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How to Survive an Angry Panda Update

Jeremy Page
How to Survive an Angry Panda Update

It may not be the fiercest animal in the jungle, but the new Panda just knocked down some very big names. Huge websites that have suffered from massive drops in rankings over the past two months include eBay.com, Ask.com and Examiner.com. Meanwhile, some of those that have seen dramatic improvements have been real surprises as well, such as BuzzFeed.com, MyRecipes.com, YourDictionary.com and Glassdoor.com.

Panda 4.0 was specifically designed to correct ranking hits that many smaller but high-quality content sites endured after earlier Panda updates. After he rolled out Panda 4.0, Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted:

Just like the oracles from Delphi in ancient Greece, webmasters across the globe have been trying to interpret that cryptic statement into actionable advice for better SEO.

Based on intensive analysis of winners and losers, here are three things you can do for your website right now to defend your rankings against this new Panda’s “softer side.”

1. Improve your ratio of content to keywords and links

By some estimates, eBay.com lost up to 80 percent of its organic rankings due to doorway pages that were heavy with keywords out of context. Their rankings may slowly correct themselves over time due to eBay’s authority, but for now their biggest losses all came from category rather than item pages.

The biggest issue appears to be keyword stuffing. Searching for specific items often takes you to a page with a very low ratio of descriptive copy compared to the number of display ads and internal links to other shopping pages. Keyword stuffing has always been problematic, especially using words like “cheap” and “buy,” but after Panda 4.0 it is deadly, even for sites with great authority like eBay.

2. Stop scraping and start creating

Essentially, you need to eliminate any duplicate or unhelpful content. Use a service like Copyscape to make sure your content is completely unique. The sites that suffered the most were aggregation sites with content from other sites. BuzzFeed changed its model of content partnerships and pushed heavily for additional original video in advance of this update, and it has paid off handsomely. Assess your site’s risk level with a re-examination of content strategy based on the latest changes.

For example, offer related articles and further reading along with your content to demonstrate that you are the “authority.”

Notice this niche site about pain relief patches.


Even though it may not look pretty, they offer “pain relief guides” in their sidebar. This is a simple authority signal that Google recognizes. They’ll get more love than a competing page that talks about pain relief patches but with no further resources.

Also, pay special attention to eliminating pages with less than 300 words, scraped content and the appearance of link exchanges.

3. Concentrate on social interaction

Add buttons that make it easier to share and make them prominent on the page. Use more original video and images (not just stock photos). Sites like BuzzFeed.com and MyRecipes.com benefitted greatly from Panda’s emphasis on social signals like shares and comments. Start discussions on topics related to your authority by asking readers to post their ideas or images. Curated content isn’t bad, but it needs to be put in some context with comments and lists. If you don’t do anything else, spend more time promoting your blogs on social channels.

If you feel as though your rankings were hurt by Panda, don’t start making changes until you get a full analysis by SEO specialists or a reputable online marketing service (see this chart).

Rankings will take a few more months to settle down, and improving your rankings after the new update will take a very careful change management strategy. Pandas can actually be good to you, if you treat them how they want to be treated. With Panda 4.0 serving as the basis of a new search architecture and the basis for Google’s next series of iterations, now would be a smart time to invest in some serious analysis from SEO professionals.

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Jeremy Page is the co-founder of Nerdnation, a blog that lists the best technology.
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