Google Panda - An overview of changes

When it was first launched back in February 2011, Google Panda caused quite the stir in the marketing world.

However, it quickly became clear that it was merely the search engine's latest clampdown on quality, as it sought to lower the ranking of poor quality or 'thin' sites and reward those with content laced with expertise, trustworthiness and authority.

Originally the update affected around 12 per cent of searches and as seen with other Google algorithms like Penguin, Google has continued to refresh and refine it in an effort to make it even more effective.

Google Panda 4.0

This brings us to Google Panda 4.0, which was released towards the end of May. A huge update, it affected around 7.5 per cent of English queries. This can see sites as a whole or a single aspect fall victim to the algorithm, but being penalised is indicative of poor quality.

As with any big change rolled out by Google, rankings fluctuate as the new criteria was applied. One of the biggest losers was eBay, which lost around 80 per cent of its best search results in the aftermath despite being Google's second best customer for paid shopping.

The cause of this dramatic change was thought to be the number of low-quality category pages eBay carries. This is a common issue in e-commerce companies and underlines just how important it is for marketing materials to be of a high quality, regardless of who the target audience is.

Just a few low quality or duplicated pages can bring about a reduction in traffic to the site, no matter how good the rest of the portal is. In order to avoid such a fate, Google recommends removing the offending pages, blocking them from being indexed or simply rewriting them.

Quality has never been more important

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, said the overriding goal of marketers and site owners should be to make sure all content produced is of a high quality.

"[Create] the sort of content that people really enjoy, that's compelling, the sort of thing that they'll love to read that you might see in a magazine or in a book, and that people would refer back to, or send friends to, those sorts of things," he stated.

So, what does this mean for duplicate content? The key to avoiding the Panda pitfall is to add value to every page that currently has duplicate content in an effort to make it unique, or combine all of the pages to make one high-value proposition.

What Panda 4.0 highlights is the importance of having a consistent content strategy that is relevant to the brand. This means social media, PR, email campaigns and PPC need to be aligned and a range of different forms of content (blogs, thought leadership, infographics etc.) should be created to interact with your target audience.

The bottom line is brands should always be looking to entertain and/or educate. Of course, if you have been following the golden rule of producing high-quality content all along, you should have nothing to worry about.