What do PR agencies need to know about Google’s new Panda?

What do PR agencies need to know about Google’s new Panda?

Christian Sharp

Christian Sharp

pandaAll brands want to score highly in search rankings and Google’s latest move changes the goalposts again –but in our view, this time it’s for the better. According to the latest update to Google’s search algorithm Panda, web pages will now be judged by content quality, as well as links, mobile-friendliness and a host of other metrics.

And why is this important for us PR folk? Well, not only will most PR agencies have written web copy, blogs and white papers at some point, but press coverage itself can also (sometimes) contain links back to a website which can drive your brand further up the search rankings. Furthermore, publishers themselves will almost certainly start to scrutinise which articles contributed by brands and PR agencies are performing best and this in turn will have an impact on which articles and news are accepted in future.

This is no pie-in-the-sky: for a while, Forbes paid its freelancers a lump sum for stories, but then a certain amount per hit on the story, encouraging the creation of stories with a long lifespan. Perversely, this frequently encouraged clickbait-style headlines to drive traffic and keep the money flowing to the freelancers.

The good news is that old content isn’t necessarily going to rank lower – which shows PR folk that Google’s search is getting far closer to a ‘human’ way of thinking. It’s analogous to how we think about classic books – the fact that Pride and Prejudice is over 200 years old doesn’t detract from its biting social commentary, pacey plotting and tight characterisation.

But in Google’s mind, what is quality? And what constitutes ‘old’? Well, whilst Google’s AI might be able to beat a European board game champion, it’s not Skynet yet. At the moment, the ranking is determined by ‘satisfying user queries’. So if a page is getting a lot of traffic for goldfish feeding techniques, you’d better make sure you’re providing information on exactly this because higher bounce rates will mean low relevance and consequently, a low score. As for what ‘old’ means, there’s no hard and fast answer. Content over a year old will certainly be judged more harshly than week-old content, but we’ve seen posts from Google execs admitting that age is generally less important than quality.

There are a few other interesting developments from the Panda update, both along the same vein. For example, comments and user-generated content on-site will now also be judged by the same criteria. Whilst comments give a benchmark of content quality – like a book review, reverting to my Pride and Prejudice metaphor – spammy comments will also detract from page quality, so keep moderating or using CAPTCHA codes.

So without further ado, here are some of our recommendations for dealing with Google’s Panda:

Know what you stand for:

Having a pragmatic understanding of what you sell, stand for and why people buy from you or visit your website is an absolute must to informing your content strategy

Make sure everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’:

If your website talks in a different way to your Twitter feed, and that’s different to how your chief exec speaks in public, then you’ve got problems. Consistency helps Google – and by extension, you

No clickbait:

It’s rarely relevant, people are getting sick of it and now, tenuously linking your brand to Cara Delevingne or Khloe Kardashian will get you penalised in the long-run

Focus on unique, quality content:

This will help your general online influence; developing content which appeals to your audience, can’t be found anywhere else and has lasting power may be more intensive, but it’ll pay dividends in the long run

Don’t worry about age … but keep it fresh:

Fresh content will always score more highly in Google, so you can’t just create a raft of content, post it and expect high search rankings. Old, good quality posts are your allies, but you will constantly need to create new content to stay high up in search rankings

Overall, Google’s Panda update is great news for communications practitioners – and terrifying news for others. Poor-quality, 'spammy' content which shuffles around your website like a sci-fi zombie frequently gives the industry a bad name. But unlike Pride and Prejudice, adding zombies is never a good thing - and with Google’s update, perhaps we’ll start to see this 'undead' content gradually put to rest.

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