Does the Panda Update Kill SEO?

by Mark Brimm on July 6, 2011

Feed the Panda what it wants...but skip the junk food.

Yesterday, friend and sometimes fellow Marcana dot come author, Justin McCullough, inspired this question in me by his comments on the original video that attempts to explain the impact of Panda on SEO. It’s a very good question raised by an update which has been a long time in coming. One nobody with a straight head can really pretend to fully answer all the questions on the impact in exacting fine detail, but some have done a pretty good job of seeing into the general trends it signals and seems to be inacting. We should look carefully at this new question now that Panda is gaining some steam and actually changing the search landscape enough to get people talking…

What the Panda update actually does

It allows Google to become more tuned in to engaging content rather than, say, correct content, or useful content. It also eliminates some additional potential for machine-written spammy sites (otherwise known as “content mills”) cluttering up search results with useless content. If your content  stirs people share it, Panda will reward the content, regardless of the reasons why. It also micro-penalizes for things like outdated search engine optimization best practices: specifically, the (now) over-attention to keyword density tactic of 3 keyword instances per paragraph, or anything that too-closely resembles this traditional SEO copy writing tactic. Does this mean you should re-optimize your pages already optimized with this in mind? Yep.

What it doesn’t and can’t do

Tell you what sites and pages are the best information on the topic, which gurus know what they’re talking about, or how to smell an infomercial or a plug among friends. It also can’t tell the difference (read: care?) about which information source is simply building content for the sake of engagement, and which are speaking from real knowledge or a real need for such content. In the future, these types of sites might be called “engagement mills”–sites that engage, but only in an online junk food kind of a way.

Who wins

Mainly the clever rats who can sniff and claw their way to the cheese using a new form of SEO. At first, it will be people with a knack for brilliant PR stunts and tabloid material (also read: effective bloggers). Then corporations, and finally, dictatorships and perhaps reflecive branches of governments.

Who loses

It’s a mixed bag here. Many genuine information sources might perish, like, say, a great site on Sanskrit, which as we all know, is wildly unpopular. Also, news sites that appeal to an alternative angle, mom and pop websites, and just about anybody else who isn’t all that super-brilliant or super-motivated to engage a larger audience.

Not fair? What to do about it…

  1. Share & comment on little-known sites that offer good, relevant content.
  2. Don’t fuel big engagement sites that don’t contribute meaningfully to your life.
  3. Optimize your site with keywords in mind, but reduce the keyword density a tad per paragraph and consider trimming 3 envelope-pushing instances in the titles down to just two maximum, or even one if you already have an engaged following (you don’t need SEO tricks if your content has an active audience). Remember: the url can have at least one, the title can have at least one, and the anchor text of all those links to your great content will help even if they don’t all have an exact phrase, as long as they share that phrase. Truth is, they don’t have to have so all anchor text phrases to make the page highly ranked for the phrase, it just boosts the chances of ranking higher.
  4. Build (or tap into existing) engaged social networks around your website or other web content platform profiles that you think deserve a following, but try not to be that following.
  5. Be real in your online commentary, be it Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, or whatever your poison may be. By supporting a false persona online, you unwittingly contribute to the very factors that make it more difficult for algorythms to tell the difference between the stuff and the fluff.
I didn’t mention one of the items that is touted in the above linked video: curbing unpopular content by posting noindex robot directions in the robot.txt. Here’s why: the job of content users is two-fold, regardless of whether we own a site or not. 1) Succeed while contributing meaningfully. 2) Keep the internet healthy by refusing to hide from search engines your less engaging content. If you start hiding all of your less popular content, you’re going to end up sabotaging your own interests and pandering (no pun intended…I think) to the lowest common engagement denominator to the detriment of the  entire system as well as yourself. Content should be as engaging as you can make good content to be, and searchable, unless you’re a tabloid or a news site, in which case you get a free pass. That means helping Google to correct the prediuctable flaws in a newer algorithmic adjustment. Google haters and lovers both benefit from this, because it makes them stick to their famous motto “do no evil” not only in intention, but in consequences.
So does the Panda kill traditional SEO? No more than any of the previous revisions to the overall algorithmic monster did. It does signal Google’s waking up to their true role in the new social web, however. It’s supposed to make search better, while profiting Google (which is their motivation as a business). SEO is not going to disappear entirely, but I agree it is becoming more aligned with something more generally termed “web optimization”. It’s going to force website owners and webmasters to give more focus to making a site well-rounded, which good content sites tend to be anyway. So my verdict is, it improves the web overall, with our conscious participation and feedback, of course. If you want more detailed answers on your particular website, you’ll just have to ask me for a free SEO checkup, at least until I’m once again too overwhelmed by my steady clients to find the time to respond.
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  • http://thumbnailmediaplanner.com Anonymous

    Great info here on Panda. I didn’t even know what Panda was till reading this.

    • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

      Glad to be of service.

  • http://twitter.com/TheChinaCoach The China Coach

    Fascinating read. Will definitely look into this for my site. Thanks Mark! 

  • http://twitter.com/TheChinaCoach The China Coach

    Fascinating read. Will definitely look into this for my site. Thanks Mark! 

  • http://twitter.com/TheChinaCoach The China Coach

    Fascinating read. Will definitely look into this for my site. Thanks Mark! 

  • http://twitter.com/TheChinaCoach The China Coach

    Fascinating read. Will definitely look into this for my site. Thanks Mark! 

  • http://twitter.com/TheChinaCoach The China Coach

    Fascinating read. Will definitely look into this for my site. Thanks Mark! 

    • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

      Thanks for reading, CC!

  • http://www.sparkjunction.com/ Spark Junction

    Panda and Penguin both affected tons of sites and destroyed lots of serious, ambitious and ethical businesses. But there is life after them – I believe we just have to pay more attention to Google’s policies, terms and Matt Cutts!
    The trends will bring us to new opportunities, SEO is not dead, small businesses can find their way across this difficulty.

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