Panda 4.0 was officially launched by Google on May 20 and confirmed by Matt Cutts via Twitter. Although Google makes about 550 algorithm changes each year, there are some that are significant enough to affect a website’s SEO rankings. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep track of when major algorithm changes are introduced (i.e. Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda, etc.) to help explain why your rankings, SEO, and organic website traffic may have faltered. One great way to do this is by using the annotation feature within your Google Analytics account and creating a new annotation each time a significant change is unveiled. (See above)

Getting back to the Panda 4.0 update, why is it important and what do these changes have to do with higher education? The most recent changes may have negatively affected higher education websites in a roundabout way.

When search engines, like Google, launch a change, it’s important to at least try to understand what they want to accomplish with the update. This can be done by following various blogs and Tweets to keep abreast of the rationale. Often people in the search engine realm will give some indication of what led to the update and offer insights on what to expect and why it’s happening. Historically, Google’s goal has been to “reward” high quality sites that have solid content with higher rankings. With the latest changes there are two important factors to note.

  1. Google is continuing to reward sites with solid content that gets the appropriate information to people who are online searching for it. If the content on your site can answer the specific questions and needs of your target audience in a thoughtful, rational way, then you’re ahead of the curve. If each page of your site has unique content that’s regularly updated, even better.
  2. Google aims to punish more spammy-like industries where link-building and spam tactics are more extreme. An unintended result is that press release sites (PR Newswire, PR Web, Business Wire, and PR Log) have been dramatically affected by this update. In fact, their SEO visibility dropped by about 60% on average, due to the number of links on their sites and the fact that their content was viewed as “light” and, therefore, “spammy.” However, this impacts our higher education partners because now their press releases are not getting seen as often. One way to combat this is to post to social media to ensure that your news is being seen and distributed.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? The importance of content. Make sure you have solid content on your website that meets the needs of your intended audiences. If possible, get feedback from outside sources (conduct usability tests, ask friends) to make sure you are catering to the needs of your target audiences. And finally, schedule and push your content out to as many platforms as you can, and always provide a link back to your site no matter how you post.

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