Google Panda 4.0 search algorithm update: what entrepreneurs can learn from the winners and losers

Published 29 May 2014 12:31, Updated 30 May 2014 11:17

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Google Panda 4.0 search algorithm update: what entrepreneurs can learn from the winners and losers

You have probably heard about Google’s Panda 4.0 search algorithm update by now. You might even have seen a list of the winners and losers from this update.

eBay received the most attention. The company lost 33 per cent of its organic traffic, according to several rank-trackers. And when big brands are penalised by Google, the search engine optimisation (SEO) community goes berserk and experts begin to speculate why.

However, it turns out that eBay wasn’t hit by the Panda 4 update at all. An anonymous source has revealed that eBay was hit by a manual penalty, which Google released in conjunction to Panda 4. As opposed to algorithmic adjustments like Panda 4, a manual penalty is the result of a human review of the website.

The Panda algorithm in fact would have affected entire domains, not individual pages. If eBay had been hit by Panda, you wouldn’t find their website when you search for “eBay” on Google.

So despite all the expertise of the SEO community, it’s still not clear why eBay was penalised – only Google and eBay know that.

Remember: eBay is a company with a team of some of the brightest SEO experts on the planet. If it was a known and obvious “black hat” violation, they wouldn’t have done it.

That’s the thing about SEO that few experts will admit: it’s often hard to identify the exact cause of a penalisation. Heck, sometimes it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t OK in SEO. What was hailed as “white hat” a few years ago is frowned on today.

The rules always change.

And when you do get hit, it can take months to recover – if ever.

Photo: Getty

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD – THE GREAT CONTENT GAME

So what should you do to avoid being penalised by Google? What can you learn from the companies that lost and those that gained?

Here’s my two cents.

The focus of SEO should be the user. The next time you’re about to do something to your website – be it adding a new link, publishing a new post or changing your site structure – ask yourself: would you do it if the search engines don’t exist? Does it make the information you present easier to navigate?

If the answer is yes, but doing it will break one of Google’s guidelines, do it anyway. These cases are rare. More often than not, there are ways to do things in a search-engine-friendly way (like no-following links).

And if the answer is no, don’t do it even if Google doesn’t specifically tell you not to do it.

Take the content you publish on your website (which is what Panda targets). Why would anyone write a 500-word, rehashed blog post like “5 ways to ____”?

There’s little chance anyone will bother reading it, and if by any chance they do, the question is: will they share it and will the content enhance your brand? If you’re Buzzfeed and it is core to your brand – then by all means do it.

The truth is, producing great content – the kind of content Google wants you to publish – is expensive. That’s true for any activity you do. If you want things done well, it’s going to cost you – time and money.

So what happens if your company doesn’t have the resources to produce a truly useful post?

Well, what do you do if your designer tells you she can only produce one campaign per month? Would you ask her to “just make something” to increase that frequency to one campaign per week?

Of course not. You reduce frequency, not your standard!

The same is true with blogging. If you can’t afford to do it weekly, reduce your blogging frequency from the oft-recommended once a week to a frequency you are comfortable with.

Put as much effort into publishing every blog post as you do if you’ve been invited to write for The New Yorker and you’ll see your organic traffic rise – without the fear of Panda striking.

Andre Pinantoan is the resident growth hacker at Pocketbook.

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