SEO: Google’s Panda is NOT always cuddly.

I’m a lover of analogy, which is why I think it’s great that Google named their latest algorithm update “Panda”. No really, think about it… panda’s are these gorgeous, endangered creatures who seem so pleasant and docile. They’re often used in cartoons and shown in advertising as these sweet lovable animals that elicit “Oooos” and “Ahhhs” from the crowd. People even flock to stare at grainy video of panda babies live on the interwebs.

Then reality sets in. People forget how we referred to these animals before calling them “Giant Pandas” or the cuter “Pandas”…we called them “Panda Bears”. Operative word being BEAR. Folks get to close to them in the wild? They get attacked. Humans, for whatever reason see a panda at a zoo and “just want to hug it? I hope your medical insurance is paid up. These are bears. BEARS.

Well, lets cut to Google. Back in 2009, Google released an update called “Caffeine”. And LOADS of people saw their SEO stats skyrocket. According to Amit Singhal of Google, with caffeine “we basically got a lot of good fresh content, and some not so good.” Marketers the world over were happy as clams at high tide, their sites were showing up more and more because the results in the search engine itself were boosted as well. (I guess this helped out Bing somewhat too, since they stole so much from Google in the first place….). So when Marketers heard that Google was about to release a new update, this time called “Panda”, much like the Chinese man who jumped in the panda pen for a cuddly bear hug….they got mauled.

Many many sites saw themselves get lowered in results or in many cases dropped all-together. More than a few of those sites deserved it…the link farms and prose style “content” linking sites being among those culprits, and some who, unfortunately, didn’t deserve it fell through the cracks as well. You could almost hear the collective scream of marketing managers everywhere as they realized that the almost useful content they had created so that you would see their “tried and true 30 second money making system!” when you searched for mortgage or “lose up to 1000 pounds a week!” when you searched for health, suddenly just were not effective anymore.

Stop and listen for a second…the echos of that scream are still dying off in the distance.

I’m in a bit of a sticky position here…as a web designer who has to build pages to suit the needs of a marketing team…but on the flip side, I’m a web production purist who doesn’t see the need to put things up that aren’t USEFUL. I consider it a waste of my time when I am searching the web for one product, one piece of information, one news item only to stumble upon page after page of useless marketing prose designed to lure me in and not give me what I need.

Lets face it, I work with some of the brightest marketing minds in the business, but at the end of the day, users want to find what they are looking for, even if you’re selling them a product. To do this, you need to write good content. Too many marketers believe the operating word is “good” and not enough realize that it is in actuality “content”. For example, here at the company I work for, when we were selling a product for learning Spanish, we didn’t simply toss out a bunch of marketingese and bullet points about the program, we also add in the intangible benefits, and stories about Spanish speaking countries. That may seem a bit elementary, but in the end, would you rather buy from a page that says “we can teach you, pay us money” or a page that says “we can teach you, here is how, and here is the wonderful world you get when you learn”?

Giant Panda 03

Image by PictureWendy via Flickr

Google isn’t the bad guy here, really. Keep in mind, Google exists to serve the folks that come to their site to search for things, not the folks who show up in the search results, or even the folks who buy ads on Google itself. In the end, Google is a search engine, and in the words of Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal themselves, Google’s “goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content—both good and bad—comes online all the time.”

So you can be smart, write good CONTENT and see your SEO placement continue upwards, or you can just climb the railing, and run down there to hug that panda.

Just don’t be surprised when the Panda bites you.

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