Upcoming Panda Update Means You Need to Re-Check Your Content
Posted by drew on June 4, 2015, 6 p.m.
Recently, at SMX Advanced, Gary Illyes of Google announced that a panda update would be coming in the next two to four weeks. For those of you who aren’t huge SEO nerds (like me) “panda” refers to the part of Google’s search ranking algorithm that deals with on-page content.
This means that now is a good time to do a site audit and reexamine your content. How can you publish quality, useful content that will resonate with users in a unique way, support your brand, and signal to search engines what your site is all about? Here are some of the steps our Denver SEO team goes through when completing a site audit and optimization:
1. Keyword Research
A digital marketing campaign of any form—but especially an SEO campaign—should begin with keyword research. It is necessary to know what users are typing into search engines. This will give you a sense of what keywords would be useful to target. You may already have a working keyword list, but it is important to refresh this periodically to account for any changes in search patterns.
It should be said, however, that just because a keyword has more search traffic, it doesn’t mean you should automatically optimize for that phrase. You need to consider which keywords are the most relevant to your site, which are getting traffic, and which will be attainable, based on the competition. Something can be said here about longtail keywords, but frankly, keyword research deserves its own blog post.
2. Ranking Analysis
I would recommend not simply using Google to evaluate your ranking. Your geographic location, search history, and cookies could all influence the actual results you see in Google. These tools will give you a more realistic idea of where you are ranking for a user who has never been to your site before.
If your site is ranking well (or even moderately well) for relevant search terms, you may want to focus your efforts on those terms. This is the low-hanging fruit that you don’t want to lose track of when redoing your site’s content. Also, pay attention to which pages are the ones that are ranking for which keywords. This will come in handy later on.
3. Site Crawling
A thorough crawling of the site will help your site audit. You can use a spider tool like Screaming Frog to get a list of URLs on your site, along with meta data, response codes, inbound links, word count of on-page content, and more. Use this data to diagnose broken pages on your site, look for large amounts of pages with thin content. Thin content (low word count, repetitive, keyword stuffed) could result in a panda penalty.
Lastly, copy your list of URLs into a new document to begin the next step.
4. Keyword Assignment
When optimizing a site, I go through each landing page of the site to assign them keyword targets (some pages get both a primary and secondary target). I do this to avoid keyword cannibalization, wherein many pages are optimized for the same keyword, and search engines can’t determine which page on your site is the most relevant for that phrase. This can cause your site to not rank at all, or perhaps a less desirable page to rank above the one you want. You can optimize pages for similar or related words, but try not to optimize too many pages for the exact same keywords.
Now, I should specify that I only focus optimization on pages that I want to be landing pages on the site. If a page wouldn’t be useful as a user’s first page on the site (e.g. a terms of service page), you shouldn’t want it ranking in search engines for high-traffic keywords.
5. On-page Optimization
On-page optimization can be delicate, because it is hard to know where the line between “optimized” and “overly optimized” lies. Some experts might give you some kind of hard and fast rule about keyword density, but I prefer to be less restrictive. In general, I try to use the target keyword(s) when it feels intuitive and natural in the content, making particular efforts to include keywords in the title tag, header tag on the page, and at least once in the content.
In addition to using the exact match keyword, I also keep in mind latent semantic index (LSI) keyword, which are words that Google recognizes as being related or synonymous. Using LSI keywords helps your content feel more natural while still sending signals to Google about what your site’s topic is. This is a good opportunity to use some low-traffic keywords that might not have warranted full targeting on a page.
If you have additional resources and capabilities, you can do even more on-site optimization, such as image alt text optimization and internal linking changes.
6. Searching for Known Panda Problems
You may have noticed some panda issues during your website crawl, but it is always good to review your site for any problems that could raise flags with the panda algorithm. These include:
Thin Content: If you have a large number of pages that each have only ~100 words, it can look to Google like you are not investing in quality content creation.
Duplicate Content: Likewise, if you are using the same content on many pages (e.g. in both a blog and a news section, or on each individual location page for many locations), it can tell Google that you aren’t interested in creating quality content. Also, if Google finds the same content on your site and on another site, it could result in a rankings hit. You can use canonical tags to cut down on duplicate content on your own site (that’s another post altogether), but it is also important regularly search the internet for other sites that may be stealing your content.
Keyword Stuffing: This is where we come back to warning against over-optimization of pages. When text looks unnatural because the exact match keyword is repeated frequently, your pages look very low quality.
Too Many Ads: If too much of your site’s visual real estate is taken up by advertisements, it is both bad for your user experience and potentially bad for your SEO. This is especially true if your ads take up a large amount of space above the fold of your web page, requiring users to scroll down to see your content. Last year, Google updated their algorithm to penalize these “top heavy” sites.
One-time content audits and refreshes are good to do, but if SEO is important to you, you should also consider investing in consistent content creation. Put together a content creation calendar and stick to it. Search engines favor sites that are regular producers of helpful, unique content.
If you need help conducting your site audit, contact Fusionbox.