So Panda I rolled out Feb 24, 2011, and Panda II rolled out April 11…and Panda III…well, that could be any day now. Google says that they were targeting “Content Farms”, but none of the sites that I have been analyzing have been “Content Farms”. The clients that I had that were effected, and the people that came to me later, were all basically ecommerce sites selling products… they didn’t have content about everything under the sun, they were just ecommerce sites with lots of “product” pages.
I can kind of understand Google going after “Content Farms” and it’s a great battle cry of Google…”We’re getting rid of content farms…and no one like content farms.”… but the sad fact is that the reach of Panda when way beyond content farms… If I showed you any of the Panda effected sites that I’ve been looking at, you’d never think any one of these had any characteristics of a “content farm”. .. so keep in mind that I’m looking at this mostly trying to analyze the ecommerce type of sites that were effected…these are sites with typically 20-100 main categories, and with a few thousand individual products. Most of these product pages either had “manufacturer” content that many other people had, or rewritten content, or a mixture of original content and dup content. Many of these sites had “mash up” pages of their products which was a large problem, and many of these sites had issues with sending people back to Google (another story I’ll write more on later)…
On Friday, Google’s Amit Singhal wrote, in response to the Panda Update, “More guidance on building high-quality sites” which included 23 questions that will “provide some guidance on how we’ve been looking at the issue.” (issue being Panda and Content)…but I thought I’d add my comments as well to each question that Google is using for “Guidance” in evaluating content…so below are the questions, and my thoughts on each question as well.
The list of the 23 Questions of the “Google Mindset” for the Panda Update….and my thoughts on each.
- Google: Would you trust the information presented in this article? Jim: My first thoughts are that Big Brands win again. People will trust Brands over Mom and Pops….but then again, ….getting a computer program to guess “trust” in the content itself is pretty hard…They might be able to guess trust based on ad layouts…but in the content itself…. I find that much harder to gauge w/o knowing who clicks on a site in a Google search, but then goes back to the same Google search and clicks on someone else, and never returns to you. (Google knows, but we don’t)….Tip: One thing that might help could be if you put great links on all your pages going to either great pages on your site, or great pages on other sites (link out to trusted places and you will become more trusted yourself)….Tip: put Trust Seals all over your pages
- Google: Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature? Jim: Richard Zwicky, authored a post in Search Engine watch called, “Is Author an Authority Signal for Google?“. This post references a Patent which Google was granted in 2010 that talks about “Blog Authors”…. if you take the word “blog” and replace it with the word “article” then the importance of having a “real”, “Expert or Enthusiast” person writing content for your site becomes clear. If you have 100 pages of content…and no author cited for that content, what value is any of that “non-authored” content compared to pages written by a “Google known” “Expert or Enthusiast”.
Tip: Perhaps all your content should have a “written by…”Jim B. Twain”…and Jim B. Twain should only write on this broad topic…and Jim B. Twain needs a Facebook page..and a twitter account, and a bio page, and he should comment in blogs and forums, linking that name to his bio page….the bio page would say, “James B. Twain is not only an Enthusiast, but he’s also an Expert in [whatever you sell].” Create a Jim B. Twain…and make him real…..And then make him write 100 pages Enthusiastically in an expert style.
Tip: You can check the reading level of pages, by searching with reading levels turned on…like this search….but is Reading Level a measure of “writing “expert” level”?
- Google: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? Jim: This is the main reason I saw most ecommerce sites hit. Many sites created a lot of pages with different mashups of products, and with a little bit of unique content… but very similar to other related pages…. Tip: Consolidate your category pages and consolidate all your current pages wherever possible. Instead of targeting 3 phrases on a page, target 30… oh, G will hate me for saying that….oh well. You need content to get found….if someone searches for “cheap blue widgets new jersey”, then you’re not going to show up in search results unless you have all those words somewhere on a webpage… You can’t kill content…content is what will bring you traffic…you just have to write it better and not do a bunch of cheap crappy articles that are all very very similar (i.e., articles on 500 pages that are all about 3 paragraphs in length with no authors are not given much weight.
- Google: Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? Jim: Tip: Pay companies like Verisign and McAffe to get their “Trust Symbols” like these symbols on your site…in fact I think that so many sites are going to do this now that I just purchased stock in Verisign and in Intel (they own McAfee now)…now, everyone go buy those trust signals so my stock will go up!
- Google: Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors? Jim: Does this mean that if you can’t spell…or your style is not wrong….your screwed by Panda…if so, I’m screwed…. “Factual errors”…now how can Google know this??
but anyways, my style is horrible…who writes with 3 dots all the time?… hopefully Panda won’t poop on me for having my own unique writing style
Tip: Send every page through a spell check program….seriously, have your intern do this today!
- Google: Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? Jim: Hum..first, can Google really tell what drives the topics I write about?…If I have a ecommerce site, and I have a page about “Pool Skimmers”… am I writing that page because of the readers genuine interest in pool skimmers, or am I writing so that a relevant person searching in Google can find my pool skimmer page, no matter what combination of words they typed in, so long as it related to my pool skimmer page. I write for my site visitors….and one of my users is Googlebot, and Googlebot brings many people to my site…so I feed Googlebot content using words that I think people might search for…. Do I write based on what I think will rank higher…always, I’d be a fool if I didn’t use keywords people might search for in my content. Tip: When you write content today, don’t write just a bunch of crap for the search engines… pretend that someone will really read the 1000 words of content that may be on your pool skimmer page.
- Google: Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Jim: Hum…because if it’s not original, Google might rank it higher than the original….and that can be a problem for Google…all kidding aside, duplicate content wasn’t an issue in the past… but now those pages that Google said for years wouldn’t hurt you, (those pages they used to put in the supplemental results might now make the Panda poop on you today). Tip: don’t include duplicate content, and don’t repeat content excessively on your site. Also tell your writer to be sure to do some original analysis in every piece of content.
- Google: Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? Jim: I try not to “guess what might rank well in the search engines” (see question #6)…so I don’t know what phrases to search for so I can run this comparison…all kidding aside again, I do love this question, because the only way to measure this, think might be to be if someone left your site and went back to Google and didn’t come back to your site. Tip: You need to do an analysis of the top 10 pages in every search result that you’re targeting, and make sure that you page has substantial value compared to the other pages.
- Google: How much quality control is done on content?
Jim: Can Google really know how much quality control you have on your content?… don’t think so…but in any case, we should pretend that they can. Tip: If you don’t have a content editor, you better hire one. Fix your broken links, and internal links that go to redirects, and spelling errors, etc.
- Google: Does the article describe both sides of a story? Jim: Is there always 2 sides? Does an article always have to show 2 sides to not be panda pooped on? Tip: Guess you have to tell people to find both sides…an “expert or enthusiast” isn’t writing well unless they covers both sides of anything…this product is good….and it’s kinda bad….lots of people like it..but some hate it….
- Google: Is the site a recognized authority on its topic? Jim: Brands win again…. what can I say…Google makes SEO a lot about Brands and Branding…the bigger, the better…sorry mom and pop. Hum….Maybe I should give away “Authority Awards” and Authority Seals that people can put on their content….”This Site is an Authority on [insert title tag]” seal for every page…and of course a link back to Jim’s Authority Seal.com (which feeds WBP links)…jk, Tip: put your Facebook and Twitter link on the bottom of your content and let people know that if they have any suggestions for better content on any page that you’d love to have it…and in fact, if someone can write a better page, you’d pay them to do that…seriously… and back up every article with “We’re/I’m an Authority on [something relevant to article]“.
- Google: Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? Lets break this question down into the 3 parts… Part 1. Google: Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, Jim: For many sites, their approach to content creation was “how few words of original content do to I need to be “OK””…and “how cheap” and how many pages can I afford to put this crap on below the fold?”…but seriously… if you’re selling a product line with 10k pages, how do you write 100 pages of “expert, enthusiast” content?..100 pages times $100/page… my writers can do that…anyone out there have a ten thousand dollars they’ll give me..and I can deliver those 100 pages…seriously. it also looks like a lot of writers in India, and a lot of work at home moms in the US are going to find that the standards of their content writing are toast, and “C” and “D” papers won’t cut it anymore. Tip:.by gosh, if you have a swimming pool accessory site..and you have a product page about Pool Skimmers…you’d better have a unique, original research article on there written by an Expert or Enthusiast on pools at least….any experts or enthusiast you have, you must now make them your writers writing all your content pages (or at least make it look that way).Part 2. Google: or spread across a large network of sites
Jim: Well, one side effect will be that product descriptions will get slammed if they are not original to your site….it wouldn’t surprise me if “mash ups” of product descriptions on multiple pages within your own site is frowned upon… problem is, many many ecommerce sites do this… they’ve just found out that this is a “bad thing”…. well…they know now…things have changed…back in the day of the Supplemental index, “poor” or “dup” pages wouldn’t hurt you…today the panda might bite you in the ass for having those types of pages.
Part 3. Google: so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
Jim: Are you starting to feel like you’re not updating your company website enough…I know that I am…damn… I’d better rewrite those old blog posts that I did in 2005-2007… if I have pages that I don’t pay attention to, the Panda might poop on my site too. Tip: OK… if you’re going to write content on your site, it better be done in house by an expert or enthusiast…because your expert and enthusiast has nothing better to do than to write 100 product pages for your ecommerce site…half kidding, half serious
- Google: Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? Jim: Tip: Hire an editor, because your expert and enthusiast probably isn’t the best writer, nor editor…but tell your writer that yes, you need to write 100 pages of content…and tell them that the content had better not look sloppy…they should take their time writing it…and then hire an editor because, trust me, you can’t trust your expert or enthusiast to edit their own writing….ok….that advice was a touch tongue in cheek.
- Google: For a health related query, would you trust information from this site? Jim: I don’t have time now…but later remind me to buy stock in WebMD. Tip: If you’re not a health site, don’t write about health issues…if you sell pool supplies, don’t write about the health benefits of swimming…yesterday we thought this would be ok… now Panda say’s this isn’t cool.
- Google: Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name? Jim: Ah, again…Big Brands Love Google…and Google Loves Big Brands….and Mom and Pop…the Panda don’t like you if he don’t know you off the top of his head.
Tip: How your Branding Campaign going?…. Facebook…Twitter….also put on the bottom of every page “We are an Authority on [topic of page]“.
- Google: Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Jim: So giving a page where you just “gave the answer” is no good any more… it’d better be “complete or comprehensive”… remember to tell your in-house expert enthusiast to write complete and compressive pages for your 100 product pages. Tip: When you write…the amount of words recommended per page just changed… in the past many people would recommend a minimum of 350 words on a page…not anymore…it’s now a minimum of 1000 words per page…and if the paper still isn’t complete or comprehensive at 1000 words, then keep writing until it is.
- Google: Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? Jim: Tip: Tell the writer when they write to make sure that articles all have a section called “Insightful Analysis on ….” and another paragraph called “Did you know?”.
- Google: Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Jim: Did they mean to say, “Is this the sort of page that you’d “Like” on Facebook or Tweet About?” Did they write it in 2005 wording so they wouldn’t say “Like” and Tweet?..Tip:.Tell your expert enthusiast writer to (either him, or hire a social guy)…and get them to get Facebook Likes and Twitter mentions to as many of your pages of your site as possible…and yea, get people to bookmark those pages too.
- Google: Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? Jim: This is actually an interesting approach that people haven’t been talking about…yes, with Panda, Google had to have taken a cut in income as fewer people were clicking on Made for Adsense (MFA) sites now that they’ve been cut down…Google created the Content MFA Monster, and now they’re cutting them down…my Google Adsense account keeps sending me tips every month on how I can make more money if I put more Adsense banners on my pages….but on the other hand, if I followed this advice that Google Adsense gives me, the Google Panda might poop on me.
- Google: Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book? Jim: Tip: Hum…. make sure to tell your in-house expert enthusiast writer to write it good enough for a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book….
(I can’t wait to see this pool skimmer page).
- Google: Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics? Jim: Yup… if you have a page with just a 100 word product description, you might get Panda pooped on. Tip: Add a section on your pages called “Specific Helpful Information”.
- Google: Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail? Jim.… what is “attention to detail” in an algorithm? Tip: I think your content pages should have a lot of pictures on them…that might show lots of detail?
- Google: Would users complain when they see pages from this site? Jim: Should they have added this to the end of that sentence “,and then click on an Adsense ad on they’re way out of your site?”? Tip: Ask everyone to complain about your site…and use that feedback to improve it.
It’s worth noting that Amit also said in that post:
One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.
So keep in mind that your crappy pages will effect rankings on your entire site, and that you have to “remove, merge, improve, or move” those lower quality pages to have a chance of helping your rankings.
Even though I wrote some tongue in cheek responses to some of these questions, I do appreciate Amit sharing these tips on how to write better content. I’m not sure how much of this is really figured into the algorithm of the Google Panda Update, but as far as content writing for 2011 and beyond, this is a great guide to how to write content post-Panda.
Hope you enjoyed.
Here’s a few other recent posts that I’ve done on the Google Panda Update:
- Google Panda Update – User Behavior and Other Signals – Examines user behavior as a factor, query entry, the
SERP behavior, and click backs. Also looks into when you can get out of being Pandasized.
- Thoughts and Solutions from Jim Boykin - Post discussing the background of the Panda Update, including the supplemental
results, caffine, and beyond. This post also looks at, " if I were Google what I would look at," and at solutions.
- Google Panda Update – A Overview of Analytics of 5 Panda II Affected Sites – This post discusses the analytics
of five affected sites
- Google Panda Update Panda’s Punitive Punishment of Good Content - This post discuses how the Panda will punish your
good content if fyou have bad content as well
- Google Panda Update – Short Clicks and Long Clicks / Pogosticking – this post talks about how Google uses its logs and
click information, particularly for short clicks, long clicks, and pogosticking to help evaluate and rerank search results.
The post further discusses potential implications on the Panda update.
- Losing Clients to Panda. I Just Lost $17,500/Month – Sharing of experience on the Panda Update as well as reflection
on previous updates
- Google Agent Rank and Reputational Scores…It’s About Content and Writers and Panda! – Breakdown of what ‘agent rank’ means
and a view from a Google Panda lens.
- Google Panda Update: Content + Design = Usable, Trustworthy Websites – discussion of website usability and implications
on Google Panda Update
- Google Panda Update: Your Site is Going to Survive (funny) – Jim’s Panda Update remake of, "Country Boy Can Survive"