When it comes to online marketing and search engine optimisation, webmasters and copywriting agencies keep a close eye on what Google is doing. Over the past few years the world’s most popular search engine has been constantly updating, and few can failed to have heard about the now infamous Panda and Penguin updates.

These algorithm updates have often caused uproar amongst the SEO community and caused dramatic shifts in ranking for some websites. But these updates have generally been aimed at improving search results for users, and for the most part they have been successful to this extent. Key targets on Google’s hitlist of things to banish to the dark corners of the internet have been:

  • Poor quality content
  • Duplicate content appearing in multiple places across the web
  • Content with spammy links and thinly-veiled affiliate agendas

Few could argue that the overall quality of search results hasn’t been improved by these moves. But just went you thought it was safe to paddle back into the digital waters, Google has hit again with another update – Panda 4.1.

What is Panda 4.1?

The original Panda update went live in early 2011, and was mainly intended to tackle ‘content farms’ – websites which contain masses of poor quality content and content that has been ‘scraped’ from other sites. Since then there have been more than two dozen tweaks and revisions to the algorithm, with the most recent being Panda 4.1.

Panda 4.1 began rolling out in early October, and according to Google around 3-5% have been affected by the update. And therein lies the reason for widespread concern over this update, with most similar updates previously affecting less than 2% of results.

At the time, Google’s Pierre Far said on Google+ that, “based on user (and webmaster) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small and medium-sized sites ranking higher.” Of course, Google isn’t about to tell us what these ‘signals’ are, but we can speculate based on the affects that the update has had.

According to a post on Searchmetrics, some of the biggest losers from the update have been games sites, lyric sites and portals offering medical information. This seems to suggest (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the update was targeted at rooting out sites lacking content, and those with little original content. On the flipside, news sites and content-driven entertainment and information sites have climbed the rankings following the update.

To put Panda 4.1 in black and white terms: substantial useful content good, thin unoriginal content bad.

What you can do to avoid the Panda’s paws

The best way to avoid being hit by Panda, and any inevitable future updates, is to create high quality user-focused content.

If you’re currently concerned about the effect that Panda 4.1 might be having on your site’s rankings then the first thing you might want to do is carry out a content audit to identify any pages with content that is too short, poor quality or just generally lacking. You should also identify any content which is taken elsewhere from the web or even repeated across your site. The former may be salvageable with a little tweaking or more substantial additions, while the latter should be binned immediately.

Once you’ve isolated any problem content you can work with a web copywriter or copywriting agency to create content that your visitors (and Google) will love. Content that is:

  • Of a substantial length – 250 words+ is a good standard to aim for
  • Well-written and error-free
  • Useful and interesting to users
  • Original and unique

Bemoan the Panda’s meddling if you want, but isn’t that the kind of content that will reflect positively on your brand anyway?

Read more: Panda 4.1″ Update will Change Your Content Marketing Strategy