In the usual run of events, a discussion about pandas ends up referencing interminable radio and TV features outlining the plight of the world’s least (re) productive mammal. That being the case, it often comes as something of a surprise to many that Google – an animal with rather more rapacious appetites – chose to name its search engine ranking algorithm after this most recalcitrant of bears. Yes, it’s true what they say folks – in the world of page ranks, hits and traffic, it’s the cuddly imagery that conceals the weapon beneath. Nowhere is this more evident than in Google Panda – but what is it, and how can you devise a content strategy that stops it wiping you and your business off the virtual map?
In simple terms, Panda is Google’s attempt to elevate quality sites above some of the repetitive mulch that clogs the arteries of search engine land if left unchecked. First released to the world in February 2011, Google’s boffins eschewed the purely technical route by making sure that Panda benefited from an arsenal of humans rating sites against key quality criteria. The results were fed back and accounted for in the maths – which means, in effect, Panda has a reasonable grasp on what people look for when they rate a site’s speed, content and trustworthiness.
Spin forward a couple of years and a cursory web search will show you who drew the post-Panda aces and who was left with a dud hand. There are many theories as to why some sites went south at such an alarming rate, but the one that has ridden out all the analysis still comes back to content – and specifically duplicate content. Like its real-life counterpart with a paw full of bamboo shoots, Panda will chew that up until there’s nothing left but a sudden drop in quality traffic and a plummeting search engine ranking.
The state of the game
Before Panda, webmasters had a slightly easier ride of it. Google’s crawlers would relegate duplicate content to a secondary index. These pages often wouldn’t make it on to search engine result pages (SERPS), but nothing drastic would happen in terms of the sites overall ranking. After Google rebooted its approach to content, the game changed completely. Now duplicate content harms the page it is housed on and plays a major role in promoting ranking drag for the site as whole. The safety nets are gone – there is no secondary register and no provision for filtering out dupe content – and that is potentially calamitous if you find yourself without a strategy to deal with the fallout.
Avoiding duplicate content
- Start from first principles. Don’t use anything you’ve written already. The brave new world of the modern website is built on quality, *not* quantity, so look at where, when and how you can add genuine authority. If you syndicate content, this may not always be the easiest task to accomplish, but syndicated pages should contain links back to the original where possible.
- Analyse the site structure. In some cases you may need to expunge pages that feature content that is substantially similar to other – more important – parts of the site. The alternative is to bulk them out (or slim them down) with relevant, high quality copy that offers enough of a point of differentiation to make it worthy of existing in its own right. Remember you’ll get no points for cloning and reconfiguring – this has to be a thorough job. Using web tools can be of great benefit here and a couple of runs through should see you highlighting, adapting and removing pages with duplicate meta information and title descriptions.
- Link to the same URL and avoid preferred versions (canonical versions) of pages if at all possible.
- For any pages you wish to change the URLs of as they appear in the search engine listings, use 301 redirects to direct traffic – and search engines – to the right spot.
Of course like the giant panda, the world of web is a capricious beast. Taking all these points into consideration might not be enough to get you where you want to go – and that’s where we can help. With seven years’ experience of providing our clients with content of the highest quality, we know how to help your business maximise its web profile. For more information, call us on (0) 1263 519749 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal chat. We look forward to hearing from you!