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What Is Panda?

  • Panda is a learning algorithm that is used to determine the relevance of websites, with regard to their positions in Google’s search engine results. Google first released ‘Panda’ in February 2011, and the algorithm has been steadily evolving ever since.
  • When Google’s team manually review a website, they mark it up or down on various positive or negative aspects of the site. In the process, the reviewers are teaching the Panda algorithm to make the same sort of judgements automatically, by showing it what to look at, what to like and what not to like.
  • In late February 2012, Google released the latest incarnation of the Panda algorithm – Panda 3.3.

What Does This Mean?

  • Link-building has long been a key aspect of the SEO process. Links that were built back to your website are known to serve as a ‘vote of confidence’, indicating that the linking domain trusts and respects your website. This would then prompt Google to elevate your website through the search engine rankings.
  • While this is still fundamentally true – link-building is still very important, and can help to increase your rankings – since Panda 3.3, links have been evaluated differently.
  • Where previous incarnations of Panda would attribute greater importance to links from high PR websites, Panda 3.3 has switched the focus to relevance. The link to your website must come from a website with the same topic as yours, or it’s not going to count for much.
  • Previously successful link-building practices, such as posting on article websites, are now ineffective. The links that these practices are used to build are now viewed as less significant.

How Will This Affect My Website?

  • If you have a website that has regularly had links built back to it, you may notice a drop in your Google rankings. Depending on the number of links built to the website, this drop may be severe.
  • This does not mean that Google is punishing you. Instead of penalising websites for building irrelevant links, Google is simply discounting all value that those links previously carried.
  • In the past, people have made money from ‘auto blogs’ – services that would ‘scrape’ article directories and other websites, change it slightly, and then re-post the content on blogs that were designed to generate advertising revenue. These scraped articles would often include the links back to the site where the original, high-quality article came from. This built up a large number of poor-quality links with lots of anchor text, which boosted a lot of websites in the search results. These are the types of links which have been devalued, and so websites have seen their rankings drop.
  • If the SEO benefit of your site relies heavily on high page rank (but contextually irrelevant, in the eyes of Panda 3.3) links, then you may also notice a more substantial drop.

What Can Be Done?

  • Link-building is still extremely important, but only if the links built are related to the focus of your website. To improve the SEO of your website, you should be focusing on relevant links, rather than strong links.
  • Guest blogging is a solid way of securing links. By offering content to other websites in your field (as a guest author, in exchange for a link back to your website) you ensure that your links are from websites which contain the same industry words and phrases as your own. This demonstrates to Panda that the link is relevant.
  • Press releases are, more than ever, a great way of building relevant links. If you have something to report on your business, then announce it! Put together a press release and distribute it among press release websites. Links to your website from a press release about your business are seen as relevant.

What Makes A Good Link?

Good Links:

  • Come from pages containing unique content (found nowhere else on the internet)
  • Come from websites that relate to the same industry or topic as your website
  • Are contextually related to the content on the pages that are linking to you
  • Come from pages that contain around 500-1000 words’ worth of content
  • Demonstrate that you are an expert in your industry

Bad Links:

  • Come from websites that have no contextual link to the topic of your website
  • Are crammed into articles and posts that have nothing to do with the topic of your website
  • Come from pages that are full of irrelevant links (link farms)

So What’s The Next Step?

  • Firstly, don’t panic. It can be disconcerting to see that a website you have carefully built and managed has dropped through the rankings, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re not the only one feeling the effects of the Panda 3.3 update – your competitors are most likely experiencing the same problem as you.
  • Trust your SEO company. If they’re on the ball, they’ll already be putting new plans and techniques in place to ensure that your website’s rankings are stabilised as quickly as possible – and working on effective link-building strategies to help you rise through the rankings once again.
  • Create engaging content. Put together press releases and send them out; make videos and host them on your website; write interesting articles or blog entries and post them on your site. Give people a reason to come back to your website again and again, and give them a genuine reason to link to you.
  • Stay positive. Everyone’s in the same boat since Panda 3.3 – which means that you can be one of the first to start rowing. If you react now, you (or your SEO company) can take advantage of this newly-levelled playing field and work to establish your website as a leader in your field.
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