“What?! 5.0! We just had 4.0! Don’t tell me Google is already drawing another line in the sand.”
Got your attention? No, there’s no sign of Google pushing a 5.0 update on the horizon. That doesn’t mean, however, that they have suddenly stopped updating Panda every month, like they have since it rolled out in 2011. Like it or not, Panda won’t be going away. You have two choices: adapts and keep ahead of the beast, or grow complacent and become its prey. Unless you’re completely abandoning your business to the wolves, you should obviously choose the first options. So how do you protect yourself from future Panda updates?
Stuff your Content with Value
With Panda, content is the most important thing about your website. Without good content, you can’t even begin to outrank anyone on Google. Your content needs to be absolutely packed with value. Fluff paragraphs are dangerous; fluff articles are deadly. If you can’t think of a reason someone would want to read your content, you’re doing something wrong.
Proofread Every Post
Part of creating quality content is paying attention to the language you use. Proper punctuation and spelling is a given. Proper grammar is harder, but also essential. Beyond that, you need to consider your choice of language. Keep your language simple and precise, using long words sparingly. Make sure you know the meaning and connotation of the language you’re using.
Cite Sources and Provide Original Commentary
The quality of your information is important. Users want to know where your information comes from. If it’s your own experience and opinions, you’re free to portray it as such. If you’re drawing on outside sources, case studies and graphics you’re referencing, you should cite those sources. This helps alleviate the possibility of duplicate content flags as well, particularly when you’re using direct quotations.
Minimize Ad Inclusion
By now, most sites at risk of an ad penalty from Google have either been hit or fixed the problem, but many still toe the line. At some point, you need to make the decision that more ads does not equal more conversions. You need to create a few powerful ads rather than pepper your site with ads. A surplus of ads is a penalty waiting to happen.
Minimize or Eliminate Pagination
It’s one thing to use paginated formats for search results, exceedingly long articles or ecommerce pages. It’s quite another to divide a top ten list into ten 200-word pages. The latter is an almost black hat technique used to inflate pageview statistics, not to provide value to the user. Particularly, if your site loads slowly, paginated articles turn people away. Avoid pagination whenever possible; users prefer scrolling over clicking to a new page and waiting for that page to load.
Prune and Audit Links in Posts
Links are an important factor for ranking today. If you’re linking to bad sites in a way that passes PageRank, those links might count against you. If you’re linking too often in a single post, those links may count against you. It’s one thing to cite your sources, and it’s another to include links just for the sake of including links. Be picky with the links you include and, when in doubt, nofollow the links.
Dig Deep into Topics
The way you bring value to a topic today is to dig deep into it. Go beyond the surface advice and get into the how and the why. Just mentioning an issue exists before going on about how you sell a product to solve the problem isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Instead, mention the issue and explain how it can be solved, and then explain how your product eases that problem by automating the issues.
Eliminate Duplicate or Overlapping Content
Duplicate content is an immediate issue, of course. By now, everyone knows about rel=”canonical” and the other duplicate issue solutions. What you’ll need to watch out for in the future are issues where your content is too similar to existing posts. If your competitors have written a post about how to shine shoes, and you want to write one, you might reconsider. After all, how many resources for shoe shining are necessary? Google very well may begin to penalize overlapping content.
As a side note, this goes for your own blog as well; if you have an article about how to shine shoes, and you write another one about shining red shoes, one probably isn’t necessary.
Study the Competition
This ties in to the previous point. Is there a subject your competition has covered in great detail? If so, you might not want to try to compete on the same subject. When you’re considering writing a blog post, look at anything they have written on the same subject and ask yourself; how can I do this, but better? Always try to do what they do better than they’re doing. Of course, you have to strike the right balance; if you’re hesitant to do anything because there’s already a great resource, you’re going to lose just by not having any content.
Write the Appropriate Length
There’s no one magic length to make a perfect blog post, but you can assume that anything under 300 words is likely too short to provide value to your users. On the other hand, anything over 2,000 words is probably on the long side and can be broken up into two primary articles. It’s up to you if you decide to paginate them or split them into their own pieces. The exception is when you have one long case study full of value; you’ll probably want to keep that in one single page article.
Minimize Bounce Rate Whenever Possible
Bounce rate is a Panda metric; a higher bounce rate tells Google that your content isn’t keeping people around. If your content isn’t keeping people around, it’s not providing enough value, and is thus demoted. Do everything you can to encourage clicks through to other pages rather than have a bounced user.
Redesign your Site
Google likes freshness, both in content and design. If you’re using a layout you’ve had for more than two or three years, you may want to consider a redesign. Even a minor redesign is plenty, in most cases. However, if your site is still running in frames or in Flash, definitely design a new site to comply with modern web rules and trends.
Disavow Negative Links
While not strictly a Panda solution, now and then you should perform an audit of your incoming links and identify any coming from spam sites. Use Google’s disavow links tool to make sure they aren’t counting against you.
If you keep on top of these issues, you should be safe whenever Panda updates, no matter how strongly it hits the sites it targets. Your goal is just to be ahead of the curve.