Does Your Content Look Like Panda Chowder To Google?

panda-closeFew things make content marketers more jittery than Google penalties, which can be swift, harsh and lasting. Any business owner that’s ever suffered through a penalty will use words like “painful,” “severe,” unclear” and “lengthy.” CMOs and CEOs tend to get real close and personal with their in-house SEOs and content people when their business suffers a Penguin Update, which often pay a visit after company’s have engaged in questionable link building practices.

But mention a Panda update to any exec and you’re likely to witness equal parts rage and sadness.

Panda-penalty“The damn thing came out of nowhere,” said the CEO of a midsize Dallas, Texas-based company. “With Penguin, it hurt, but I knew we’d bought links, so it wasn’t a shock. [Panda] basically pushed us off a cliff. Our main keywords went kaput seemingly overnight. It drove home to the point that we need to update our content…get quality content on our site, and have folks at every level be accountable for what’s placed on our web properties. This can’t happen again.”

As a content strategist who frequently audited sites having very “ugly” content, (i.e., thin, duplicate, etc.), I can tell you firsthand that the Panda update can be a lasting hurt, in large part because it signals that someone’s eyes were not squarely on the ball. (Panda Updates are meant to punish websites that promote a poor user experience while bumping up in the SERPs those websites that reward users with an excellent user experience, making the penalties as beneficial as they are harsh.)

Though the updates can be brought on by a wide range of user-experience-related causes, three of the most common and most easily fixed tend to show up time after time after time, in my experience:

  1. Thin content: content that’s often keyword stuffed but lacking in specificity, which means searchers land on the page, discern no real value, then leave.
  2. Duplicate content: two are more pages of the exact same copy and/or images, which is something Google hates.
  3. Web design wastelands: sites that load slowly owing to homepage sliders and annoying graphics, but lack engaging content and thus has zero engagement.

Again, the list of elements that could bring the Panda to your doorstep is long and wide, but basically it comes down to this: Would a user benefit from finding, then “interacting” with your content?

For the three sins above, the fixes are fairly straightforward. We’ll go through them one at a time:

Thin Content

Take a look at your main product or service pages. They’re likely light on images, graphs or charts and heavy with keyword-bloated copy. Am I right? You’ll need to rewrite these, beefing them up to add value, depth and lower the keyword density. That’s where most companies stop, however.

(To gain a thorough understanding of how Google defines thin content, listen to Matt Cutts as he lists some of the main culprits.)

To further ensure that users are rewarded for their efforts, you need to take two additional steps:

  1. Ensure that each page is geared to answer a single question (e.g., focused on a specific area of service) and has the depth to answer the question the user likely asked in the search query, and do so with more
    depth than anyone else could. Your job is to make each page the definitive resource for the user who lands on that page.
  2. Include links to similar pages on the website. A high bounce rate is a big no-no for Google. Give readers a reason to stay on your site by linking to blogs on the same or similar topic and to other web pages they might find interesting as well. The longer users stay on site, and the more pages they visit, the further away you’re keeping Panda.

Duplicate Content

It doesn’t matter how many pages you think you have on your website. What matters is how many pages have been indexed by Google. Typically the numbers you think you have and the number Google says you have are not in agreement, which means your website has duplicate content. A few pages here or there aren’t the problem.

Hundreds of pages on a website that only has a few thousand pages is, however, a problem.

duplicate content

Image provided courtesy of

There are a few ways to fix the problem, but we’re only going to focus on three:

  • Use the Rel=”canonical”tag, which tells Google that a given piece of content is a copy of the content shown at the URL listed.
  • A 301 Direct basically condenses two pages of copy into a single page, as Google sees it, which ensures they won’t compete against one another.
  • While not the most palatable means of handling duplicate content when there are hundreds or thousands of pages to fix, when thin duplicate pages are in play, a “cut and condense” approach could be the simplest fix. Kill off the useless pages, creating one useful page in their place.

Web Design

Business owners love to ask “What, exactly, should be on my homepage?” A more beneficial question might be, “What should never be on my homepage?”

The list would begin with homepage slider. But for as bad as sliders are, poorly designed navigation is not much better. We’ve all seen the blog hidden in the main navigation, haven’t we? And we already know users can’t visit what they cannot find.

HubSpot Main Navigation

Make users a priority by…

  • Having the blog and/or other main category pages clearly visible in the Main Nav
  • Adding social buttons to each post and page (Social activity is clear sign to Google that the page contains useful information)
  • Adding a clear call-to-action on every page (e.g., “download this free ebook,” “take our short survey,” “get your free guide now,” etc.)

Let me be very clear: I’m not saying taking care of the issues above will keep you out of harm’s way as it regards Panda. What I am saying is, by doing the things above, your business will be less at risk of suffering the fate so many others have fallen victim to.

What do you see as the biggest priority for keeping Panda away?

SERP Analysis 2014 – Everything You Need to Know About Google Results


The Times They Are A-Changin’

When you’re doing online marketing it’s really easy to get stuck in a pattern of looking at analytics, your SEO tools, or your spreadsheets to determine your next move on your own site. This time last year I created a post to help understand the SERPs, and explored what you could expect from the results page when you search on Google. It’s shocking to see just how much has changed in the past year and how it could impact your strategic decisions for your online marketing. When I started writing this blog post, we still had authorship photos. When I reached out to a couple of my SEO friends for their input, we’d just had the bombshell drop that authorship photos were now gone from the SERP.

R.I.P. Author Photos in SERPS. Google doesn’t want any visuals distracting from paid search real estate. With Google+ leadership shakeup, is Google Authorship next on the chopping block? – Steven Shattuck

Of course, as just a little more time passed, the removal of Google Authorship from the SERP in it’s entirety happened. There’s plenty to digest here in this change. The most important thing though is to truly understand that Google is not going to sit still. They’re constantly releasing changes to their algorithm, and aren’t afraid to shake up the SERPs just because they’ve made a significant investment.

Ninja in a blazer

“Google stopped treating the SERPs like bus stop benches. So authorship photos are out.” – A.J Ghergich

Knowledge Graph- It’s Growing, and Becoming More Important

“The biggest changes I’m seeing with SERPs is the use of scraped content and Google’s promotion of their own services. Google is increasingly displaying publisher content at the top of their search results, thus negating the need to visit a publisher’s site. In addition, they’re promoting their own properties well above other competing sites. A good example of this can be seen with the search “Weird Al, Word Crimes” – Jon Henshaw of Raven Tools

Weird Al, Word Crimes - Google Search

Some other SEOs are thinking that not only is there a broadening of their own content or scraped content, but it’s something that SEO’s truly need to be concerned about. Tadeusz Szewczyk is a well known voice in SEO, here’s what he had to say:

“In 2014 Google’s tendency to resemble a portal become less apparent. Google still wants to prevent users from clicking through to third party sites but attempts to reduce clutter while at it. With the recent removal of Google authorship images and follower counts as well as video thumbnail previews from SERPs Google cleans up so that there are fewer distractions from their ads. The most unnerving recent change is the increased scraping of third party sites. It has been already going on in 2013 but mostly for long tail “how to” queries. Right now already two word keyphrases like “treat sunburn” lead to a content pages on Google that scrape from a third party site while the link to it is far below. Additional results are mostly below the fold even without ads showing. So Google is effectively stealing text content from sites without sending traffic their way.

In many cases all you need to know is already displayed on Google or at least enough advice to start with. You can click for an additional bullet point or two if you really want to. This is a dangerous development for webmasters both of the scraped sites and those showing below the scraped results. After books, news, images, music the big Google content grab finally reaches the main stage, all other websites that were meant to “just create great content”. Now we know why. It’s for Google to steal and republish for free.” – Tadeusz Szewczyk of

Google Query for [treat sunburn]

Let’s take a look at some of these queries Tad is talking about to get an idea of what’s going on in the results.

Artist Queries [Weird Al]

Weird AL - SERP

A search where you can see the impact of Google playing the role of data provider is on a search for a musical artist. Try searching for [Weird Al] and you’ll get a full length, multi-section knowledge graph entry. This includes additional knowledge based entries about his spouse, parents and movies that don’t even send to third parties but to additional queries! It’s really important to also note that there’s now direct monetization of the Knowledge Graph.

Foil - Click from Weird AL Google Search

Knowledge Base For Movies [Karate Robo Zabogar] & Books [Snow Crash]


Here we again see wikipedia cited as a source, and additional searches for more information about the characters, the book series and the Author. There’s also review data from 3rd party sites in addition to Google Books.

Notable Issues with Knowledge Graph

While Google is generally very good about how it displays information stored in it’s Knowledge base, it’s not perfect.

Terry Richardson Photographs

“Google Knowledge graph is everywhere and not always quite right…Apparently Terry takes photos of President Obama and IS Obama…so I guess this is a selfie.” – A.J. Ghergich

The Rich World Of Snippets

The very clever AJ Kohn wrote this must read analysis of rich snippets and the separate algorithm that triggers them in your results. It really does help to understand that it’s not enough anymore just to add schema markup in order to get rich snippets, there are other factors at play.

Reviews of Guardians of the Galaxy

“The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” Neal Stephenson

We have now become suspect when we see a 5 star rating on a restaurant with more than 5 reviewers. We know that within every group of customers, there’s always going to be a curmudgeon, an oscar the grouch who will always be that 1 star review.

The Big 2014 SERP Style Update

One big change that you’re going to notice if you’re comparing the SERP to yesteryear is the styling. Dr. Pete over at Moz detailed all of the changes in his before and after post. In short though, you can see changes to Adwords display, Title link underlining and general text styling.

moz before and after 2014 SERP update

Developments in Personalization & Customization of SERPS

“Customization is going to continue to to risk creating a bit of an echo chamber for SERPs. Marketers will need to sharpen their social and targeting games to reach broad audiences.” – Paul Nicholson

best restaurants in NashvilleMy SERP is directly impacted by the people in my G+ circles, when I search for [Best restaurant in Nashville] this G+ result comes up from Robert Warren who I only know through G+ and Ingress (Viva la Resistance!). This is important to keep in mind if your planning your social media strategy and are not thinking about using Google Plus. No other social media outlet is going to impact people’s SERP results directly like this.

How Google Displays Brands

“Brands have been the big winners in organic search lately. It’s only a matter of time until Google does the same thing for local search, and recent updates like Pigeon only put us one step closer. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next 6-12 months with local search results.” – Tanner Petroff


Google is still providing advantages to established sites by providing Sitelinks to deeper content, powered by your Titles and descriptions providing even more incentive to get your metas right site wide.

Authority Labs

If you properly deploy Rel=publisher markup, then you can also expect to see your recent G+ activity on your brand term SERP. Given the recent treatment of Authorship, it’s no guarantee to stay around forever but for now it’s worth the small effort.

Mac Wikipedia entry

You also now have incentive to try and get a Wikipedia entry for your company if it’s of a large enough size, as you will be attributed a brand knowledge graph element. Good luck navigating the process of getting a Wikipedia entry created without being marked as spam though.

Google Local SERPs

“The Google ‘Pigeon’ Update Boosts Local Directories such as Yelp. It also aligned local search results more closely with the ranking factors they use in normal web search. – A.J. Ghergich”

In the early Summer of 2014 Google announced an update to the algorithm that affected local searches. Not only did it alter the order of local results, it also had an impact on which SERPs for specific industries would contain the local mapped results. Let’s take a look at some local queries to see what the local search scene looks like here in 2014.

bars in nashville - Google Search

The Google Carousel is alive and well, and now includes a filtering option to allow you to sort by price, rating or more.

nashville realtors

While [Nashville realtor] and [Nashville real estate] won’t trigger local results after the Pigeon update, there’s still plenty of reason to fight for local placement on queries where local is still a result.

nashville landscaping

If you provide a service where you come to your client’s home, like landscaping, then you now get special demarkation on your local result showing your service area.

Let’s See What Google Can Do!

There are more and more queries are giving more and more functionality to the Google SERP. Here’s an exploration of queries that will trigger some novelty and possibly useful SERPs for you.

Plan a Trip with Google Flights [BNA to Norfolk Cost]

With the increase in air travel this SERP could be really helpful for planning. Of course, you should note that these are actually paid advertisement deals that the airlines have worked out with Google.
google-flights SERP

Set A Timer [Timer For 20 Minutes]

Need to cook something and don’t have a stopwatch handy? Use this SERP to set a timer with a surprisingly loud alarm.

Timer SERP

What Is My I.P?

Need to filter out your traffic from Google Analytics, here you go.

What Is My IP - Google Search

Need Awnser To Maths?

x+y=7 Google SERP

If your query has a number of results from forums or answer sites then you may see this type of result, showing how many answers and when they were posted.

More Advanced Maths


While you can do advanced graphing now with Google SERPs if you’ve got an updated browser, you can also put in less specific terms and still get the results you’re looking for from Google calculator.

20 percent of 2 billion

What’s For Dinner?

Calories in a potato

What To Do Tonight [Nashville Concerts]

Nashville Concerts

You can expect to see some rich snippets here and there for event based queries.

Let’s Wrap This Up: Keep Ahead Of The SERP

“Due to Google’s increased understanding of users’ needs, traffic coming from the SERPs performs better and better. Is it more challenging to rank appropriately these days? Yes. But the increase in quality traffic is worth it. If SEOs have the same goal as Google, provide better web experiences for their users, then the internet will be a happy place. The most most attractive thing about being an online marketer is the constant challenge to better our skills. Bring it on Google!” – Ashley Balstad

There’s plenty of changes this year to the SERPs and you can expect just as much change in the coming days. Just be sure to surface from your client reports and check out what it’s actually like to search Google in a real way that people would use to find your service or product. Take advantage of advanced tactics, but know that they aren’t always going to give you the same advantage over time.

If you’ve seen some other unusual SERPS or have a useful observation then be sure to share it in the comments!

How To ‘Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing’


Google’s latest change, removing Authorship from the search results, was a enough to set the online marketing community aflutter, as folks wondered what’s next from the search engine juggernaut. It doesn’t help that a rumored Panda refresh sent tremors through the industry recently and, word is, a Penguin update is expected any day now.

What’s a marketer to do?

Take a deep breath. We don’t have a crystal ball —at least not one that we’re ready to make public— but the latest changes and rumors of change are nothing to lose sleep over. Google makes changes daily, and most of those changes arouse little fanfare, primarily because they go unnoticed. What we’ve learned is the news itself can often serve to be more harmful than the actual substance of the news.

For example, most brands that don’t play the low-quality links or thin-content game have little to fear from Penguin and Panda. What’s more, the HTTPS migration warrants caution, not hysteria.

Don’t Become Distracted From Your Long-Term Goals

Recently, while while watching ESPN’s recent coverage of 2014 NCAA Football National Champion Florida State Seminoles, we heard a quote that resonated: “Keep the main thing the main thing.”Those words were uttered by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher when asked how he keeps his team focused on the year ahead.

We liked the short, sweet, all-inclusive summation that coalesces individual and team goals. Most important, however, we like how, when applied to business, it serves to keep our eyes on the prize so we always know what’s important -the goal(s).

Let’s say your company has a 90-day goal of growing blog traffic, which means you’ll need team members producing engaging content for the site on a daily basis. To do this, each person is given the assignment of spending two hours per week to better understand the needs of their prospects and clients, through phone calls, emails and online research.

With the “Keep the main thing the main thing” mantra top-of-mind, you can deliver several actionable tips to the team:

1. Take a timeout: Saying “Don’t let daily distractions get in the way of progress” is easy in theory. In reality? Not so much. Whenever you read or hear something that gives you pause, take a chill pill before deciding to do anything with the information. Get away from the report or the news, then come back with a fresh perspective. If it requires attention, get a second opinion. If could be that the information deserves nothing in the way of meaningful attention.

2. Make the time for what’s important: It’s not enough that team members are responsible for finding two hours a week for research and interviews. They must build this routine into their schedule. Have each person block off time during the day or the week to make this a reality.

3. Reconvene, regroup, refine. Remember, the goal is to see sustainable progress at or before 90 days. With that in mind, your team must be continually meeting, assessing, refining and deploying new techniques to get at what performs best in the way of onsite content. The best results come about through making the process iterative, whereby you’re subtly tweaking the content even as the results are improving in your favor.

Care to share your company’s tips for keeping your eye on the prize and attacking your goals?

Track Google Rankings in Cities Worldwide and New Report Scheduling

We’re excited to announce two new, awesome features that will be very useful for everyone using our rank tracking interface.

Worldwide City and Postal Code Rankings for Google

Tracking search results at the city level is now mandatory for many industries. We have had the ability to track rankings by city or zipcode for the United States as a feature of our interface for a while. As of today, you can begin tracking down to the city or zip code in almost every location worldwide that is supported by Google.

Track Google Rankings at the City Level

To get started, click the “Add Domain” button in your sidebar. You will be able to select a country and if we have supported cities within that country, an additional box will display where you can search for supported cities.

New Report Scheduling

While we have had several SEO reporting options for a while, many people have requested automatic emails of our PDF reports. You can now choose to send immediate, weekly, or monthly reports to anyone at any email address specified.

Scheduled PDF

When you set the PDF up to share, it will maintain the sorting options of your current view, so make sure to get it looking the way you want and then use the share button in the top right corner to schedule the report.

We know that everyone will love these new features. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact us through the Support link in the sidebar of the interface.

Growing Your Network Is Essential For Growing Your Business

GrowthI’m on record as saying brand storytelling, at least as it’s typically executed, is a bunch of hooey sold by marketers as a means of getting the content business from brands.

Even so, I do rather enjoy telling stories, especially those that help illustrate a point.

For example, I can’t think of a single time when, during the initial consultation with a prospect, I have not shared a research-related story I read in college, about why even amongst the brightest groups of people on earth, there are individuals who consistently rise above everyone else.

Decades ago researchers studied a group of scientist at the Rand Corporation to get at the answer, believing the institution—home to some of the brightest minds on earth—would provide the ideal sample.

What they found was surprising and unforgettable: The individuals at the top weren’t more intelligent than their peers. They were better connected. When they encountered a problem, their vast network could and would provide them with an answer faster than everyone else. This meant they were able to assimilate ideas sooner and better than teammates, and do so consistently.

I read this study many years later, as a sophomore in college, but to this very day I use the example to make a very important point when talking to prospects, colleagues, friends and family members.

“You’re only as strong as your network. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room; you must strive to be the most connected person among your peers.”

This quote always comes up when business owners ask me “What one thing would you do, right now, if your were in my position?”

I always say “Grow your network as far and as wide as possible.”


  • It can protect you from reckless, haphazard decision-making.
  • You expand exponentially the pool of knowledge you’re able to pull from.
  • Connectedness makes you and your business “desirable,” largely because people want to know and be around people who know people.
  • It creates a level of all-important familiarity to other businesses and vendors, many of whom won’t do business with you if you’re not vetted.
  • It makes you more interesting. The more people you know, the more stories you have to share and the more interesting you become to others. (That’s the real value of storytelling, by the way—using the stories of others to add meaning to your brand.)

This line of thinking is all the more important for the online world, where, all too often folks rely only upon online connections and phone calls, which are not near as strong as in-person connections.

Now that you know why I recommend building your network, here’s how I recommend you go about making it a reality for your business:

1. Press the flesh. Join local organizations and associations that make it possible for you to interact with people in the overall community, not just the business community. Become an active, visible participant. What you do will naturally come up, and because you’re part of the group, the people you now know are more likely to think of you if they or someone they know needs your services.

2. Think beyond the business. The online world is so immersive it can be exhausting. That’s why it’s imperative you get away from the spreadsheets and work on you, the person. Take a walk, join a gym, volunteer at a local organization. The people you meet can and will enrich your life and make you a better businessperson.

3. Read widely. The world will be just fine if you didn’t read the latest marketing, SEO or social media blog for a few days. Visit the local library and pick up a few books, some with titles outside of business. The most important elements needed to move your company forward will come from disparate sources. Reading widely makes it easier to uncover tactics other business owners won’t be aware of.

4. Get adopted by many mentors. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t choose mentors; they choose you. Single out several people in your area who you admire and would love to learn from. (Do not limit it to businesspeople.) Reach out to them with an offer of buying them coffee or lunch with no strings attached. These initial interactions can become monthly meetings.

5. Develop a reputation for being a good listener. With each new interaction, strive to be interested, not interesting. Show a sincere interest in whomever you’re talking to and the information they’re sharing while working to be seen as the person who’s “easy to be around.” You’ll be amazed at how often you’re a party to conversations you might never have been a part of but that are immensely helpful.

I worry often that digital marketing is “training” us all to be insular experts of our domains, leading us to close ourselves off to the vast outside world.

Your business cannot afford such a course of action. Go ahead, become an expert, but realize that the experts all around you are a tremendous pool of talent who can help propel your business to new heights.

I’m reminded of a quote from historian Richard Brookhiser: “Perhaps the wise leader should strive to have [experts] on tap and not be one himself.”

Allow that to soak in.

Are you ready to start networking with purpose?

How to Use Screaming Frog with Excel

Screaming-FrogIf you haven’t used Screaming Frog, you are missing out.

Screaming Frog is a tool that scrapes your site and identifies common SEO issues. It then presents them in a way that is easy to export and edit in Excel. I know, my dream tool.

You can get started with Screaming Frog for free! Or you buy the tool for $99 a year and get these cool features:

  • The 500 URL crawl limit is removed
  • You can access ALL the configuration options
  • You can save and re-upload crawls
  • You can search for anything in the source code of a website with the custom source code search feature
  • You get support for any technical issues with the software

Check out the full tuTORIal here!

Or follow along below, whichever tickles your fancy.

Step 1 – Off to the Races

Enter in your domain and hit the start button. It will take about 1-3 minute, depending on the size of your site. The links will start dropping in.


Step 2 – Play and Explore

You can sort by any of these columns, just by clicking on the header. An arrow will appear and you can sort by ascending or descending.


Step 3 – Find Broken Links

I’m in the External tab right now, which means I’m looking at all the links that are on and linking to other sites. You can see that this status code is a 404, which means that the link is broken. I can go into the bottom portion of the tool for a more in depth look at the link I have selected.


Step 4 – Drill Down

While in the Meta Description tab, you can find out more about any of the content in these rows by just clicking on the cell. Once you do that, the bottom portion of the tool will breakdown more details about that specific page’s meta description.


Step 5 – Export Your Data

Exporting your data is super simple. While on a main tab, select the export button. Then save to your specific folder. In this tuTORIal, I exported the Internal, External and Meta Description tabs.


Step 6 – Bring it into Excel

Here I took my three raw CSVs exports and complied them into one Raw Data tab.

2_step1-copy over raw data

Step 7 – Creating Tables

To do this, I selected the data I wanted in my table and selected, Home > Styles > Format as Table. If you would like to learn more about table formatting, check out my Excel for Noobs post.


Step 8 – Formatting

For the External Response Codes, I created four conditional formatting rules. If you’re not familiar with how to do this, skip ahead to where I cover it in this tutorial. Want to learn more about it? Check out my 101 Wednesday on Conditional Formatting.


Step 9 – More Formatting!

Because, pretty colors. I repeated this process over for the Meta Descriptions. Follow along here.


Step 10 – Make Your Own Pretty Colors!


Now that I’ve given you a starting point, I hope you explore this tool even more. Feel free to share you screamingly awesome endeavors with me on Twitter. Thanks!