Google’s Panda 4.0 and What It Means for Small Business Owners

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  • May 20, 2014
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I know you know this, but it needs repeating because of some recent changes that can affect you: People use Google search to find things.  Panda is a component of an algorithm (the “engine” in Google’s search engine) that Google introduced in 2011 to help its users find the websites with the best content that matches what they are looking for.

The fact that the release of the latest version of Panda (4.0) has a zero after the decimal point is significant. It suggests that this new version has some really big changes that can affect where your business’ website shows up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) people get once they pull the trigger on their Google search request.

Again, I know you know this, but you want to be at the top of the very first SERP they see when they are searching for you and your products and services. Panda 4.0 (implemented on May 20, 2014) MIGHT change where you show up in those SERPs but only IF you ignore the changes and don’t account for them in the quality of the web content.

From a brass tacks perspective, it’s too early to know for sure what the 4.0 version is going to mean for you. A statistic about eBay’s rankings in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the 4.0 release has created a lot of buzz:

According to Moz.com, eBay’s main sub-domain lost 80% of its organic rankings (results that show up on SERPs but not in a paid ad), going from number 6 on May 18 to number 25 on May 20 in Moz’s ranking of the domains with the most real estate on the SERPs.

All the analysis going on among social media experts centers around the debate about whether these changes to Panda (like the ones that happened in July of 2013) will further “soften” or “harden” the effects on small businesses’ rankings that came with Panda’s initial release in 2011.

But some of the blogging going on seems to be missing the point of Panda – to help people find quality web content.

In other words, Panda’s reason for being is NOT to give larger companies an advantage over small businesses but to help people find the content, products and services that most closely align with what they need, want and can afford.

So, at the risk of being redundant, here are some things I know you know but that you need to hear again.

The Definition of Quality Content Has Not Changed

Quality content can be defined by what it is not. Websites should not be:

  • Lists of links to other websites (especially other low-quality sites) and not much else (a technique referred to as offering “thin content” or the label for these types of sites being “content farms”)
  • Lacking in links TO the site FROM authoritative websites
  • Pages of key-word-stuffed sentences and paragraphs that sound as if they were written by a robot (but are filled with hot-topic search terms, even some that have nothing to do with this site’s subject matter)
  • Lots of pretty pictures with no substantive text narrative that “marries” with the pictures to tell a company’s story (see the “thin content” comment in the first bullet above)
  • Filled with ads that distract from the website’s purpose (and may have little or nothing to do with its industry)
  • Poorly written text filled with sub-standard spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax
  • Blog posts and articles clearly plagiarized from elsewhere with little or no thought given to the message that comes from this site’s owners and not properly attributed to the original source
  • Content that has not been made fresh on a regular basis with the latest and greatest industry-specific information
  • The same topics reiterated on page after page of the site to trick people into “drilling down” into the site when there is “no real there there”

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Does the search engine really know what quality website content is? The answer is “yes,” and it knows more and more with each new release of Panda. Like Santa, it has a list and it’s checking it twice. What is it going to find out about your website’s naughtiness or niceness?

The Rules for Writing Content That Gets Your Site Found Have Not Changed

Some of the most important imperatives for how people discover your products and services on your website are the same as they have always been since before Panda’s birth in 2011:

  1. Write unique, believable, in-depth, researched (but not copied wholesale) content. Don’t worry about how long the article is; in fact, longer (1,000 words or more) seems to be better in Panda’s new playbook. Instead, concern yourself with the topic’s relevance to your industry and the issues your clients face day to day. If they’re reading what you write on their smart phone, they’ll keep scrolling because they are interested in and believe what you have to say.
  2. Employ good writers and editors. If you have neither the expertise nor the inclination to do more than rehash other people’s content, power partner with professional writers and editors.
  3. Link with other “white hats” (reputable residents of the Internet). Guest post on your power partners’ sites and have them do the same on yours. Reciprocal links will help people (and the search engines) see that you are a giant among giants.
  4. Work with search engine optimization (SEO) and social media experts. People with legitimate experience in the workings behind your web pages and the mechanics of getting your brand recognized will not offer you ways to game the system. Instead, they will show you how to get the best organic and paid-for results possible for you.
  5. Remember the power of “and.” The answer to the question, “Do I provide products and services OR do I provide content?” is “yes.” Blog articles, white papers, product demos, pre-recorded webinars and e-books are a few of the ways you have to be noticed and taken seriously. It has always been true that the best method for marketing what your company offers is by establishing and maintaining your reputation. The information you provide on your site alongside the descriptions of your products and services is not a nice-to-have; it is how people know they can trust you to know what you’re doing.

What Does Panda 4.0 Really Mean to Your Business?

You know the answer to this, but I will confirm it for you. You are only as good as your reputation. Google has always caught up with and punished shortcuts, lack of integrity, shoddy information and websites that are dead-ends for their users in honest pursuit of companies they can know, like and trust enough to do business with them. And that’s you, right? (Of course it is!)

What are your thoughts? Have you noticed a drop or rise in your search engine rankings?

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