I’m Katherine Griwert for your content and coffee with Brafton. Click ‘play’ on the video below or scroll down to read a transcript of this week’s edition.

This week, I want to talk about Pandas and Paydays. It’s been a while since an algorithm has dramatically changed content rankings, but last month’s Panda 4.0 impacted more than 7% of search results – and that was just one SEO update. Other sites were hit by the Payday Loan update, announced on the same day. So how are these updates different, and how can you be sure your content measures up?

Pandas versus Payday loans

First, let’s keep them straight: Panda has sweeping implications, and it can affect just about any site on the web that’s using duplicate or spammy content. The Payday Loan algorithm targets specific verticals that are known for abuse practices with spammy keywords. (Hence where it got it’s name). Matt Cutts has hints that the phrases targeted by Google with a Payday update sometimes come from user complaints.

How can you tell if you’ve been hit?

Let the data tell the story

If you see large dips in organic traffic to your site overall, there could be a number of causes… For Panda, start with Analytics:

  • Use the date range function to see if nonpaid search traffic losses correlate with Panda
  • Identify the top content pages that have lost traffic
  • Use the Analytics Content Drilldown to evaluate buckets of pages on your site – like the blog or an article or product category page
  • Look for correlations between particular page buckets and Panda
  • Examine losing pages and honestly evaluate for thin or unoriginal content; this could be a Panda problem.

With Payday Loan, you’ll also see organic traffic loss, and it’s usually closely tied to individual phrases.

  • Check in Webmaster Tools to see if your pages are not getting “seen in search” for particular top phrases you’ve relied on in the past
  • To the extent that you can get around “not provided,” look at the Analytics keyword function to see if you’re losing traffic referrals on head terms
  • Explore the pages that appear in SERPs (via incognito windows) for top competitive phrases and compare to your own; is it more educational or “spammy” in nature?

A step to help the smaller sites in SEO?

While Payday loans’ targets are unpredictable, and Panda rolls out everywhere, Matt Cutts said last March that some future algo updates would look to “help out the little sites” – but this doesn’t mean small sites get a free pass.

The point is, any business can make itself a big brand worthy of top search spots with niche content, and original answers or insights for users. If you start thinking more carefully about your content investments now you’re less likely to be chasing after algorithms later.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.