Google Panda: What it could mean for you

Pandas, by and large, are pretty useless creatures. They spend most of their time sitting around eating bamboo or doing nothing, and when they’re not doing that they’re generally asleep. In fact, apart from being outrageously cute they don’t really seem to bring anything to the table, which is just as well since they’re not even tasty enough for us to eat them. Not to be discouraged though, they nevertheless seem to have their adorable little hearts set on extinction, and despite the best efforts of conservation groups their complete ineptitude at breeding does them no favours whatsoever. It’s almost as if they don’t want to be saved.


We don’t hate pandas at Kalexiko by the way; in fact if you’re as serious about SEO as we are then there’s one panda that might be well worth getting acquainted with –


Google Panda

Google are always subtly tweaking their search algorithms to try to improve the search experience for their users, but earlier this year they released a rather more radical update than usual, and they called it Google Panda. Unfortunately for some companies, this overhaul to the system meant that their websites had suddenly and inexplicably plummeted down the rankings. Some even went as far as to accuse Google of deliberately rigging the system in order to sabotage their competitors. Conversely though, other companies benefited from an improved pagerank, at the time equally inexplicably. The problem was that no one immediately knew exactly what had been changed to cause all of this.


So what do you do when you discover that all your hard work in implementing an SEO strategy has in fact been rendered counterproductive? And how can you reverse this? Well firstly, one needs to look at what algorithms were actually changed.


The Changes

At a very basic level, what Google effectively did was to ask their users to rate various websites based on attributes that they did or didn’t like to see. They then looked for patterns within this data; common themes among the websites that users rated highly, as well as those they didn’t. Then in a process that isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds, they taught their big clever computers to recognise these attributes on other websites, allowing them to shift the emphasis away from how many SEO boxes a site ticks, and more towards what the overall experience is for the user. The results were relatively predictable. Users like clean, informative, entertaining, trustworthy sites packed full of good, unique and regularly updated content. They don’t like content with too many keywords clumsily shoehorned in, counterintuitive site navigation and duplicated content. Of course, the pinch was that SEOs had been happily cramming the latter into websites for years, meaning that the very things that they thought were good for pagerankings were now in fact damaging them.


What does this mean?

Without going too deeply into the minutiae, what this means overall is something that SEOs probably should’ve seen coming a while ago, just that it’s only now that Google are beginning to catch up. In an ideal world, the websites that rank highest should be the best ones; the sites that create the best user experience, generate the best content, and implore you to share that content with others. Search engine optimisation should be a holistic approach encompassing all aspects of web design in making a site worth visiting, not just how many keywords you can jam into a text, or how many backlinks you can plant. For example, whilst we do use keywords in this blog, we do so sparingly, and never write entire articles around them (80s fashion anyone?). The links you see within the text are largely incidental, and more often than not direct you towards relevant further reading rather than simply backlinks within our own site. If we really wanted to work the system we’d fill this article with cute panda photos, but that’s not what we’re about. Great content to us is sharing our knowledge and experiences, and if somebody wishes to click the sharing buttons at the end of each post, then that’s just terrific. Great content for you might be something else entirely though, it really depends what your users are actually looking for.


Panda’s wrecked my website, what can I do?

A good question, and not one you probably ever expected to ask. If your site has dropped in pagerank, then this obviously isn’t good. To add insult to injury, there isn’t a quick fix for it either. Even if you completely redesigned your website right now and made it completely Panda-friendly, it would still take some time for the Google search engine spiders to recognise the difference. The system is by no means perfect either, and it?s widely thought that many sites have been unfairly punished in this regard. The best thing you can do is to look at your search engine optimisation strategy, or talk to your SEO company, and think about whether your website is really geared towards the user, or whether its geared towards the search spiders. If it’s the latter, then it might be time to stop thinking about keyword densities, and start thinking about the bear necessities of the overall website experience that you’re giving your users, because Panda is only going to get more and more wise to the old SEO tricks in the future.