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Google Panda: 3 Content Checks You Must Do

20 Nov 2012

Over the past 18 months the SEO landscape has been turned on its head; a result of Google's increasingly aggressive and ongoing algorithm updates dubbed 'Panda' and 'Penguin' (not to mention a multitude of other updates too).

For those of you who haven't heard of them, and for the purposes of this post, here's a very brief introduction. In short, Google's Panda updates target 'thin or low quality' website content, while 'Penguin' takes aim at web spam like keyword stuffing and unnatural linking. Of course there's much more to it than that, but that's it in a nutshell.

When it comes to Google penalties of any kind the road to recovery is long, hard and by no means guaranteed. Prevention is without doubt better than cure. With that in mind here are 3 content-specific things you can do right now to help protect your site from the next Google Panda update. (Don't worry, we'll take a closer look at protecting yourself from Google Penguin in another post).

1. Check your site for 'thin' content

Thin content comes in many shapes and sizes, but some common examples include pages that offer little or no original content, or pages with only a limited amount of copy in relation to the site's overall template/structure, or pages with a high ad ratio (particularly when ads are positioned above the fold). Thin content bloats your site and Google's Panda update is designed to target precisely this type of thing.

Image of thin content

The fix? Get busy beefing up your content - make sure it's 100% unique to your site and make it more useful and engaging. If you can't improve the content then perhaps it doesn't really need to be on your site, and if it doesn't, then it certainly doesn't deserve to rank. In these instances your best bet might be to un-publish (aka 'noindex') it and redirect the offending page to another relevant page in your site. Tread carefully though - don't go removing/redirecting pages unless you're well aware of the impact. In most cases the best thing you can do is check your site for instances of thin content and then discuss your findings with an SEO specialist who knows what they're doing.

2. Check your site for 'duplicate' content

Similar to the previous point regarding thin content, in a post Google Panda world it's vital to check your site for 'duplicate content' - i.e. content that’s identical (or close to it) on different pages in your site. E-commerce sites are often plagued by duplicate content, as are sites with lots of pages that only vary by a small amount of content e.g. accommodation sites that use the same content for their city and town landing pages but just swap out a different page heading and a few strategically chosen keywords. Google can smell this kind of auto-generated content a mile away and they're not a fan of it.

Image of duplicate content

Wherever possible, take the time to craft high quality, user friendly copy for each page and make sure it's unique to that page only. Taking the accommodation site example above, I’d suggest writing 100% unique city or town descriptions for each location on the site. Sure it's a lot of work, but it's time much better spent than dealing with a penalty. If making each page unique isn't an option then maybe you need to consider blocking ('noindexing') some of the less valuable duplicate pages and spending what time you do have improving a handful of key pages instead.

3. Check your site for 'copied/scraped' content

Whether you've copied content from someone else's site and tweaked a few words here or there, or someone has done the same to you, copied content can lead to you falling foul of Google’s Panda penalty.

Image of copied content

We use a tool called Copyscape to check for copied/scraped content - it's fast, easy to use and great at identifying other places on the Internet where your content can be found.

If you find you've got copy on your site that's also present somewhere else on the web your best bet might be to rewrite your copy. Alternatively you can try tracking down the offending party and asking them to remove your content from their site, but if that approach fails then take this opportunity to revisit and improve your own content by making it stronger, more readable, more helpful and more relevant for your audience. While you're at it check that your content sounds natural and isn't loaded with keywords that make it awkward to read. If in doubt try reading it out loud. Reading out loud helps us sound like real people, plus it will help you spot any overused keywords in an instant.

Take care of these 3 content-related Panda penalty triggers and you'll go a long way to not only protecting your site from the next Panda update, but you'll also end up with a site that's more engaging and more likely to convert visitors into customers.

Smart webmasters and online marketers have always known it's about creating quality content - the kind of stuff that deserves to rank. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to avoiding Google penalties, a stitch in time saves nine.

Drop by and let us know if you are one of the lucky ones who have escaped Google's latest updates, or alternatively if you got hit, let us know what you're doing to turn things around.

Written by
Mark is our Digital Marketing Manager and has worked in the online marketing space since 2005. Before joining us he plied his trade in various traditional marketing roles abroad and in New Zealand, yet nowadays much prefers the highly measurable and transparent nature of online marketing.

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