Another Day, Another Panda Update: Is Click Bait Winning the War?

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Photo by M.Franke, via Flickr

Panda 4.0

This week Google announced that they would begin rolling out an algorithm update on May 20. This will be version 4.0 of the infamous Panda updates that have vexed site administrators for the past three years. However, at first blush this Panda may not be as ornery as its predecessors.

Rolling out

To be clear, “rolling out” doesn’t necessarily mean “instant impact” (unless you have twin glock .40s, of course). As with almost every other algorithm update in Google’s history, the changes will be applied over the course of approximately 10 days, and are estimated to affect approximately 7.5 percent of English language search results (according to Google). Even though the full breadth of this update may not be known for several more days, there have already been some dramatic changes for a few larger sites.

What does this mean?

So far, among the sites that have suffered the most due to this update are ecommerce and content aggregator sites like Retail Me Not and Spoonful. This seems to reinforce the notion that quality of content trumps quantity. However, some sites that have benefitted from the update such as Zimbio and Buzzfeed are, in my opinion, outliers to this theory.

Slight rant: I hate the incessant stream of social quizzes in my Facebook feed. I don’t care which popular Internet cat you are, or which Hogwarts house you belong in (these are actual recent quizzes from Zimbio. No I won’t link to them because, hey, Zimbio clearly doesn’t need any more inbound traffic to surge ahead in search rankings). And Buzzfeed is so riddled with hyperbole and click bait that I literally can’t even.

The 25 hunkiest Egyptian protesters Buzzfeed articles
Are you fucking kidding me?

Despite my personal feelings on the matter, the fact that sites like Buzzfeed and Zimbio seem to be benefiting from this update could be solid evidence to support the hotly debated prediction that social cues (even more than just Google+) will become a more powerful ranking indicator. The content churned out by these click bait sites is far from scholarly rhetoric, but it is entertaining. It’s the junk food of content, but it’s easy to share and fun to talk about within our social networks.

If this is the case, it’s an epic win for those of us who have encouraged clients over the years to develop content that is memorable and share-worthy. Now we just need to work on the simple task of changing people’s minds about what kind of content is share-worthy.

Thinking ahead

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the object of the game is still to provide the best content and experience for your website users. Telling an interesting and coherent story about your business is more important than funneling your entire marketing budget into pay-per-click campaigns or inbound linking. If it makes sense to create an infographic about your product or industry, by all means go for it! But, if you’re just desperately trying to appear relevant with a Facebook audience that has no interest in what you do, maybe you should rethink your strategy.

Now and into the foreseeable future, think of your SEO not in terms of links and clicks, but as one part of a larger strategy to share your business’s story. To whom will you tell it? Why should they hear it? How can you help your audience and peers share your content in a way that makes them seem like thought leaders too? This way of thinking will help you avoid constantly chasing the search algorithm and instead focus on a more proactive business strategy.

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