Webmasters and SEO professionals the world over were quaking in their boots when Matt Cutts, Google's head of Webspam, casually announced on Twitter that Google were beginning to roll out their next major algorithm update - Panda 4.0.
The fear surrounding these Google algorithm updates stems from previous experience. In 2011, the first iteration of Panda was released to devastating effect on the organic rankings of many websites, followed in 2012 by Penguin, with similar results.
This time around, the story has been slightly different. Again, many sites suffered crippling losses to their organic traffic - and the big boys weren't safe either. Ebay reportedly lost 75% of their rankings on their major keywords, according to SearchMetrics.
However, it hasn't all been doom and gloom with Panda this time around. There's been a lot of fluctuating, which suggests we might still be in a testing phase before the major rollout, but some sites have seen major ranking increases, as these analytics screen grabs from Search Engine Watch show:
This is not an isolated case, many winners have emerged in the wake of Panda 4.0. As there hasn't been a Panda update on this scale in over a year, this suggests that webmasters have been heeding Google's warnings about content over the past 12 months.
What have these winners done differently?
Seeing a massive jump in rankings after the rollout of Panda 4.0 points to only one thing. Quality content. "Content Marketing" is a buzz word that has been spoken about a lot over the last one to two years, and the latest ranking shifts show that a lot of people have been doing it well.
Content Marketing can help you from both a Panda and a Penguin perspective. Penguin focuses on the quality and relevance of your backlinks, as well as how natural they appear. Panda looks at the quality of content on your site. By creating quality content, you address both sides as it attracts quality links!
Ebay suffered at the hands of the latest Panda update because they were previously ranking with many thin content "doorway" pages, consisting of only a small image and a short title. Sites who have been focusing on pumping out lots of good quality, lengthy articles and other useful content should have seen a rankings rise.
If you want to improve in the rankings at the hands of Panda, then this is the strategy you must adopt. It is too late to see dramatic increases from this update, but Google performs minor refreshes on their algorithms all the time, which will help you out if you're following their guidelines. If you follow this strategy, you could be in line to reap some serious benefits by the time the next major overhaul comes along.
There's also some rumblings that all of this increased Google activity means that a major Penguin algorithm update could also be imminent. You'll need a pretty clean backlink profile to survive that one if it comes, so it's a good idea to constantly be creating great content to attract natural links from authority websites.
Quick Checklist for Wild Panda Attack Survival
- Unique content - no duplication across your site or on others
- Lengthy content (aim for 500 words, minimum)
- Fresh Content - your site updates regularly
- Well written content
- Content that doesn't appear to be written for search engines 6 years ago. People used to stuff their pages with the keywords they wanted to rank for. Stuff like "What's the best way to buy blue widgets? Do you know what the benefits of buying blue widgets is? If you buy blue widgets, you'll see immediate benefits. Buy blue widgets today!"
Google is much more savvy than it used to be. Doing this doesn't help you to rank for "buy blue widgets", it just sends Google a signal that you're a spammy website, and Panda likes to eat those sites up and spit them out a lot further down on the search results page.