Panda's SEO web copy implications are far from black and white

10 July, 2012

Like you, I’ve read a few overdramatic articles about recent Google search engine updates such as Panda, Venice, Penguin and others.

Also like you, I wanted to know how Google’s updates would really affect me. I’m an SEO web copywriter for lots of different businesses, as well as being webmaster of my own copywriting site.

“How will Panda and Penguin change my approach to SEO web copywriting?” That’s the question I’ve attempted to answer here – although as you’ll see, the situation is far from black and white at the moment.

SEO keywords dead?

The first hasty conclusion content writers might jump to is about keywords. They’ve been the cornerstone of SEOweb copywriting since forever, as I wrote about a while ago.

The new Google updates have almost certainly changed the rules on keywords. Panda’s aim was to eliminate webspam – useless, nonsensical content filled with keywords – from search results. To do this, Google had to stop relying so heavily on counting keywords to rank the best pages. In fact, Google has penalised websites it considers to be “over-optimised”.

So here’s the problem. If Google penalises websites that cram their pages with too many keywords, that must mean keywords are no longer valuable. Right?

Wrong. Quite an overreaction, in fact.

Think about it. Google’s ONLY possible method of matching a text search query with the text content of a page is, and always will be, by comparing the words and phrases in each (along with the words in inbound links, social media posts, user comments and so on).

Keywords, as a concept, are safe. The world hasn’t been turned completely on its head. How we use keywords scientifically in 2012 though – that’s a question that’s still being answered by SEO experts.

The advice right now simply not to over-use keywords. Although that was always good advice.

Human evaluation

The biggest change to Google is that it now judges the quality of your website in a new way. And it’s a pretty interesting way, too.

The company asked thousands of humans, like you and me, to rate thousands of websites in terms of quality. Google then used that data to create a new version of the Googlebot, which could analyse websites in the same way the humans did and with the same results. A sort of artificial intelligence, I suppose.

It’s this Googlebot that is judging your whole website right now.

In theory, the Googlebot likes the same type of websites that the average human does. If it rates your website as high quality, all of your content will rank higher. If it decides your website is badly designed, or has poor content, or is excessively optimised, all of your pages will rank lower.

Precisely how does this work? That’s another thing that’s still being figured out, since Google has been vague as ever about the whole thing.

Assuming it works as it should though, your emphasis should be on one thing: creating quality content that appeals to humans rather than to (now-outmoded) SEO techniques. In theory, content is finally king.

The proof is in the searching

To see how all this works in practice, I did a few searches on Google UK.

One of the most interesting was a search for “Panda SEO copywriting”. Surprisingly, all of the top three results for were from the same website.

First was a blog article that had all three search words in its title tags. Copy was around 300 words and featured those keywords again at a reasonable frequency. Classic SEO copywriting features.

In second was a page about SEO copywriting that didn’t mention Panda directly at all. This illustrates how Google is now able to find pages about the correct topic, even if they don’t contain all of the words in the search term. I suppose the doubts about keyword power are somewhat validated here.

And third was an article all about writing SEO copy with Panda in mind. Again, my search phrase didn’t appear verbatim anywhere on the page. The “quality” of the website and the topic of the content are what lifted this page into the bronze medal place.

The fact that all three results came from the site also says lots about what makes good SEO copy in 2012. The author created multiple pages of original content, across different formats (a blog post, an article and a traditional page) and about one appropriate topic or theme. Keywords occur naturally when you pick the right topic. The danger of over-optimising is almost nil.

Try a few searches yourself and I’m sure you’ll find the following points ring true:

  • Top results still feature the search term or related terms in the html title and several times within the copy. Quality SEO copywriting techniques still work!
  • Sites that make content the star – rather than ads and links – rank higher.
  • Sites that frequently add new content rank higher than old, static websites.
  • Excessively-optimised pages with aggressive use of keywords and links are nowhere to be found.

If I had to draw one conclusion on the implications of Panda et al. for SEO web copywriting, it would be this: you can no longer achieve anything with one well-optimised page. Google now considers the overall quality of your site when ranking each individual page, and you’ll need a site-wide plan for producing regular, quality content to hit the top.

What’s been your experience with Google’s search engine updates? Have you changed the way you create web content? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Neil Wheatley

Neil Wheatley is a Manchester-based freelance copywriter who writes for agencies and marketing depts across the UK. He isn’t this grumpy in person.

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Mel Fenson
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Ahh, thank-you Neil, that has dissipated the fog...a bit :-)

Post reply
Neil Wheatley
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Yes it looked like the fog will be around for a while longer. A bit like our beautiful British July weather.

Post reply
Neil Wheatley
16th October 2017 at 9:16am


Post reply
Steve White
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

Very interesting. Having a fairly new site, it is good to see there is potentially a level playing field.

Post reply
Neil Wheatley
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

So long as you plan and create your content well, I do believe there are excellent opportunities to rank highly in search. SEO pros can definitely help, but even without them I've managed to find some success myself. Good luck with your new site!

Post reply
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

SEO keywords should be used differently today. We should focus more on the entire content - on building up context and pay a lot of attention to visitor metrics.

Post reply
Ash Young
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

This has always been the case with the web, content & the user should always be prioritised.

Post reply
Tabby Williams
16th October 2017 at 9:16am

How we used keywords then and how we should use them now has changed drastically and there's nothing we can do about it but to evolve and adapt including our processes.

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