Google officially rolled out Panda 4.0 on May 20, 2014, and since then it's been a wild ride for websites that push a lot of "other people's content." Panda 4's unofficial mission is to penalize the regular use of duplicate content, especially syndicated content brought in via feeds, scraping or other automatic processes. Sites like eBay, Ask.com and retailmenot.com took huge hits in traffic and keyword rankings (>50 percent loss or more) because they routinely publish content grabbed from elsewhere, often without proper attribution or added value. Are we seeing the end of content syndication as we know it?
Image Credit: Moz
One of the closest followers of Panda 4.0, Glenn Gabe, wrote a detailed post about its rapid and dramatic impact on content syndication:
"There were a number of companies that reached out to me with major Panda hits (losing greater than 60 percent of their Google organic traffic overnight). Upon digging into several of those sites, I noticed a pretty serious syndication problem... Those websites had been consuming syndicated content at various levels, and much of that content got hammered during Panda 4.0. The percentage of syndicated content residing on the websites ranged from 20 to 40 percent."
To be fair, since the Panda 4.0 rollout, there have been plenty of ups and downs and recoveries from large scale traffic crashes, and most experts agree the storm is not yet over. Most sites were unaffected, but the message is clear—Google will no longer tolerate websites that publish other peoples' content without adding value or that publish lots of "thin content" for purposes of SEO enhancement. For companies and publishers that engage in content syndication (or have lots of thin content) and have failed to follow best practices, such as using "nofollow" tags to prevent search engine indexing, there are a few easy fixes. Gabe goes on to describe the hard decisions companies need to make as the "nuclear option." We're talking about a wholesale revamp of his clients' websites including, among other things:
Many sites actually got a boost in organic traffic from Panda 4.0. Which ones? Websites that consistently publish original, high quality content widely shared and commented upon. Google has once again made it clear it favors quality over quantity, authorship and sharing over duplication, and it will severely penalize sites that still try to game the system with content that fails to meet these standards.
I think it's far more than a warning shot. If you care about search engine visibility and organic traffic and leads, you need to take action soon. Here are some recommendations from the SEO pros:
#1 - Assess Your Vulnerability
Check your Google Analytics reports from April through June 2014. Is there a big spike (up or down) around May 20? If not, there's probably no reason to call in the SWAT team, but you should still re-evaluate your website content. If you do see a downward spike, you need to move quickly. Check out Glenn Gabe's posts and consider taking immediate expert action.
#2 - Clean House
Those old blog posts and web pages with little traffic and no engagement should be removed. They are not helping, and Google thinks you're trying to impress the world with content volume. See that mean-looking panda over there glaring at you? Don't forget those pages and blogs are still indexed, so either remove them from the index or redirect them to fresh, new, engaging content on the same topic.
#3 - Rethink Your Content Strategy
Jeremy Eisenberg put it just right in his blog post:
"If you are writing for your business or a client’s, it’s the same, write with passion, write to the reader, answer questions, be informative and give examples. Write about current events related to your industry, events you attend, anything relevant. Make sure to give your readers options to follow you, subscribe to your blog, contact you, download an offer."
If you have used tactics like using RSS feeds to provide relevant news to your audience or tried to aggregate third-party content as a resource for your customers, stop doing that now. You should consider removing those modules or sections of your website before Panda slaps you with a penalty. Focus on your own content. It's still OK to quote other people and reproduce portions of their blogs (or graphics) to illustrate or take issue with a point being made. Just make sure you give them proper attribution and use nofollow links. Let the social networks and web/mobile apps do their thing in terms of content aggregation or syndication. We'll see how Panda 4.0 deals with them.
Photo credit: Guillaume Boisseau