Home SEO OMG your website’s been mauled by a PANDA – SEO 911 to the rescue?

OMG your website’s been mauled by a PANDA – SEO 911 to the rescue?

by Manas Chowdhury
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PANDA 4.1 for the layman

If you’re not a web master or an info architect, if you don’t know databases and really you just want to market yourself on the net with a good looking website, then all this ado about PANDA may have you scratching your head.

PANDA 4.1 is the latest update in the PANDA series introduced to the online world by Google back in 2011. The PANDA update was an algorithm change implemented by google to target low quality websites and those that were heavy in advertisements that depreciated end user enjoyment.

The Drop

In February of 2011 google introduced their algorithm change with PANDA 1.0 which affected 12% of all search returns. April of that same year brought out PANDA 2.0 which impacted another 2% of search returns and was quickly followed with 3.0 in October affecting yet another 2% of search returns.

Monthly updates were implemented throughout 2012 but 2013 was almost left untouched but for only two official updates announced for January and March.

Google brought another round of hard hitting updates with 4.0 in May of 2014 which impacted approximately 7.5 of all English search returns. Presently the newest update, PANDA 4.1, was released in September 23rd of 2014.

Google announced that the launch of 4.1 has resulted in 3-5% of queries being affected, but these numbers varied based on location.

Depending on how your website was affected in the search ratings you will either love it or hate it, but the common theme for every article ever written on the update is to stop reducing, reusing and recycling web content. PANDA seems to be cuddling up to new, innovative, subject specific content that’s information rich in nature and maiming what has been coined as “thin content” sites.

So what is “thin content” and how does PANDA work?

“Thin content” is exactly what it sounds like, a lack of content or little enough that PANDA bowls it over. For small or medium businesses that are still building their site content or have smaller sized web pages because their product or services are highly stream lined this could be an aggregating factor, excessive advertising above the fold (making content difficult to find), duplicate sites, or excessive key word tags. And the list goes on.

Here’s a detailed look at the content that PANDA is policing, as per the research of Josh Bachynski:

  • User dissatisfaction, content presentation/speed/white spaces, poorly written or bad content
  • Duplicate, Tagged or Category content
  • Duplicate page titles and Meta Descriptions
  • Blog page’s keywords chalk full of links
  • Off topic sites, or sites with too many topics
  • Outdated or misleading information
  • Single sentence pages, bad construction, poor grammar and spelling, errors on page etc.
  • Made for add sites (when the number of adds are so numerous above the fold users have a difficult time accessing or finding your content)
  • Where the main content of the page is below the fold
  • Distracting supplemental and sidebar content
  • Excessive text Ads and popups
  • Infamy with independent sites like the Better Business Bureau, Wiki and Scamreport
  • Page loading time (slower loading speeds contribute to end user dissatisfaction)
  • Broken links, Images that won’t load, the site is generally not maintained or updated

In essence PANDA is kind of like the unofficial police of the internet; offering support and suggestions to legitimate businesses and professionals while making it more difficult for sites, which could easily be mistaken for a legitimate business, but are not to maintain search value.

PANDA at its core is an indexing algorithm. Google uses googlebot to crawl over websites and PANDA will then index them into their data base (much like the index at the end of a book) to be pulled when an end user enters their search query.

If your site has garnered positive ratings based on user experience, has relevant, recently updated, and high quality content then your site will turn up say in page one or two of the search results. User ratings are not the only factor though, all of the above mentioned factors will also hinder your site’s visibility in the search results. Keep in mind that PANDA does and will affect legitimate sites if they are not meeting the checks and balances put in place to maintain end user experience.

So what do you do if your site gets mauled?

If you find that your web site has been mauled in the indexing process and showing low visibility in the search results, you may have to make some changes. In some cases these changes may mean that businesses will have to rely more heavily on web masters, brilliant writers or SEO writer, Information Architects, flushed out categories and subcategories or call in a fresh pair of eyes to review their web development, content and rate the end user experience; or in other cases, it may mean that they need to pare down repetitive content and fine tune it to subject specific content.

While this may seems like a lot of work, particularly if you’ve already invested hours of time, effort and energy into your website, not to mention the financial investment that developing a user friendly website can demand; Google’s crawler bot pays special attention to new and updated sites, as well as dead links.

There is hope.

Being that google bot pays special attention to new and updated sites; if your page ratings drop, a little bit of tweaking can bring your visibility back up to acceptable levels.

So what are the tweaks that most frequently have a positive effect on search ratings?

The tweaks a Web Developer, Content Writer, Information Architect etc. can apply to boost a site’s ratings back into an upswing are as follows:

  • Citing your authorities, using quality out links
  • Having informative hearty contact information and/or comprehensive contact information for customer/client service centers
  • Ensuring your main content displays before the fold line (you main body of text displays before the first 600px depending on who you talk too)
  • Use of trusted factors (ie your URL ends in .com, .org, .net, etc.)
  • Your site has a long standing domain name or public registration
  • Keep your information updated, often, with dates
  • Reach out to topical experts, have them review and cite your content . . . often
  • Ensure a there’s a clear design difference between your main content and the subset of your main content

Depending on the quality of your site, this may mean a big over haul or minimal updates here or there. While the idea of a big over haul may be daunting to some businesses, it could be viewed two ways:

  1. As a cash grab by the tech industry; or (preferably)
  2. As a new opportunity to re-invent the business to user interfaces that may very well be the first impression that potential clients and/or consumers will have of your business, service or product.

Which every way you choose to look at it, PANDA is here and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. If your business is your passion, then your site is worth the effort.

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