Did Panda Kill SEO Copywriting?

I didn’t know that one of Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday videos could cause someone to worry about her career path. But that’s exactly what happened.

Yesterday, I received an email from a talented SEO copywriter who had watched Rand’s video, “How Google’s Panda Update Changed Search Engine Optimization Forever.” She said:

“What stood out to me was this notion, to paraphrase, Writing good, unique and useful optimized content is not enough anymore. Google actually penalizes pages that are written for SEO, such as 200-word pages that are helpful, topic-specific and have keywords woven in, and inbound links. Even if they answer the visitors’ questions and include a strong offer and call to action, that’s not good enough for Google Panda. All web pages must have personality, great photos, videos or images, something to offer that’s different from all the boilerplate stuff out there.”

Her fear? Rand’s message meant that solid SEO copywriting won’t help sites post-Panda – or not as much as it did before.

This misconception bums me out.That’s not what Rand  was saying – but it shows how much confusion swirls around Panda and SEO content. In fact, Barry Schwartz reported that Google’s Susan Moskwa has implored folks to quit reading tin foil SEO articles. (Hat tip to Barry who found the best photo ever for the post!).

Quality SEO copywriting is alive and well. Panda just killed the “junk.”

Remember, some people thought the definition of “SEO copywriting” meant something completely different than what it really was (and is.) Pre-Panda, many site owners (and SEO companies) routinely spit out low-quality content that was narrowly focused around keywords. It wasn’t quality content. It wasn’t even written for users, really. It was written with one goal in mind: Search engine positioning.

That’s the content that was penalized. Not quality SEO writing (if you’re wondering what quality SEO writing is, check out this post about building high-quality sites by Amit Singhal of Google).

After all, words are the connective tissue of the Web.

Rand says in his video:

“As SEOs, we never really had to think as much or as broadly about, “What is the experience of this website? Is it creating a brand that people are going to love and share and reward and trust?” Now we kind of have to think about that. It is almost like the job of SEO has been upgraded from SEO to web strategist.”

The thing is, high-quality SEO copywriters have always thought about the experience – that’s part of developing the site’s tone and feel. We’ve always dived into customer personas and created user-driven content. Every word we’ve written was designed to build trust. To build brand. To educate. To inspire. The search engine “stuff” was almost secondary.

Plus, when SEO copywriters can work in tandem with IT, marketing, design and branding – magical things can happen.

So, did Panda kill SEO copywriting? Heck no!

Is good content here to stay? Yes.

Can SEO copywriters still make a difference? You bet.

All is well. :)

19 replies
  1. Nick Stamoulis says:

    Panda won’t affect those that have been following a white hat SEO strategy all along. If you’ve consistently produced quality original content there is nothing to worry about. In fact, we should be happy about the update because it will benefit us and penalize those that haven’t been following the rules.

  2. Scott says:

    Panda is now looking at the environment around the good content in many cases. Quality content will always have a place, but website background noise in the form of many areas is now being looked at closer, which can put content in a bit more jeopardy. The quality of the website may have lesser content ranking higher, while killer content in a poor environment may fail.

  3. Heather says:

    Nick, that’s exactly how I feel. My clients weren’t hit by Panda (I’m guessing your clients fared just fine, too.)

    I’m happy to see the “thin content sites” out of the top spot. VERY happy. What’s sad is that people are focusing on fear rather than the facts – and it’s causing them to question the role of SEO content (and SEO copywriters.)

    Thanks for your post!

  4. Pam says:

    Great post! Glad to see your enthusiastic response to this topic — there’s nothing like getting burned up about something. :-) Thank you so much for being a champion of great SEO Copywriting and smacking folks upside the head regarding the value of skilled writers.

    • Heather says:

      Pam, thank YOU! Your SEO copywriting work has always been high-quality – and I know that you’re a SEO copywriting champion, too. :)

      As for smacking folks upside the head…who me? :) Yeah, I do tend to be a tad…um…opinionated. Hehe.

  5. Joe Thomas says:

    Thank you, Heather, for writing this much-needed article. I personally was getting tired of people who are saying SEO copywriting is dead. After reviewing the list of Panda’s 100 “losers,” quality, consumer-focused websites come out ahead of the game. Nevertheless, companies and clients do not see it this way yet, a majority of them are still scared by the “ferocious” Panda. Based on my experience with private clients, there has been a huge upswing in “premium” content, rather than the less costly, mediocre made-for-SEO copy.

    In the company I work at, there’s this notion that “keywords” are bad for business and “hurt” SEO efforts post-Panda. Strategically speaking, it’s still equally important to optimize the content, all Panda is saying is put the user first by offering engaging, informative, and high-quality copy. It’s really simple. Moreover, professional SEO copywriters naturally integrate keywords, so readers would not even notice you are optimizing the page.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, Joe, for your post.

      Panda is having a HUGE ripple effect – you’re right. A major paradigm shift is necessary – site owners (and SEO companies) need to move away from the keyword stuffed article mindset and move into quality content. If companies want good content, that means realigning their expectations (and paying more than they may have been used to pre-Panda.)

      Ouch…sorry that your company believe that keywords are bad for business. How are you working to change that (or do you figure that it’s a lost cause?)


  6. Amy C. Teeple says:

    It’s funny. I once told someone that I wrote copy that appeals to search engines AND people and he was amazed. This gentlemen worked for a rather large chamber of commerce and he said I was the first person that he talked to that mentioned writing for both. Sure he was trying to sell me something, but at the same time, he truly seemed a bit awed. That saddened me a bit (since that means there are so many writers/agencies NOT caring about the end user). But then, it also made me happy to know that I definitely had an edge on the local competition.

    Of course, now that the big bad Panda has left its mark, I may see competitors who suddenly care about the content they write.

  7. Sarah says:

    Ditto to most of what’s been said. Glad all around to see that skill, care and quality win in the long run. Heather, always great to read your take on things!

  8. Terry Van Horne says:

    Heather, truth be told I think Rand’s advice is easily misconstrued. Mainly cuz I see some of the types of content that people says don’t work… still working and well. However, if you’re in the payday loan category of those sites you see:

    A: In general the tecghnique was overused with too narrow of focus, that, I agree seems an element of the algo

    B: this is not a penalty in any sense of the word! It is simply an algo to make the techniques associated with some content type less valuable (likely partly manual and partly algorithmic). Penalty is often misused in our industry. If Google decides certain content is less valuable than thought… Google is not penalizing you… your expectations of the technique were not meant! There’s a difference and your judgement about content will improve if you don’t see these as penalties but a shift in value. Those who call them penalties need to see a site that gets penalized… panda though big… is nothing in comparison

    C: if you look at the article archives in particular you see the heaviest hits are to the cats described above. ie inordinate amount of content with very narrow keyword focus.

    I have spent a lot of time reviewing Panda with a lot of people asking me to review their site thinking they were hit. Many times I can’t see it directly on the site but you look at the off site work and well a lot of times it’s collateral damage from the sites linking to them sending much less value/link equity or as some may call it authority/PR.

    BTW seen lots of people add images, comments, videos etc. I’d say it’s hardly a fix or that those elements are required for Google to like your page, people definitely but Google IMO, could care less!

    In 16/7 years I’ve learned one thing that I always remnind myself going into a project… all sites and businesses are unique… your campaigns and strategy should be based on that rather than some cookie cutter solution like spinning articles and some magic formula that google likes to see in a page. #JusSayin

  9. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for helping to unravel the Panda-riddle. It seems, the more I read, that solid content that is SEO- and conversion-optimized is still the way to go.

    I haven’t noticed it affecting my clients negatively and I love the challenge to continue developing my strategist skills for a better user experience.

    Thanks again.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Vanessa!

      You’re exactly right – solid content that’s SEO AND conversion optimized is still the way to go. Congrats that none of your clients were attacked by the big, hungry Panda. That definitely shows that you’re doing something right. :)

      Thanks for your comment!

  10. Graham says:

    I am in the UK. I went to two Internet marketing exhibitions recently and there were plenty of companies pushing SEO optimised content creation and linkback services. All said that they were 100% white hat, honest, quality focused and could produce original content. All dismissed panda as having no effect on their customers. 7 SEO companies at one show claimed to be number 1 (or 2) in SEO and related services in the country ! Sadly the industry is still full of SnakE Oil purveyors. If you need to keep your sites alive and you don’t have the time, writing skills or knowledge to write fantastic articles that Google will love then you have to outsource the task. Finding good copywriters is like panning for gold and likely to throw up fools gold more often than 24kt gold. I challenged one company to write 15 compelling articles about cement (or drainage) that Google will love … I’m still waiting for the quote.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Graham!

      Wow, it wasn’t too long ago when there were NO content shops exhibiting at a conference (at least during Search Engine Strategies.) I’d say that SEO content providers have come a long way…but I also know what kinds of companies are out there. :) Hopefully, at least one of them exhibiting *was* a solid white hat provider.

      Oddly, I have written content about cement (assuming cement pavers qualifies!) It was a…challenge…but the client liked the articles (and I did too!) :)

      Thanks for your post.


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