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Google’s Panda: Poor quality content and your rankings

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First released in February 2011, Google’s Panda algorithm is designed to lower the ranks of “low-quality sites”. This may seem like a good idea; of course you want bad sites to go to the bottom of Google and good sites to go to the top. But, what constitutes a “bad” site in Google’s eyes? And, how can you stop your own site coming under that category?

Of course, making sure that the content on your website is important for a multitude of reasons. But, with Google’s Panda being a real presence, you may find that any low quality content you have on your site seriously harms whatever good SEO you have. As spoken about previously in Why Badly Written Content and Bad SEO Don’t Mix, badly written content won’t help your SEO, but alongside that, it won’t help your rankings. But, getting penalised by Panda isn’t too hard to avoid, as long as you follow a few simple steps.

What does Panda do?

Panda functions as a filter, applying it to a pack of search results that Google considers relevant to a specific search query. With the algorithm, the quality of the content on the website will be judged, with “better” content helping websites to move to the top of Google. The basic principle is that Google assigns a quality score to each website. There are several factors that determine whether your website is high or low quality. Google won’t disclose what these exact factors are, but some of them are rather easy to work out.

Plus, the good thing is, you can influence these factors as part of your score. This is called a content audit.

Get a full navigation

Knowing where to start means knowing what you’re starting with. Get a list together of all of the pages on your website. It’s extremely important to know where everything on your website is to know how to change it, and what might be dragging your Panda score down. A great way to do this is to go on WebSite Auditor. It crawls your pages so you don’t have to (especially important on larger sites where a manual count would take a long time), giving you an easy to read and interpret list.

Depending on the size of your site will change what you’re looking for and how to go about changing it. For a small business websites (less than 100 pages), removing content isn’t something you can afford to do. You must go through and improve every page, instead of just deleting. This is something you should be doing anyway – making sure your website, as it is only between 5-20 pages, has high quality content on every single page.

Check each page for low word counts

Again, depending on how many pages you have, you will either be able to do this manually (by copying and pasting into a word count programme such as WordCounter), or you can use WebSite Auditor. When you check to see how many pages you have on your website, there will be a column next to the addresses with each page’s word count. Handy, eh?

Obviously, when it comes to websites, like novels, quality is more important than quantity. But, it’s difficult to get the kind of “quality” that Panda wants in 100 words. You may write something really fantastic in those 100 words, but it’s unlikely to get you to the top of Google. What you need to do is look at any pages below 250 words; these are the ones you need to add to.

However, don’t just write for writing’s sake. Make sure you’re putting in good content that reflects what the page and the site are about. Elaborate on locations served, on additional benefits, on what the company can do for you in these areas. Panda will see that and realise that your website has some high quality content on it.

Make sure there is no duplicated content

Duplicate content, on the whole, is a big no-no for any site. A few sentences here and there on a site with, between, 5-20 pages is acceptable. But, entire sections or pages being copied puts up a huge red flag. Not just with Panda, but Google as a whole. It looks spammy, and that’s not something you want for your website. Especially with small to medium businesses with a certain amount of pages (i.e. not 100 or over), you can easily read through each page to see if there’s any glaring copied content. An easy way to compare text is using Text Compare to check between two different pages.

Not just identical copying of text, but any content or titles that are very similar. Such as ‘Fantastic Deals on Kitchen Appliances in Bristol’ as the title of one page and ‘Fantastic Deals on Kitchen Appliances in Manchester’. Though they are technically about two different places, everything else in the title is the same. Make sure there are no two things that could be construed as being too similar. Otherwise, Panda will pick up on it and think that it’s content automation.

Check for aggregated content

If your website has content on it taken from another source (Amazon, eBay, for example), Panda will have a problem with it. Just like duplicated content, content taken from other sites (or, that other sites have taken from you) can really harm your score. Google portions of your text content to see if anything similar comes up on any other websites. Of course, a few sentences here and there aren’t going to make a huge difference, but entire paragraphs or pages will. Panda may consider you the content thief and penalise you for it.

Properly using keywords is, well, key

If you’re still using WebSite Auditor then go to Content Analysis, you will be able to enter the keywords for each page and compare them with your top ranking competitors. What you will then see is the average keyword statistics, comparing competitors’ pages with your own. It is easy to see from here which of your pages keyword stuff, as well as how they are doing compared to the page or website you have compared against. Take a look at where you’re falling behind regarding keywords, but also where you’re succeeding. If WebSite Auditor thinks that you’ve keyword stuffed, make sure you really look at that page and edit it.

With the Hummingbird algorithm update, this meant that synonyms or related terms to keywords will also help your rankings, not just the exact keyword. This means that if you are worried about your keywords, but are frightened are stuffing, it’s a good way to push your pages a little further.

Take a look at user engagement

Using Google Algorithms to check the traffic coming into and staying on each page will give you a good indication of whether it’s working or not. Yes, it’s the last resort, if everything else hasn’t worked, but it could show you a glaring issue with your website’ content. Try and lower your bounce rates by thinking about what the user wants to find. If they’re searched for a simple answer to a question then they’ll likely leave as soon as they’ve found it. But, if you’re selling something, or have a larger description of a product or event and people are still clicking away, you need to look at why.

How can you improve this? But changing the content. By making it more interesting and engaging. Hook the reader in the first line and don’t let them go until they’re finished. Add calls to action, make sure you lead them somewhere and don’t finish their journey on that page.

What are the little things you can do to help?

Simple checks really. Grammar and spelling across the site, for one. Having glaring mistakes in your content really doesn’t sell you as a professional business. Run your pages through Grammarly, or copy and paste into a Word Document and check through manually. It should be something you do anyway, but just in case it slipped you by, it can make a world of difference to your content.

Other than that, anything obvious: check it. Act like a user of your website and see if there’s anything staring you in the face. Is something inaccessible because of an advert? Are there broken links? Do some pages just not go anywhere? Improving the quality of your website in turn improves the quality score that Panda will give you. Which, in turn improves your rankings on Google. Which is what we’re all trying to achieve! Right?

Just remember that if you have poor quality content on your site: don’t panic! Everything can be worked at and changed, it may take some work but you’ll get there. Follow what’s in this article as a starting point, but build on it. You’ll be creating great quality content before long, and you won’t even need to worry about Panda!