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Google's Panda 'stalks' search marketers

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If you're a civilian Web surfer, odds are, you like Google's Panda update—but if you're a b-to-b e-commerce site, there's a decent chance you hate it. Panda was unveiled by Google in early 2010 as a way to control the rise of low-quality content “farms.” Sites like eHow were specifically singled out—notorious for short, duplicated copy that was carefully designed to game Google's search algorithms but offering little in the way of rich content. When Panda was introduced, it was estimated to have affected 12% of the sites on the Internet by reducing their search rankings and thus their visibility. The problem, said Brian Bluff, president of Site-Seeker, is that the very models Panda was designed root out are also those used by many e-commerce sites. “We saw a lot of manufacturing sites that were hit hard,” he said. “Some of these sites had 10,000 SKUs [stock-keeping units] and very little content, so they were losing traffic. This is a huge problem.” To his manufacturing clients that suffered Panda-related dropoffs in traffic, Bluff offers these solutions to address the situation.
  • First, “be honest with yourself and recognize you have a problem”; then remove any “garbage” content from your site.
  • Second, send the best possible data back to Google, which in some cases means reconfiguring a site. For example, with sites containing dozens of pages of SKUs that all feature the same basic copy, Bluff recommends blocking the SKU pages into a robot .txt file and dropping them from the site index. That will render them invisible to Google's Web-crawling spiders. With individual pages, create a comprehensive category structure and build out the segmented pages with fresh, original content.
  • Finally, Bluff recommends a robust social strategy tied to the content pages.
“Make your content easy to share,” he said. “Social indicators are becoming the hyperlinks of today. Search engines want to know how often your content is shared and viewed, and social features are viewed as positive.” This is the exact strategy that Rick Short, director of marketing communications at Indium Corp., has pursued. Indium is a traditional electronics material manufacturing and assembly company. The company sells hundreds of products on its website—the kind of design that Panda downgrades. Yet according to Short, the Panda update hasn't affected Indium's traffic. “You could see this coming years ago,” Short said. “We were all going to be publishers, and Google would be serving it up to us. But I didn't want to get trapped in gaming Google. I wanted to be a bona fide publisher of great data that our customers and Google would recognize as authentic.” Indium's resulting Web strategy—a site loaded with rich content, including videos and 72 tightly focused, technical blogs—is proof of the mantra recited by so many marketers today: Content is king. “Where I live, we use our long tail,” he said. “It's about content to contact to cash.”
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