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Fighting Google Pandas and Penguins with Content Marketing

Submitted by on May 14, 2012 – 12:00 pm 6 Comments |

TL;DR – Short-term spammy, faux-marketing tactics have been attacked by wild pandas and evil penguins. Content marketing comes to the rescue. Think like a magazine publisher FTW!
Evil Google Penguin?
A couple of years ago, who’d have thought we’d be so worried about Pandas and Penguins!

If a significant portion of your web traffic comes from Google, then you’re more than likely a little bit (or a big bit) concerned by what these seemingly innocuous creatures represent today.

On April 24th of this year, an algorithmic bomb was dropped in the form of a new ranking algorithm that doesn’t seem to have been implemented to improve search quality, in the short-term at least, but to penalise sites using tactics that Google deems ‘unethical’. These tactics are said to include:

  • Low quality link building
  • Over-optimisation of anchor text
  • Keyword stuffing (do people really still do that!?)
  • Cloaking and doorway pages
  • Over-publication of poor quality content, created purely for search engines

This is Google putting their foot down. Hard.

If you didn’t lose traffic after the 24th, then congratulations. Don’t get complacent however, there are indications that this is just the start of wider roll-out of Google’s crackdown. If, on the other hand, you are one of the unfortunate site owners/marketers that have lost rankings and traffic due to this update then what do you do?

Firstly, you need to clean up your SEO. Scrub up your link profile, and lose those spammy side bar and out-of-content/context text links. Look at your link diversity in terms of number of domains and especially anchor text. Assess your on-site content; make sure it’s unique and valuable to your audience.

Even if you haven’t been hit by these updates yet, you need to be prepared for future changes.

  • You need to be writing, shooting, producing, designing, curating and promoting content that is useful to your potential and existing customers
  • You need to be generating social links to your site, and the pages that are linking to your site.
  • You need to be building links through relationships with high quality publications where, believe it or not, your content will actually be read!

Effective content is valuable to your audience, therefore profitable for you
We’ve probably all been guilty, at one time or another, of using low quality content creation services in order to build the content bases of the sites we’ve been marketing. It didn’t make sense to get unique, high quality, well-researched content created to support hundreds of long-tail terms. We’d bung a few links into these pages, with little regard to where they came from, and were happy when our aggregated traffic volumes went up. Can’t do that anymore!

It looks like the days when these cheap and nasty £5 a pop articles were effective are on their way out. Personally, it’s been over 2 years since I decided that poor content just wasn’t any fun, and started building relationships with individual content creators for my business’s article generation requirements. Now I’ve got a large team of great freelance writers for whom we have a top-trump style rating system that lets me see who’s good at what, and how reliable they are. The cost increase of doing it this way has been significant, but not crippling. And its proven to be a worthwhile investment as the difference in terms of the quality is staggering.

And by the way, quality, in relation to online content, is not subjective. Quality online is extremely measurable. Look at social signals, links, traffic volumes, etc. Quality, in terms of driving results, is completely objective.

Below are some of my thoughts on factors essential in the creation, distribution and promotion of content:

Look at your audience as your readership
Want to attract an audience to a website? Then you are a publisher, so you need to think like one. Transcend the transaction. Don’t just promote your products or services, but imagine your site as a magazine that has your commercial audience as its readership. You need to attract, engage and then convert. Create the relevant information that they are looking for. Satisfy their informational requirements and you’ll build profitable relationships.

Coincidentally, an example of the type of content I’m talking about is this very blog post. I run a content marketing business. We create and market hundreds of pieces of content each month on behalf of our clients. I want to be creating and promoting more so I want more clients! I know that my target audience are worried about Google changes, so I’m writing, at this very moment, an article based on my insight into the subject based on the unique perspective I have from measuring the performance of lots of on and off-site content. If you’re finding this article useful then it’s working. If you’re looking for content marketing, I’m on your radar. ;)

I’m exchanging experience, and the time it takes me to write this, for your attention in the hope that what I can do will pique your interest and encourage you to interact with me.

Location, location, location
It’s simple, if you’re posting content off site make sure it’s somewhere that your audience might congregate, or optimised to piggyback on a strong domain authority to appear in relevant Google searches. Make sure that it links back to pages on your site that add value to a reader. Each click is a step further along the buyer cycle so content should be tailored to cater for the evolving informational requirement of your audience as they move through this cycle.

Posting your content at the right time is also important. Think like an email marketer. When are your audience going to be most receptive, or searching, for the information you’re providing them.

If you build it, they will not necessarily come… so tell people about it!
I come across this all the time, where brands have had great content created, posted it on their site and then… nothing. They’ve sat back with a contented smile, thinking ‘my work here is done’ only to find that they’re not generating the huge volumes of traffic that they could be. The work doesn’t end when the article is put live! That’s when the real graft begins.

Content, to be effective, must be socialised! From the beginning of the briefing process, to the day that the content is taken off your site, maximising social traffic is a primary objective. The topic, theme, subject, whatever needs to be conceived in such a way that it will gain popularity on the social networks that are relevant to your business. Once again, think like a publisher. Your headlines need to be compelling. The content itself can’t be a let down, it needs to have flow, personality and genuinely address its topic.

Promote, promote and promote it again.
One tweet from your brand profile will not suffice. Tweet out about different angles of your content repeatedly, with #hashtags, from multiple profiles. Get your employees, co-workers, friends, family, anyone and everyone you can possibly motivate to share it. Post about it on Facebook. G+, Reddit, Digg, Stumbleupon and any other relevant social environments.

Keeping up-to-date with all these tools is virtually a full-time job in itself as there are new ones popping up all the time. I’m particularly liking at the moment, a collaboration between the guys at SEOmoz and Hubspot. It’s completely relevant to my target audience of online marketers, and a great resource for up-to-date posts.

Old school, but still effective is finding similar recent posts on high traffic sites and making a valuable comment about the post including a link to your content for the readers further information. This is not comment spam. This is adding value to a cross-site conversation.

What would PR do?
PRs use valuable content and relationships with publishers to get their clients promoted. You need to be doing the same.

You need to have a target list of the other publishers out there who are relevant to your site and influence your audience. Go out and build relationships with them. Guest post. If you’ve got the budgets sponsor clever content series like Microsoft’s Spark of Genius series on Mashable.

Think like a PR who’s looking to get coverage in some serious publications like the national press. Use your content and current events to newsjack whenever possible, and get on the news agenda. Journalists are linking out fairly regularly these days, rarely on exact match anchor text but who cares, you need diversity of anchor text in you link profile.

Build a database
I’m always surprised at how few brands take advantage of the power of a strong database. If your audience have given you their email addresses, they’re inviting you into their sphere of attention. Regular, well-written newsletters are one of the best ways to promote your content. And think laterally, if you don’t have a large database, find someone who does. Bloggers are generally pretty good at database marketing. Personally I always look forward to newsletters from Conversation Marketing and Hobo…their content is always interesting and it influences me, and consistently drives me to their sites for more info. Find a relevant blogger, and offer them something of value to them in return for promoting your content in their newsletters.

We’re back to real marketing
It’s all about building your brand and becoming a trusted source of useful information. When you have a readership, you have a captive audience to market to through providing them with the information they need to allow them to make the purchasing decisions you want them to make.

Herein lies the long-term success of the Panda and Penguin updates. The faux-marketing, spam tactics that have rendered useless, if not actively damaging to your site, were a short-term solution that added little value beyond rankings. Now, as online marketers, the short cuts that were open to us are closing, we have to look beyond rankings and demonstrate the real skills of the marketer: identifying the audience, catering to their informational requirements, creating desire, motivating action, measuring, analysing and improving.

Good luck!


  • Matt Page says:

    Very interesting… now if only I had the time!

  • James Coakes says:

    This is a very useful summary. There was a lot of talk about the nature of Penguin before it arrived and many were a little non-plussed when it eventually showed the colour of its feathers. Haven’t the practices it deals with been bad practice in Google’s rule book for many years? The bottom line is they’ve stepped up the battle and improved the way they measure these things and it does seem to have changed the index.

    It has reopened one of the old debates about SEO though. Will your competitors now be able to cause your website problems by buying dodgy links and aiming them at you? A dodgy link campaign is a dodgy link campaign and Google will never develop the technology to be able to tell who pushed the Paypal button to launch it.

  • Eliz Brown says:

    Your post is interesting, but it still doesn’t clearly answer the question how to fight the penguin. I have a quality site, I’ve worked really hard on it and wrote all the content there myself, users were finding it helpful but now the change is only bringing traffic that doesn’t stay on the site, so that is a bad user experience – Why would Google do that?

    You cannot push quality content to quality resources and not all topics have “so much left to write about” that there is any unwritten helpful information left…

    • Gus Ferguson says:

      @james – I agree that the negative SEO issue is one of the scariest things facing website owners/managers today.

      @Eliz – I don’t believe that there is ANY topic for which it’s impossible to create well-crafted, audience-driven content. That’s where creativity in finding new angles, audience understanding and strategic content placement come in. This content, when well distributed and promoted will generate engaged direct traffic, natural links/social links, and other indicators of a site that users are finding a valuable resource.

  • Paul says:

    In reading all of the different takes on the waddling Penguin and the hungry Panda that Google released from their cages at the Google Wildlife Refuge, the consensus seems to be “Quality Content”. Thankfully you put out a definition of “Quality Content”, that finally sunk into the dim recesses of my brain. Quality content is content that the user can make use of, and judged as quality by Google, by the interaction of users. Do I understand that correctly? If so you are saying market it and they the users will come. Anybody else feel like we have been hoodwinked by the very people that call themselves SEO Experts? The mantra of build links and they will come sound familiar to anyone? I guess Google’s godliness explains why they are being investigated by the EU and the USA for undesirable behavior. Glad that I am not an adwords user on either side. Keeps me from contributing to the delinquency of the animals. Thanks for sharing more on Google’s escaped critters.

  • Julz says:

    If content is king then a 300 page site that is hand crafted and gives information should not be struck by the Panda or Penguin
    My sites pagerank has gone up this time, but traffic is down by 75% .Google has a lot to answer for They used to give you pagerank if you had lots of sites linking to you. So you work hard and get 7000 plus sites linking to you then They give you pr4 then they take it away Because they change their algorithum, you wait a little while and they give your pr back then they take it away again.
    WHEN are they going to learn that if you have a site that gives information! That is what it does.
    Most of the time info does not change unless law changes or they find life on Mars.
    Nice article by the way.

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