My good friend and fellow WSI Internet Consultant Patrick Hogan is a regular guest author of our blog. In this post he gives a great explanation of the Google Panda update and how he is re-evaluating his content strategy with a live case study.

Savvy web marketers have always known that content is king on the Internet.  After all, for years, the words on the page and links to a website were the only way search engines had to figure out what a site is about.  It stood to reason that the more words you have on a site, the greater chance you had of matching up with the words people were typing into a search box.   Google also rewarded large sites and the consistent addition of content as a marker that websites were constantly contributing to the web.   So we naturally added pages about every word that might reflect the business of a company in order to gain search traffic and, eventually, revenue.

That philosophy can still work today and should work always on some level because sharing information is the foundation of the internet.   The problem with this strategy for the web in general is that some websites pushed out an incessant amount of content and pages which added no value because it was either poorly written, unnecessary, or repetitive.  Since Google is trying to give its customers the best results possible, they needed to get rid their index of these pretenders.

The Panda Update

As everyone familiar with Google knows, they are constantly upgrading the algorithm they use to make decisions on the ranking of sites to improve the choices they return to customers.  The latest change, called the Panda Update, tried to factor the actual site experience more into its ranking decision process.  Among many other things, Google started using human site reviewers to monitor the:

  • Experience of the user
  • Degree to which the content is compelling
  • Design of the site
  • Degree to which the words add value
  • Amount of essentially duplicate content with only variation in some words

The implications of this update were felt deeply by scraper sites (those who just take content, reword it, and publish it again), redundant sites, and those who “over developed” unnecessary pages for the sole purpose of adding words to their site.

Real World Example

Often times the best way to describe something is to relay a real life situation.  WSI works with Paradise Candied Fruit company on their website, ecommerce, and search engine optimization for candied fruit products.   Part of their offering is candied pineapple, which includes both glace and candied versions (they are both the same food form).  Each of those choices has three different colors plus the assortment version, or, a total of 8 products containing the exact same thing.   Since we developed a different page for each product, there was naturally quite a bit of redundant content because there are only so many ways you can describe candied pineapple.

Now the main pineapple page, Paradise candied pineapples, is out of the Google index.  We theorize this happened because Google’s Panda update determined the red, green and assorted pineapple offered far too much duplicate, unnecessary content.  Unfortunately, since red, green, and assorted pineapple offers unique content to the web, Google choose to expunge the most important “candied pineapples” page.  Our strategy to combat this situation is to build more links to the candied pineapple page to alert Google to the fact that it is important so they put it back into the index.  If that doesn’t work, we will consolidate all the colors of pineapples to one page.

This situation exemplifies the challenges of keeping up with search engines.  Even though we had no “spammy” intentions with all of our pages, the rules have changed and we have to change with them if we want to maintain position.

New Era for Webmasters

In addition to duplicate content issues, the Panda update also incorporates user experience much more than before.  It is theorized that Google is now considering analytics such as “pages per visit” and “time on site” to determine how valuable visitors find a website.  If they are smart, they utilize analytics as much as possible.   The job of SEO, Webmaster, and Marketing Manager are swiftly converging into one responsibility.  “Content is King” should now be amended to “Valuable Content is King” or “User Experience is King.”  Never before has a company needed more to hire a team or single consultant to transfer marketing goals to the internet.