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Google Panda update: A boon for content marketers

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Direct marketers have been asking themselves about the impact of the Google Panda update, undertaken in February by the search engine giant to filter out low-quality, duplicated or not-very-useful pages from its search query results.

In making these changes to its search algorithm, Google has pinpointed “content farm” sites such as the how-to site eHow and the Q&A site Answerbag, as well as sites that feature a disproportionate amount of advertising instead of informative text.

Arnie Kuenn, president of search and content agency Vertical Measures, has told me Google's algorithm update is “one of the biggest, most significant updates from Google in years.”

The impact has been profound, affecting millions of pages in almost every topic area. In fact, many pages have been squeezed out of their organic search rankings with one push from the hand of Google. For example, search engine Mahalo.com, which responds to search queries using human editors rather than algorithms, almost immediately announced a 10% employee reduction due to the impact the Panda update had on its website.

In an email to staffers, Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis said: “It's hard not to be disappointed, since we've been spending millions of dollars on producing highly professional content.”

It's important to remember, however, that this isn't personal on Google's part. As Kuenn said me, with an algorithmic update like this, low-quality pages on a site can cause rankings for the entire site to decline, even the high-quality pages.

While some struggle with the impact, others are cashing in. Our own Content Marketing Institute site has benefited from slight increases in search engine rankings from Google almost across the board, resulting in traffic additions of about 10% since the Panda update.

In addition, no one can discount the importance of social media in search anymore, as Google indexes social content and uses it to determine the authority of websites.

This comes back to a single ingredient direct and content marketers as well as publishers need to succeed in the Panda battle: Create valuable, compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis to a targeted user base. This is something that publishers have long known but that corporate content marketers are just beginning to grasp.

So what to do besides just creating great website content? Here, courtesy of Lee Odden, CEO of Minneapolis search agency TopRank Online, are four ideas:

  • Evaluate your site for content with characteristics of duplication, low information value and too many ads. Remove them, or make an effort to make that content more useful and valuable by adding information.
  • Continue to focus on creating, original and useful content.
  • Promote your content so that it attracts links from other websites.
  • Make it easy for readers of your content to share it socially, via Twitter, Facebook or other such channels. Social engagement with content and social sharing are valuable signals for both search engines and users.
The Panda update should be a boon for direct and content marketers. Those brands that continue to feed the content beast with material that addresses customers' pain points and reduce selling-oriented items will win in the eyes of Google.

Joe Pulizzi is executive director of the Content Marketing Institute, producer of Content Marketing World 2011, and chief content officer of Junta42, a custom publishing company. He can be reached at joe@junta42.com.

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