Panda. Penguin. Do these words mean anything to you? If you work in SEO (or have employees who do), you might know them as the Google updates that upended many sites’ search rankings, wreaking havoc on years of hard work.

Yikes. What exactly was in Panda?

If you aren’t familiar with the industry, those sentences might have struck fear deep into your heart. Don’t worry–it’s not as scary as it sounds (unless your SEO strategy was on shaky ground to begin with). Let’s review:

  • Panda was the last major update to Google’s algorithm, in 2011, which has had updates released as recent as late last year
  • The general goal of Panda was to make high-quality content rank better in Google’s search results.
  • Specifically, based on what Google representatives have said about it, Panda targeted sites with large amounts of duplicate content, sites with “thin” content (content that’s badly written, keyword stuffed, or just not very much actual), and sites with “spun” content (machine generated content).

What Google was trying to do:

As we touched on before, Google’s goal here was to prioritize high-quality content in the search engine rankings. At one point, you could achieve decent search engine rankings by doing things like:

  • Keyword stuffing, where you just put as many of your search keywords on a page as possible (without writing them over and over again)
  • Backlinking purchases, where you buy links on other sites or article directories that involve your keywords

The problem is that these tactics were creating crappy content, to be blunt. A site might rank on the first page of Google, but read like it had been written by a repetitive robot (very possibly, because it was). Several years ago, Google recognized these issues and started working on creating algorithms that were smart enough to sort the wheat from the content chaff, and pull out good articles that people actually wanted to read and share. That’s where Panda comes in.

Here’s what you should have done with your content marketing:

In a perfect world, where you had the free time to be totally on top of your marketing strategy and change with the search-engine winds, here’s what changes you should have made:

  • Create longer content. Obviously, don’t create longer articles that are repetitive and boring–that defeats the purpose. But there’s a strong correlation between longer content and search engine rankings. Part of this is probably due to the fact that a 1,000 word article is by definition meatier (and often more useful and information packed) than a 300 or 500 word article. Either way, aim to incorporate longer content into your marketing strategy.
  • Create good content. Sounds simple, right? We all know it’s not, but this is at the heart of how Panda should have affected your content marketing. The update’s entire purpose was to weed out bad content and showcase good articles and posts that people actually want to read. Make sure everything you create is genuinely helpful to anyone reading it–not just an advertorial or pitch for your services/products.
  • Create unique content. Don’t spend the bulk of your blogging time creating “me too” content that’s a rehash of things that have already been posted elsewhere. Also, link posts can be great. Curating valuable content that helps your readers is a good tool to have in your content marketing arsenal. But the bulk of your posts should not be just round-ups of links to other sites.
  • Create content that gets shared. Matt Cutts from Google has gone on record that the relationship between social shares and search engine rankings isn’t cut-and-dried, but if your content is getting shared on social channels, it’s more likely to get linked to, which can help search rankings. And if you’re doing all the other things on this list, that’ll happen naturally as your posts get in front of more people, and they share it with their friends, and their friends share it, and so on…

Last but not least, creating evergreen content should have become a strong part in your content marketing strategy. Trending topics are great to cover and can help generate traffic, but as far as content that will rank well in search engines year after year, evergreen content is where it’s at. Evergreen content could be:

  • In-depth how-to articles covering a particular process from end to end
  • Frequently asked questions (or a post or article delving deep into one particular question people have and addressing it from all angles)
  • Guides to industry terms and standards

And so on. If you ask yourself if someone would be asking this question a few years ago or could conceivably be asking it in a few years from now, and the answer is yes, then it’s a good candidate for evergreen content.

What if you didn’t make those changes? Or don’t want to?

You’re busy, you’ve got a million and one things on your plate at any given moment. So if you didn’t change your content marketing strategy accordingly after Panda’s updates, and you haven’t yet, you might be wondering: why bother? Worse yet, you may be sticking with outdated strategies (like buying backlinks and keyword stuffing) that are bound to get you dinged eventually.

Just because these updates haven’t tanked your site’s search engine rankings yet, doesn’t mean they won’t. Ultimately, the thing to remember about Google is this: they’re in the business of bringing good content to the people. They’re going to keep putting their (considerable) resources behind refining their algorithms and prioritizing high-quality content and websites. You need to prioritize keeping up with those changes, or risk the consequences.

If you’re running a local business, it can be hard to know where to start with this. The best place, though, is by referring back to the list of what makes evergreen content above. Even if you don’t have the time to launch a full-fledged, brand new content marketing strategy, having a collection of evergreen articles on your site can do wonders for your search engine rankings.

The best part? Quality never goes out of style; so if you start working on this now, you won’t have to worry about it as much in the future–no matter what the new algorithm updates bring.


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