Google’s sequencing of search results is performed by a number of algorithms that give a score to every page on the Web with respect to particular keywords. The page with the highest score comes highest in the query results and this is called its “ranking.” Issues that can enhance or damage a page’s rankings because of content quality are assigned to a suite of programs called the Panda algorithm. Indicators show that Google has decided to rethink its position on what it defines as “quality content.” In March 2014, the company gave even clearer signals that Panda is being downgraded. This move will have a major impact on the content marketing policy of law firm websites.
At its inception, Panda was called “Farmer.” This was because it was created to downgrade the importance of “content farms.” A content farm is a company that exists to mass produce articles for the general public. Many of these media companies produce quality articles by established writers. However, as with any bandwagon, the strategy soon became overplayed. Large volumes of poorly presented articles written by cheap Third World telecommuters soon proliferated and quantity triumphed over quality. The first release of Panda occurred in February 2011. The company continued refining the algorithm through to September of that year. The September 2011 update was dubbed Panda 2.5 and it seemed to benefit sites like You Tube and news sites above all others.
The “Freshness” update of November 2011 amplified the effects of Panda 2.5. It put in place the final element that left content marketers with two conflicting strategies. This caused the advancement of blogs and news items above detailed analysis that has long-term currency. Sites offering celebrity gossip proliferated as did plagiarizers. The importance of freshness meant that a copy of an article ranked higher than the original article, because it was newer. The Freshness update affected three times as many sites on the Web as the original Panda release. It altered everyone’s content strategy.
Before Panda, a US law firm could increase its rankings by adding pages of legal advice to its site. You could attract visitors to your Web page by writing titles such as “What do I do in a divorce?” “Who gets the kids?” “The truth about rights for fathers,” and so on. This type of content rarely alters, so you could write it once and then attract visitors year after year. The law changes very slowly and so you would only need to update your advice articles periodically.
Following on from the freshness update you should have switched your content from a knowledge base to a news site. SEO experts should have advised you to produce a blog on your site and add a news page as well. The blog would cover topics like a fathers rights to child access, but should use current examples, rather than express eternal truths. The firm’s news page would probably have been read by few people. However, an item on the installation of a new coffee machine and discussions over changing the firm’s logo, would add freshness to the whole site and therefore advance the rankings of every page. You should have got your major partners and specialists to post blog articles on other websites to attract visitors to your own site. This strategy is called “guest blogging.”
Google noticed that they had created another monster and in the December 2011 updates they very quietly began to tone down Panda and reduce the importance of freshness. The process of getting back lost rankings is called “recovery” and blogging was the most effective Panda recovery strategy you could have implemented. However, the most effective Panda recoveries have all been implemented by Google themselves.
Google’s head of “spamdexing” is Matt Cutts. “Spamdexing” is Google’s terms for the clever tricks that cheat the system and improve a site’s rankings. Therefore anyone involved in search engine optimization is very interested in whatever Matt Cutts has to say. In January 2014, Cutts announced on his own Google-endorsed blog that he was sick of guest blogging. This, in connection with the Panda recovery updates of 2012 and 2013 signaled that the company was about to swing back in favor of articles and against blogs.
Cutts was a guest speaker at the SMX West conference in March 2014. He announced that the company is currently working on a “softening” of Panda, which he expects to be released in May or June of the same year. The justification for this Panda recovery is that the search engine wants to help small businesses and that means small legal practices catering to their local communities will benefit. However, taken in context of all other Panda recovery moves, this announcement can have only one result for your content marketing strategy. Dust down your old articles and make sure they are still current. Get ready to de-emphasize your law firm’s blog and reinstate your knowledge base.