By Chris Lee, MD, Planet Content

Did you hear the one about Google’s Panda? No, we’re not talking about endangered bamboo eaters from China and neither are things quite so black and white, but Panda will impact your online marketing strategy.

In April 2011, the world’s most powerful search engine Google radically altered the way it ranks websites by clamping down on so-called ‘content farms’, content-heavy sites that featured high up on search engines purely on the strength of their text-based content. Most are design to generate ad revenues from page views. These sites might be easily findable by search engines but the relevance of their content to the searcher is often limited.

To address this problem, Google unveiled its ‘Panda’ update (read more: First across North America and then across all other English-speaking geographies). Google describes Panda as an “algorithmic improvement designed to help people find more high-quality sites in search”, and it has had a massive impact on visibility of many companies on Google – both positively and negatively.

Winners and losers

We’re now starting to see the biggest winners and losers in the search stakes (read more: Google’s Panda Update Rolls-out To UK, which appears to imply that ‘skinny content’ sites, such as voucher code sites and some review websites, have seen their domains plummet on Google since Panda went live in mid-April, while quality content sites, such as online newspapers and other sites where people spend a lot of time – like ebay.co.uk – have been rewarded.

So what does this mean for online marketers and their search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies? Firstly, it’s good news! We can continue to do what we should be doing anyway: creating compelling, engaging, optimised content that can be shared online and will keep people on the site reading, watching or listening for as long as possible. One of the key metrics of Panda is the social aspect: content that is commented on and shared on social media.

Quality, content-rich sites where people spend time, leave comments and share content should be fine, so placing content on Slideshare.net (read more: How to use Slideshare as part of a content marketing strategy and engaging in online video marketing tips (YouTube, Vimeo and Daily Motion were all cited as “winners”) is something that online marketers should be focussing on. It also means that ‘traditional PR’ is more important than ever, as links from authoritative sites such as the BBC or Guardian will be increasingly important.

Best practice

Google’s Panda update tips the search balance back in the favour of quality, optimised and relevant content, making the playing field far more level for us all. To be effective at SEO and content marketing in general, online marketers need to establish the keywords and phrases they want to focus on, generate relevant, compelling and easily-sharable content around those keywords and phrases, share it on social networks (be sure to use those keywords in your tweets, too), and monitor the performance of those keywords and phrases over time. Also, clue up on basic SEO principles to make sure your site is correctly structured to benefit fully from SEO.

Everyone should familiarise themselves with Google’s own guidelines on how to improve the searchability of their own website. Google Panda is good news for online marketers, but it takes an understanding of SEO principles, a keen creative brain, knowledge of PR and mastery of social media in tandem to make the most of it.

Chris Lee, managing director of online PR and social media training company, Planet Content. The ‘winners and losers’ statistics blog was created by Searchmetrics, a client of the author. Find Chris on Twitter:@CMRLee

To learn more, listen to my podcast on SEO's impact on PR - The convergence of SEO and PR: Podcast with Leapfrogg

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