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Google Panda Penalties, and How to Avoid Them

Even the most cursory look through search engine optimization (SEO) technicalities comes up with information on search engine penalties. Even the least bit of delving into these penalties will run you up against tons of information on one penalty in particular: Google Panda.

Google Panda

Google Panda PenaltyGoogle’s Panda penalty has been around since 2011, and has been one of the most complex SEO factors ever since. The program is aimed to take down websites that live off of poor content, or content that is copied from somewhere else. Because this is such a large task, though, Google is forced to make the penalty automatic, rather than manual: Google’s search crawlers are the ones that attach red flags to your site for shallow content. How they are able to sift through web content and determine what is “shallow,” “weak,” or “poorly written,” though, is difficult to determine.

A Sitewide Penalty

If you do get hit with a Google Panda penalty, the dip in your web traffic can be devastating. Even though it’s the content on individual pages on your site that get flagged as “thin,” it’s your entire site that gets tagged with a Google Panda penalty, so all of your pages will fall in the organic search rankings, killing much of your web traffic.

Worse, Google Panda only looks at your site every month or so. If you get hit with a Panda penalty, there is no removing its label until the program comes back.

How to Avoid a Google Panda Penalty

Like much of the rest of its algorithms and penalties, Google has provided only guarded messages about what Google Panda does. It has issued an official statement concerning what it takes to build a “high-quality site,” which seems to target questions about how to avoid a Panda penalty, but the guidelines are somewhat less than helpful.

Search engine marketers, however, have determined several types of content that triggers the penalty:

  • Content that is poorly written, including that which clearly comes from a writing content mill, and that which does not add any value to a site’s viewers,
  • Content that is too short to have much value, typically agreed to be under 300 words,
  • Content that is either duplicative or copied and pasted from another page on the site, or from another website, entirely.

How to Keep Your Law Firm’s Site from Getting Penalized

With all of this in mind, there are four things that you should avoid doing with your law firm’s website, if you want to successfully dodge a Google Panda penalty:

  1. Keep all of your pages, including blog posts, attorney bios, and practice area landing pages over 300 words,
  2. Do not copy and paste text from somewhere else. This includes statutory law. It’s tempting to pull the text of a law from your state’s government site, or from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell, for use in a blog post. But copying a huge swath of it can make it more likely to trigger a Panda penalty. Keep the quotes short, and don’t be afraid to paraphrase the statute. It’s a blog, not a legal brief,
  3. Make sure that there are no duplicative pages within your site. Some content management systems will create multiple copies of a page in some situations. If a Google crawler sees that, it might result in a Panda penalty for duplicative content,
  4. Spend the time to make sure it reads well. If you’re not a good writer, or don’t have the time to make sure it comes out in readable English, hire professional legal blog writers to help. Not only will it free up your time to do what you really want to do – practice law – it will make sure that your site does not get hit with a Google Panda penalty that will sink it into the depths of your targeted keyword rankings.