If you could swear that you heard the faint sounds of distant screaming last weekend, don't worry, it wasn't just your imagination (or the voices in your head acting up again). Just before the weekend, Google released the latest iteration of the Panda search algorithm--referred to unofficially as "Panda 4.1."
Every time a new version of Google Panda rolls out, just about everyone in the SEO industry holds their collective breath, and for good reason: Panda has become notorious for playing hell with search rankings. And nobody is safe. Perhaps the most infamous victim of Google’s much-feared algorithm is (so far) eBay, who got absolutely hammered by Panda 4.0 back in May and lost more than two-thirds of its front page search rankings.
Let’s take a step back and explain the whole point of Panda. Google isn’t doing this just to traumatize hard working web developers and SEO specialists. Panda’s reign of terror has a purpose: to punish sites that have nothing to offer to the Internet. It specifically targets websites that offer “thin” or “low-quality content.” These are sites that steal their content from elsewhere, engage in keyword-stuffing, or which have no other purpose than to be click-bait so that unsuspecting browsers get slapped in the face with a page full of ads.
It has already become pretty clear that Panda 4.1 is merrily continuing that trend, and only eviscerating targets who deserve its ire. Thus far, it appears that the major targets this round feature content that falls into 3 major categories: (1) song lyrics, (2) video games, and (3) medical information. These categories may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but there is in fact a common thread running through all of them–sites focusing on those topics are notorious for stealing content.
Just to give you an example, at random, I pulled up a description of the drug Abilify on WebMD, randomly selected a sentence from the article, and did a Google search. This was the result:
Notice the fact that this wasn’t just a sentence that happened to pop up commonly. Look at the following sentence in each of those search results (“It helps you think…”). It shows up in every single top-ranking result. And there’s 29 and a half thousand more of the exact same thing where that came from. All of these sites are ‘borrowing’ the same content from one another, with the original source probably being marketing info written by the manufacturers of Abilify.
The situation is the same with sites that focus on video games and lyrics. Video game sites will lean heavily on promotional content written by the games’ manufacturers, or even steal content from review sites that produce original content. And lyrics sites… well, they’re inherently unoriginal, because their whole purpose is to deliver content that somebody else wrote.
It’s easy to steal content. And it’s easy for the folks at Google to catch thieves in the act. If their engine sees a very original phrase (such as “purple monkey dishwasher“) show up on a site in 1999, then every instance of it that appears on a website after that date is an unoriginal copy of that original content. There is no advantage to Google producing 20 copies of the exact same thing (or 29.5 thousand, for that matter).
The object lesson from all of this is a simple one: BE. ORIGINAL. As we’ve talked about more than once, producing original content is massively important. It makes it clear that your business is still alive and functioning, and it signals to Google et. al. that you actually have something to say. If you stoop to parroting what somebody else has already said, sooner or later Panda will catch up to you, and it’ll eat your search rankings for lunch.