The Google Panda Update vs The Small Business

Google Panda update and small businesses

If you pay any attention to search or tech news, then you have probably heard the term  “Google Panda Update”. While its hard to keep up all the changes to the secret Google search algorithm, the Panda update is a major change to the way search results are calculated.

The Google Panda Update is trolling through cyberspace realigning rankings of websites, sending minor tremors through website owners and SEOs across the net. It is, possibly, the most dramatic and documented change in the search engine’s history.

The first roll out of Google Panda update came out in March 2011, armed with the objective of reshuffling the search rankings in order to push down websites with poor quality, plagiarized or one-step-above spam content. Its most recent update, Panda 2.2, made changes to the algorithm to improve its ability to detect scraper sites and spammy content.

In its goal to separate the good from the bad, the black from the white, the Panda update cast the net far and wide into cyberspace and effectively captured a vast gray area.  Several thousand of businesses, even those with apparently high-quality content sites, are now caught in the complicated web of algorithmic warfare that the Panda launched.

Panda had a sweeping effect on many small and local business owners and their websites.  For example, a local business that carries a line of products may use the product description on their website, copied right from the manufacturer website.  This would result in a penalty for both duplicate and thin content.  Local websites have been able to get away with average quality content in the past, but under the new rules of Panda, these same websites have been shuffled down in the search engine rankings.

The Panda has changed the way website owners look at their content. In the pre-Panda world, as webmasters following the holy grail of ‘web-defined good content’, you may have been doing things by the book: Creating high quality content, optimizing the use of key search words and providing easy accessibility to search engines. Panda has changed the rules of the game. It is forcing you, as a website owner, to think out-of-the-box, to redefine the parameters of high quality.

Panda necessitates you to think of each page of your website as a separate and distinct entity and to go beyond using keywords and unique content. As a website owner, the objective now is to look at the web-viewing experience in its entirety. To make the experience of visiting your site a memorable one for the user, enough that he or she shares it with others. Given the scale of the operating functionality of the update, all business owners in general have been affected by it; small business owners are not an exception. For websites, it is not just a matter of escaping the Panda, but about coming out on top.

While there is no foolproof method by which one can dissect the algorithmic preferences of the Panda, there are ways to preempt the Panda threat and protect your rankings in search engines.

Quality Content

Given the premium placed on quality content, you would think that well written and distinctive content would suffice to improve your SEO rankings. You would be wrong. With the Panda on the prowl, even copious content, however good, would only serve to provide a feast for the Panda’s insatiable hunger as it bumps websites off the front page left and right. The benchmark of ‘good’ content is not only using the right number of key search words or ensuring grammatical perfection, but how the content grades from a user experience perspective.  Small businesses need to redefine their concept of quality and focus on adding content that captures the user’s attention.  Content that is interestingly written, anecdotal in spirit, and informative in nature. Make the content interesting and creative, and the Panda’s hunger is satisfied.

The Panda update can have a negative effect on a website if the site has even one page of poor-quality content. This could include pages that are heavy on the advertisements or are more functional than well-designed. You need to either block out those pages on the site that would be deemed to be of poor quality or redesign the page.

Site Design and User Experience

The Panda update is quite creative and complex, and is even a tad bit superficial. The manner in which a page is designed and its visual attractiveness to the user is important when pursuing a higher ranking. A beautifully designed page is more visited, shared and tweeted about than its indifferently created counterpart. Once the user’s interest and attention have been hooked, it is imperative to make sure that the experience of visiting the page ranks high on the user’s experience. Businesses should think from the perspective of the user and the things he would look out for as he delves deeper into your website. Advertisements, though a necessity of the trade, should not overwhelm the page and navigation through the site should be simplified. Google has stated proposed the question, “Would a user be comfortable giving their credit card to this website?”  While not all website need a SSL certificate, any sites that deal with user data definitely need to have this base covered. Panda puts a good amount of value on user security and protection.

On Page Factors

There are several elements on a page that can help businesses earn higher rankings. Advertisements are essential tools of the trade and websites have recognized their intrinsic value in garnering profits over the short term. The Panda, however, takes a jaundiced view of pages that have a higher concentration of ads and unceremoniously bumps them lower in the rankings. While ads are important for businesses to achieve a healthy bottom line, they will come at the cost of lower rankings in the search engines. Businesses need to ensure that the proportion of advertisements on the page  do not overwhelm the content or design of the page. A page that is low in unique content  will also suffer poor rankings. Businesses should ensure that the content they showcase on the pages of the site has at least some unique aspect that distinguishes it from the horde. Proper and unique metas are also a must.

Thin Sites

Thin is definitely not in if you are a small business with a fat capital aspiring for a healthy bottom line and rankings. This sites refer to websites with just the bare minimum of available content.  Offer the Panda slim pickings and it will deem you too skinny for a high ranking. Any page on a website with thin content would be of poor quality and uninformative, hence of no worth to the user. For instance, a product description that contains only technical specifications of said product, with no added details about its functioning or use to the prospective buyer. Another reason a website could be classified as thin is multiple pages with content very similar to other pages on the same site. This can be solved by blocking the duplicate URLs from the search engines and leaving just the main page of content viewable.

Some sites also face the problem of internal and cross-site duplicates. Cross-site Duplicates are a result of similar content spread across more than one domain. This is easily resolved if you own all the Cross-site Duplicates – all you have to do is tag the preferred site and choose a source version.

Almost internal duplicates and almost internal cross-site duplicates will also cause the Panda to pounce. This refers to sites where only some of the content, maybe a headline or a few sentences and words – have been changed. The only solution to this is blocking such sites from the search engine spiders or reworking the content.

Backlinks

Backlinks form an essential source of SEO rankings but businesses should be careful that their backlinks are obtained from reputed and creditable websites. Obtaining spammy or low-quality backlinks is inviting the Panda to bump you down the rankings. Linking from scammy and bad neighborhood websites will also drive your rankings into the dirt. It is essential to choose another website for backlinking that is related to your own business. For instance, if you are a manufacturer for automobile parts, you would want links from high-quality websites also in the automotive niche.

Social Signals

This Panda is a social creature. So, if you are tweeting, tagging, posting, blogging, following or being following, the chances are that you will find favor with the Panda. It will not only help improve our rankings, but your business will also gain a higher visibility. Social networking across the multiple social media is an important function for businesses with a virtual presence and may see an increased boost from the Google Panda update. Google has publicly verified the value of social signals.  One of Google’s top public engineers, Matt Cutts speaks on the issue in this video.

Businesses that want to succeed or even survive in the search engine rankings must adapt their SEO strategy and websites or perish. Several websites have been unfortunate victims of the Panda update. The only way out of being caught in a never-ending cesspool of low rankings is working around the possible pitfalls. As it is difficult accurately to predict the inner workings of the Panda update’s algorithms, Panda-proofing your content and website is a preventative measure every website owner should take. These guidelines only serve as a blueprint on which to build on as you work to adjust and adapt to the new rules of the Google. Working towards improving your site doesn’t have to lead to higher costs, because ensuring high quality does not necessitate hiring more writers or web strategists. It involves improving the quality of the writing and understanding user mentality.

The Google Panda update has completely changed the facet of online search engine marketing. Large content farms have had their search engine ranking positions reduced and many smaller websites are now appearing at the top of search results in local markets. Small business search engine rankings are not limited by their marketing budget but by the quality of their content. Businesses that effectively use this opportunity to put out high-quality content and employ out-of-the-box and creative solutions to out-think the Panda are liable to succeed with a high ranking. If you mind your own business effectively, the Panda will most assuredly mind his.

Here is a video from SEOMOZ that goes into details about the new world of search after the Google Panda Update

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Blair Neher

Blair Neher

Chief Primate at Talking Monkey Media
Blair Neher is the owner/operator of Talking Monkey Media, a web solutions company based in Richmond, Va. Blair writes about all things Web and Small Business related. Read more About Talking Monkey Media. Connect with Blair on Google+, Twitter, or LinkedIn.