicks back in their browser, and then clicks on another entry other than yours, telling Google that “the #1 guy doesn’t have what I want, and didn’t answer my question.”

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Write longer posts

Google hasn’t been shy about telling us that they want longer content – except now the signals are clear in the Panda results.

We’ve determined that 300 word posts are simply too short. Posts should be at least 500 words, preferably 800 or longer.

However, something else we discovered is that Google is reading content between internal links. So for example, a 300-word post that links to two other 300 word posts contextually may be read as 900 words. The only short posts that survived our analysis linked to other posts on similar topics.

We have a publisher that never puts up a post with less than three interlinks from other articles. What’s easier, write 500 more words, or link to content you’ve already written if it’s helpful to the reader? If you have no posts over 300 words, then it’s important to start interlinking.

Link to other posts

Speaking of which, our results showed that posts that survived Panda had all of those interlinks I was just talking about.

Cross-referencing is important and something publishers have total control over. It’s slightly time consuming because it needs to be done thoughtfully and carefully, but it’s a very powerful way to tell Google that a post is important to the overall website scheme. It tells Google that a post has siblings and Google would rather send traffic to a post with links to related content because it’s more likely the user will find the information they’re looking for — which is what Panda is all about.

We are recommending that you link to at least three other posts on your site from every post you write. Be thoughtful about the posts you select.

This has been common SEO practice for some time, typically hyperlinking the keywords themselves, in fact, interlinking is a requirement for contributors to many major publishing outlets including, formerly owned by the New York Times Company.

Until next time

Guaranteed that Google will continue to surprise us with updates – sometimes good and sometimes bad. The takeaway from this specific update is to keep your content current, keep it long, and give readers more places to click for more information. Based on what we’ve learned, our own internal guidelines for new posts are as follows:

  • Update our top 100 traffic-driving posts once per year.
  • Every evergreen (not news) post should be at least 500 words, preferably at least 800.
  • If updating older 300 word posts, they should link to at least two other 300+ word posts.
  • Every post has at least three links to other posts on our site.

You might notice we haven’t even mentioned keywords or optimizing content and that’s because nothing has changed there – pick the best SEO keywords and write amazing content around them. We welcome you to try out our new best practices internally and report back on how they’ve impacted your overall site traffic.


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