Last Tuesday I gave a presentation on SEO Tactics to Tame the Panda at A4U London, alongside Kevin Gibbons. The presentation was aimed at affiliates who had been hit by the Panda update although the majority of techniques that I provided could be used on any website that was hit.
Panda first hit in the US back in February 2011, affecting up to 12% of all Google search results. Since then, there have been five iterations of the update, excluding the update that took it globally with the exception of Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.
Since I started creating my deck a few months ago, there were three updates with one only days before I was about to present. In my honest opinion I don’t believe that this is over just yet, and that Google will continue to edit the algorithm and roll it out.
What Google Recommends
Google actually provide us with some advice on what to do to avoid being hit by the Panda update, as seen below.
“you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”
From the paragraph above I have bolded 3 key points, that I feel you need to focus on.
Use your analytics software to identify content that is under-performing by viewing user metrics such as page views, bounce rate & exit rates. Although not the only metrics that you should look at, they allow you to identify pages that potentially could contain poor or out of date content that may need to be looked at.
Quality of Content:
The main function of the Panda update is to help improve the quality of content available for internet users. Basics such as grammar, spelling and stylistic errors across your entire content portfolio could be damaging. Matt Cutts talks about how there is direct correlation between good quality content and high page rank & domain authority.
Google provides you with a list of 23 quality questions as a guideline to what type of things they might be looking at when crawling the content. I would recommend that you use these questions as a guideline, put them in a survey to send out to your clients, customers or a survey group that will provide you an unbiased opinion on your content. The results from your survey can provide you with the basis of improving your content.
Thin content provides users with limited information about the topic you are describing. If you are not providing enough information to your users then why would you expect there to be enough information for a search engine? Ideally you need to improve any content that is below 200 words in length and try to expand that to at least 350 words. If you believe that the content can’t be expanded, then you can either remove the page and redirect it to a relevant page or you can use the noindex tag to remove it from the Google Index.
This problem has been around since long before the Panda update, but it seems to have been given a significant amount of weight in the latest update. Removing duplicate content alone has seen results for many websites, and is something that needs to be addressed quickly. Use tools such as Google Webmaster Tools or ScreamingFrog to identify the duplicate content to be removed.
Syndicated Content & Product Feeds
Many websites, affiliates included, use syndicated content on their site, adding to the issue of duplication. The inclusion of syndicated content also means that you are providing the same content as many other sites, reducing the chances of you achieving a high ranking position. Product feeds follow a similar theme to syndicated content where they are used across tens, hundreds or even thousands of different sites all displaying the same content. Getting this content re-written will help to provide your users with unique and valuable content.
Choose 100 of your top selling products and have these re-written first, and then move on to the next 100 taking things step-by-step. You can outsource this work to places such as Copify, Textbroker or even hire an intern or a college student who is interested in making some money, to help with the process.
Design & Page Layout
Although there is no clear evidence that design and page layouts will drastically turn your fortunes around, it is recommended that your website should be at least current in design. I am not suggesting that you go out and get your entire site re-built from the ground up using HTML5, because Google see no preference in that. But if your site hasn’t been re-designed for 10 years then I feel that you really should look to get it updated.
Page layout should be your main focus for any design change, providing more content above the fold, whilst trying to reduce the number of adverts that are prominent within your text. Reduce the number of adverts from 3–4 to 1-2 and move them into either the sidebar, header or footer so that they are not within the text.
Link Building & Social Shares
Link building is a massive part of any SEO strategy and even more so for affiliates, who might not get natural links like larger brands. When it comes to link building to an affiliate site, you need to concentrate more on deep page link building, rather than link building just to the homepage. Offer social media buttons on pages that you believe offer good content such as product pages, blog posts, and knowledge centres, etc. This will make it easier for people to share your content with their social community and potentially improve your link profile.
Many of the suggestions and tactics that I made within the presentation were to remove low quality or thin content, replacing it with good content that your users want to see. The following ideas are suggestions on how to create content that your users want to read.
The presentation finished by looking at a case-study on HubPages who had been hit massively in the first Panda update.
According to the SearchMetrics data, Hubpages lost 85% visibility across their keyword portfolio, dropping from 182k key phrases to just 26k overnight. For any business this is a significant loss in keywords, and although rankings are not the best measurement for SEO, it is still significant.
Since that update HubPages have worked hard using a lot of the techniques described in the presentation, to improve the quality and reduce thin content throughout their website. HubPages also went further, moving all the authors on to separate sub-domains isolating any author that wrote poor content. Since making those changes, and after the Panda 2.5 update HubPages saw their keyword visibility rise to over 761k. What I see as most significant for HubPages is the fact that they now have more visibility than before the 1st Panda update.
Although not something that could be recommended for every website I would analyse and test, whether moving areas of the website onto sub-domains will help reduce the penalty that has been enforced on your website by the Panda update.
If you were at the session I would love to hear your feedback and comments below. If you were unable to get to A4U, I hope this provides you with some insight into what I talked about and of course I also welcome your comments.