Panda 4.0 and Payday 2.0 both hit recently, and seem to have targeted a few prominent content farms (along with eBay, possibly, but more on that in a bit).
Google has a habit of releasing significant updates in bursts, perhaps so that they are able to better obfuscate the inner workings of their algorithms, so nothing is clear-cut. Regardless, here’s what the Panda 4.0/Payday 2.0 combo probably means to some of the most common types of online business.
The most prominent victim of Panda 4 so far has been eBay. There’s some discussion, however, over whether eBay has actually been penalised for thin content, or whether it’s a separate manual penalty aimed at doorway pages.
Why don’t we have both?
It also seems plausible that doorway pages could be being penalised as a particular type of thin content, in which case the update could help Google cut out a whole swathe of doorway pages at a stroke – instead of issuing tiring manual penalties.
Whatever the cause is, it represents a rare opportunity for smaller eCommerce sites to step up and have a bash at getting into the top ten.
Aside from that, the only real thing to do is to beef up product descriptions and provide genuine value to users with your copy.
Specialised eCommerce sites, which are often unfairly left competing with general-purpose giants, could stand to benefit the most.
Agencies are a special case no matter what they do, because they’re highly specialised niche companies focussing on carrying out one task or group of tasks to a very high quality. The content they create is therefore equally niche and specialised.
For this reason, many agencies should see a small uptick in organic traffic. Most of the significantly damaged content farms competed for valuable space on the front page with genuine industry experts, so Panda/Payday should give industry experts some breathing room.
Niche sites and niche experts should now have a little more room to breathe and show off what they know.
To really exploit the opening, though, you’ll need to have some world-class content live already and follow it up immediately with a dedicated outreach program. In a relatively open field, there could be substantial organic traffic gains to be had.
This could be seen as an element of Matt Cutt’s “Authority over popularity” plan, in which he has suggested that niche expertise could come to be valued over a reputation for solid, but broad and lay-written, content. Perhaps it’s a happy accident, as after all Buzzfeed was one of the recent winners, but arguably Buzzfeed write incredibly niche content.
Intermediaries (for instance industry portals, job sites, or Yell-like directories) suffer in organic search to an extent because their content tends to be written by non-experts. The subject-experts in the company are typically too busy liaising with client companies and freelancers to contribute directly.
This may put pressure on them from both below, from niche sites and businesses who can claim expertise, and from above, from general sites and businesses with ridiculous numbers of backlinks and fantastic social presence.
Some intermediaries following SEO best practices will see an increase in organic traffic, especially in niche industries targeted by Payday 2.0, as their less scrupulous rivals fall away like wet cake.
It might still be a difficult time to be an intermediary, though.
Affiliates, as a sub-class of intermediary, could be especially badly-damaged in certain areas. Content that exists solely to funnel users towards a new target has never been much admired by Google, and this latest update can only hurt any content like this.
Content providers who depend exclusively on crowd-sourced content, with its extremely variable quality, should see sharp declines in traffic.
Niche and high quality sites should be largely unaffected – although their content is good, their content subject matter will not usually compete with typically ‘thin’ content subjects.
The biggest winners should be very high quality, very general content providers who are focussed on hard fact rather than subjective issues.
With borderline cases removed, expect spammy ad-revenue-farming sites and blatantly horrible content to hit the first page of the SERPs.
This always happens with major updates, as algorithm updates aimed at optimising result quality often destroy mediocre content which gets the job done and allow utterly awful content to bubble up to Google’s front page.
As always, though, don’t expect this to last long. Content-free pages and placeholders might be the norm for a little while, but after a few tweaks and manual penalties they should be put back in their place. Hopefully.
What We’re Seeing
Mostly, we’re seeing our clients experience a very slight uplift in organic traffic as rivals drop out of the rankings for bad practice.
There’s not a lot of drama associated with this update; nor should there be. Thin content has always been a big target, and this is a simple continuation of Google’s work to rein it in.
Business as usual for the majority of SEO agencies, then!