Understanding the softer Panda

Every year Google set off alarms bells, sirens and roadside bombs, disrupting the search landscape. This disruption is a concerted effort to confuse, disorientate and devastate those who they believe have in some way benefited ‘unfairly’ in their search engine (and not paid them for the privilege). Regardless if those who they affect are the best matches for the search queries or offer the best services in their sector, nor do they seemingly care much about collateral damage or domains affected by negative SEO which is Much Easier Now!

This righteousness is enforced for the most part algorithmically and refactored about once every year in a major way. At the time of each major update, they normally throw in a few other minor changes so as to be sure no one affected really knows what exactly happened, why or when! Its been an effective model to challenge and tame the psychology of those people tasked by companies to effect some positive change in this competitive arena.  

With jobs, companies and livelihoods on the line, the last thing anyone wants, is to have fingers pointed at them, accusing them of falling afoul of Google’s terms of service. As a result most have adopted a defensive approach. This is where first and foremost they think of their own jobs and playing it safe, this results in mundane efforts achieving mediocre results. Better for the company to die slow rather than anyone being able to accuse them of being underhand and manipulating Google.

When companies get ‘hit’ they can’t sue Google, so they occasionally resort to suing the SEO agency, but when Google get it wrong and hit people unfairly they simply retract sometime later (16% Claim Recovery After Google’s Panda 4.0 Update) if your lucky ha… without any apologies and for the most the part, the people WRONGLY affected simply thank them for the recovery (even if the penalty was unfair). Google won’t admit applying algorithmic penalties despite everyone wanting to know 70%+ Want Public Disclosure Of Google Penalties, because they would be inundated with complaints and reconsideration requests! It has come to this quite simply because most domains have some sort of penalty because that’s just the way Google’s algorithm works!


In this new era of SEO, we have seen the focus change away from the inbound links (PENGUIN) back to the realm of ‘on page content’ (PANDA). But before you rewrite all your on-page content, know this important but largely ignored or unknown facet. It’s not about the content so much as its about the outbound links within that content!

For many years I have been saying to my clients they can gain a couple of positions by simply adding some decent, relevant outbound links to the content and pages they are competing for, these subtle and easy changes can give you a couple of positions when you are already on the first page of Google! But this is almost counter intuitive to most people because they are still conditioned to think that Pagerank (outbound flow of juice) would be lost as a result of adding links, not only that but they consider outbound links helpful to others (if they paid for the juice no point given it away free), lastly they know they can get penalized for linking out, as it could appear that they are ‘selling links’ (Google forbid).

So what is Soft Panda?

Is it about ‘thin content’, specifically content that’s not very original or where there’s not very much of it, or is it caused by a lack of outbound links to other relevant resources? Lets ask Matt Cutt’s. Matt what do you think of content without outbound links?

Matt Cutt’s: “Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, but parts of our system encourage links to good sites”.

Listen carefully to this small but telling nugget of information, however, it does not inform us of what sort of places you should be linking to which can actually benefit search positions! Most people wrongly assume that when linking out, one should be linking out to other authority places. These being the easiest to find most often linked to pages on the net, prominent government sites, the Wikipedia, etc. However these pages add virtually no value in Google’s “add value to the debate” algorithm. Instead those types of links could be seen as lazy linking by adding nothing new to the debate!


Their algorithm is looking for interesting and relevant places which it hasn’t seen links too often before, pages with the fewest number of links, certainly pages that have less than 100 or so other inbound links and pages which have no other links are even better (provided they are not spam).

And what is spam?

Spam is indicated first and foremost by the anchor text, the higher the monetary value that an anchor text may have according to Adwords, the more likely it is to be classified as spam! When linking out, natural links should not use high money terms in the anchors, and of course when linking to a page make sure that page has itself outbound links that make that content valuable too!


The changing role of the ‘SEO engineer’ has become as complicated as the role of the best engineers working at Google, who look at, de-compile, analyze and build systems to protect against every form of manipulation they can scale against.


If your SEO agency has not performed a FULL and extensive analysis of your backlinks then I would seriously question their ability to advise you on anything (as they simply do not know themselves).

If your SEO agency has not performed any link removal work on your behalf and simply instead disavowed a few bad links then again they are most likely performing a mediocre ‘minimum viable service’.

If your SEO agency refuse to engage in link building on your behalf but instead have offered to build you ‘natural’ social media links with the aim of helping you ranking positions then you need not wonder why they have not helped your ranks. Ensuring you have good natural looking links today is as integral as anytime in Google history.


This is a risky terrain, you’re playing against many other people who are also managing the same risks. But more importantly, you are playing against Google (the house) who always win regardless and who could not care less.

There are companies who are being penalized but who have never bought a single link, or manipulated anything, instead they are caught up in Google’s war on spam, they suffer for many months while they negotiate with Google spending sometimes thousands of pounds trying to understand what struggles they face.

There are also companies who invest everything they have into their main ‘brand’ domain and then get hit with a penalty, but are unable to shake it loose nor shake loose their attachment to that domain, hence they go down with the ship.

Risk has always been at the threshold of page one results, but today the job of the SEO engineer is to understand that risk and not be paralyzed by it. To know what the real risks are, where they are located and know how to manage those risks, to know what is acceptable risk, to know when to give up on a project, to know how to revive a project, and to know how to win in today’s terrain by manipulating Google in the most elegant and safest way possible!

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