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The dirty word of 2011 has been “Panda”. As you may have heard, Google released major changes to its algorithm from February 2011 and it caused waves not just in the SEO community, but through the entire internet. Not the kind of waves you’d like to surf either… for some businesses, it was more like the kind of wave that can cause the meltdown of a Japanese Nuclear Reactor. Some online businesses had their traffic almost entirely wiped out, sending them into ruin. Others have suffered a slower, more gradual decline, as Google has released ongoing tweaks to the algorithm throughout the year. At TrafficZoom, we’ve heard plenty of stories of both and seen a few first-hand that we’ve had to save.


So what is Panda, what does it do, and how do you avoid it?


Oh but before we start, let’s clear up one thing – the term “Panda” came from Google because that is the name of the engineer who pioneered these changes. He is probably a hero internally, but there are some business owners out there who’d probably like to tell this Panda what they think of his changes!


The idea behind Panda is a simple one: Google tried to code their algorithm to treat websites the way they expected the masses of real people would treat the website. Something along the lines of “if a human doesn’t like your website, then neither will Google”. Essentially they wanted to reward sites that make the web a better place, and punish the clutter. It is presumed that they particularly wanted to target “Content Farms” – websites who generate (or copy) masses of content purely with the goal of attracting traffic for advertising purposes. But the updates effectively went well beyond that.

So what does that mean? At the core of it all is the value of your content. By value, I mean content that is unique and really brings something to the topic. The old saying with SEO has always been “Content Is King”. That got forgotten for a little while, as the power of the backlinks pointing to your site dominated for so long, but Content Is Still King – now more than ever. If the content on your site is a bit thin, doesn’t really bring any value to your readers, or you don’t have a lot of content at all – then Google is basically now asking why on earth they should be recommending your site to anyone by ranking you highly? Similarly, if large amounts of your content are copied from somewhere else on the web, it is the same story – why should Google reward you with traffic if you haven’t brought anything new to the web?


Google Panda and eCommerce websites

Some of the hardest hit websites have been eCommerce websites. The question asked of these websites is the same as any other: why should Google rank you any higher than your competitors? If you are all selling the same products from the same manufacturers, what value are you bringing other than to put that product in a shopping cart and asking people to buy it from you?


OK enough of the questions you say! How do I fix it?


For eCommerce sites that sell products offered by many other competitors, the common problem is that you are using the manufacturer’s description of that product – and nothing else. So if you are selling Blue Widgets made by the X-Widgets brand, and all you offer on your Blue Widgets page is the same product description that everyone else selling Blue Widgets has, how do you expect to stand out? You need to add some value. You can do this in a few different way


— Write new, unique product descriptions for each item. This is tough if you have 100’s or 1000’s of products, but your business will probably suffer until you get it done. If that job is too big to do yourself, SEO companies like TrafficZoom have teams of skilled writers that can churn out quality, SEO-friendly content for you.


— You might want to keep the manufacturer’s product description, but then add to it. Give your own expert, editorial opinion or review of the product so that you are bringing some value to the table. If you’re selling Blue Widgets, tell your customers why you recommend this product and any other helpful information about how, where, why you sell it.


— Lastly, get your customers to help! Every time someone buys a blue widget, why not automatically email them a few weeks later and get them to write a review on your website about the product? That way you are getting free, unique, valuable content added to your product pages for you and over time, the amount of duplicated content will start to be outweighed by the unique review content being added to your site.


Now that’s not the bible on Panda – it is actually more complex than all of this – but it is certainly a good starting point for many. Like they say in the pharmaceutical commercials – you should consult with your SEO doctor before making any significant changes to your website! Make sure that the Panda Fix plan you have in place is going to be the right one for you. Getting your website healthy now is crucial, because if you are suffering from the Panda Updates, it will likely only get more sick until you act.