After four months of silence on the Google Panda front after May’s Panda 4.0 update, the next iteration of Panda is here. Referred to as Panda 4.1, the update isn’t big enough to warrant the title of “5.0,” but is significant enough to have search marketers scrambling.
Building on the intentions of its predecessors, the Panda 4.1 continues Google’s tradition of gradually weeding out low-quality content in favor of well-written, informative, engaging content. Sites with aggregated or copied content, such as lyric databases and medical content hubs, seem to have been hit the hardest by this iteration of Panda, suggesting that Google’s duplicate content detection is becoming more sophisticated. On the flip side, small- to medium-sized businesses with diverse original content are seeing a boost.
The update started rolling out officially on September 25, 2014, and became active in gradual updates that spanned through the first week of October. Most companies have already seen the gains or losses from this update, so if you haven’t noticed your rankings change in the past few weeks, don’t worry—Panda 4.1 probably didn’t affect you.
Still, Panda 4.1 has changed the world of search yet again, and if you want to take advantage of it and prepare for the next phases of Google’s evolution, there are several strategic changes you’ll need to make:
Sites with volumes of duplicated content are the ones who have been hit hardest by Panda 4.1. Now is your chance to get rid of the dead weight. Look throughout your site and your blog to find any articles that might be partly replicated from an outside source. Just because you don’t plagiarize work doesn’t mean you’re not at risk—extended quotes, attributed work from outside authors, and paraphrased sections could all register as duplicated material, and could hurt your overall ranks. If you find any content that could be seen as a duplicate from another source, get rid of it.
“Thin” content is a vague term, referring to content that is densely packed with keywords, light on value or specificity, or shoddily written. We’ve all seen content like this, so it should stick out like a sore thumb—especially in comparison to a longer, more detailed piece. Go through your previously published material and review the pieces of content that look like they’ve been scrapped together. You have two options for these pieces: either delete them, or take the time to revise them and turn them into a similar, but more valuable piece.
Depending on the current level of your content marketing strategy, this change could be enormous or barely noticeable. Moving forward, all your content needs to be of the highest quality—that means based on an original idea, written by an expert, and highly detailed. Don’t worry as much about the frequency of your posts; if a piece of content isn’t as high quality as you’d like it to be, do not publish it. It’s better to have a smaller number of better-quality posts than a greater number of lesser entries. You may be doing this already, but it’s still a good idea to revisit your strategy and see what positive changes you can make.
Google wants to see high-quality, authoritative content. If you want to be seen as authoritative, you need to back up your facts and provide references to support your claims. The best way to do that is to provide in-text links pointing to outside, authoritative sites. It’s a way of leveraging the current status of well-established sites to bolster your own authority. As you continue writing new content, experiment with posting more outbound links to build your own credibility. Make sure to use a diverse range of sources to avoid spamming any one source with an excessive number of backlinks.
Embedded images in your blog posts do two things: first, they look more enticing to your readership, giving you greater reader retention and more reader satisfaction. Second, they give your content the appearance of detail, and make your content seem more valuable according to Google. Include infographics in the body of your blog posts to illustrate a point with information; if they are original, they’ll naturally attract backlinks and assist your strategy in multiple ways. Otherwise, include any relevant images you can find (as long as they’re legal to use) to complement the text on your page.
According to the recent leak of Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, author expertise is an important factor in evaluating the authoritativeness of a piece of content. Instead of trying to make your content seem like it was written by an expert, have your content actually written by an expert. Include author credentials at the bottom of each published article, identifying the author’s name, title, and area of expertise. If you do this consistently, and offsite content also features this author’s name, you’ll effectively build that author’s authority, and your content will be seen as higher quality. It’s a small change that could add up to major results.
Despite all the changes that the Penguin updates have made to the world of backlink building, backlinks are still tremendously important for building a site’s authority. This change is essentially the strategy I covered in point 4, but in reverse. If a high-quality site, such as an information database or a .edu site, links to one of your articles, that article will be seen as much more credible, giving you a Panda-proof boost in authority. If you can incorporate more of these high-authority backlinks into your link building campaign, your domain’s overall authority will significantly increase.
The best ongoing new strategy you can adopt in response to Panda 4.1 is a regular content audit. On a monthly or bi-monthly basis, take an hour to review all the new onsite content that’s been published since your last audit. Carefully review each piece to determine its quality; check for originality, authoritativeness, and level of detail. If any of these pieces does not meet your quality standards, either get rid of it or revise it to make it comply. Doing this regularly keeps you vigilant, and keeps your content quality from ever declining or putting you at risk for another Panda-related drop in rank.
Google is notorious for keeping online marketers on their toes, and it has continued that reputation with this latest update. With Panda 4.0 coming in May and 4.1 rolling out in September, Google could be back on a quarterly (or near-quarterly) updating pattern, like it was for previous iterations of Panda. If that’s the case, it could mean another major update is on the horizon for December or January.
Stay sharp and keep your strategy up-to-date, and you’ll likely ride past the next Panda update with no mysterious drops in rank. You might even get a boost!