A recent article on on Practical Ecommerce says that Panda 4.2 complicates SEO for e-commerce sites – it points out that although Panda 4.2 rolled-out recently, Panda 4.1 happened hack in October 2014, 10 months ago. Is it right and fair that sites can get stuck in Panda’s filter for that long?

That was the second topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…

BEN MAGEE: I can see both sides of it. Panda’s been out for so long now that if you are still on that line between where an update might affect you, I can see that it’s been two or three years now, you really shouldn’t be falling foul of these kind of penalties anymore. But at the same time, for new businesses, for new start-ups or even for new SEOs that aren’t aware of updates or that are struggling against big brands, it would be very time-intensive, for instance, to go through all of your ecommerce pages and to create new and unique meta titles, meta descriptions, whereas the bigger brands will probably run it based on their authority and the fact that they’re a household name. So yeah, I can see both sides of it. On one hand, really by now everyone should be up to speed and not really doing anything that would fall foul of Panda, but at the same time, is that feasible on a massive ecommerce website? I don’t know. So I’ll play Devil’s Advocate on that one!

DAVID BAIN: Yeah. On the face of it, Panda seems like a good idea, like ensuring that webpages and websites produce decent, authoritative, fairly unique content out there and hopefully a good user experience because of it, but of course ecommerce sites by their nature, if they’re selling tens of thousands of different SKUs, perhaps won’t have that much unique and different content on those pages. And it doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested in viewing those pages because perhaps that company might be selling these products at a great rate and have good reviews, and simply because of the fact that there’s not that much unique content on the pages, Google might even just not be not willing to rank those pages but actually maybe even penalising the domain as a whole because it’s been trapped by this Panda filter. So Chris, do you have any concerns for, say, ecommerce companies that perhaps this Panda filter isn’t really a fair way to do things, especially that it doesn’t seem to be updated that often?

DAVID BAIN: That was the challenge, wasn’t it? It’s not a Chris, it’s a Paul! That’s what I meant! Paul, I’m sorry about that – for some reason I had you down as a Chris! So just repeating the thought process there. With regards to Panda, obviously it’s fair enough with regards to conventional sites, blogs, all that kind of stuff, but ecommerce sites. Is it fair for ecommerce sites that it could be trapped in a filter for ten months?

PAUL HUNTER: It’s a good question. When you go back to the whole thing about Panda, it’s obviously about making it good for the user. Do you need that much content there? Do you need 300 or 400 words on each product page on an ecommerce site? Possibly thousands of products? Like Ben said before, it’s going to be completely time-intensive to make each page unique for that so no, I would say. I don’t think it’s fair!

DAVID BAIN: Okay, straw poll here. Hannah, is it fair?

HANNAH THORPE: I think there are enough things you can do technically that will protect your site if you have that situation, so it’s kind of up to the… Sites can do things. You can implement canonical tags across products that are similar. There are measures you can take that would stop you from triggering that filter and you could still have the content that would still be less time-intensive. But I can agree that it would be kind of unfair and frustrating if you were in that situation.

DAVID BAIN: It’s fair if it happens to other people but not if it happens to you?!

HANNAH THORPE: Yeah, if it happened to me!

DAVID BAIN: Stewart, statistically speaking, is it fair?

STEWART ROGERS: Statistically speaking. I like that. As you know, I’m all about the data. I think when Google were talking about the latest iteration of Panda, they said that it would affect 2% or 3% of English language queries. Now that does mean it’s going to affect a reasonable amount of sites. I would call that a medium-level update as far as Google is concerned.

But the fact is this is not new, right? We’ve known about this for a while and if you haven’t fixed your site so that it can deal with Panda and indeed the iterations of Penguin by now, then you should probably get on with it because we’re looking at probably a ten-month gap now between now and the next version and the fact is that anything you do now isn’t probably going to be…you know, you’re going to have those negative effects last until the next update.

So I guess whether it’s fair or not fair is kind of, for me, a moot point. I think what really should be said is that if you’re being affected, if you’re one of the very few people being affected by Panda, you probably should have fixed it by now. And if now is not your wake-up call then when is? I think it’s probably just time to get on with fixing it if you’re affected and not worrying too much about whether it’s fair or not.

DAVID BAIN: And Rob, do you think there should perhaps be different rules for ecommerce sites or is that not fair either? Should it just be the one rule for every website out there?

ROB WEATHERHEAD: No, I don’t think there should be different rules. I don’t even think it’s a question of being fair. Why should it be fair? It’s a rule. Well it’s not even a rule. It’s a way in which Google ranks pages. It’s a fact. It’s not a case of being fair or unfair. It’s a reality that as an ecommerce site you have to deal with and you need to get your head around how you deal with that. It’s not a case of being fair and sitting there and saying it’s fair or unfair. You’re only going to waste your time moaning, basically. You might as well get on with it and start writing some unique copy.

And I suppose the other side of it really is that you’re kind of working on the assumption there that somebody’s going to make a lot of changes and they’re not going to see an impact for ten months, which I don’t necessarily agree with either. I think that if you start making those changes now then you will start to see those improvements. Yes, you might need to wait for a full roll-out to see whole scale across the board changes, but actually you will see those improvements in the meantime if you actually just set about the task at hand.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, it’s a good point that Panda’s obviously an element of what Google looks at, Google’s algorithm. So there are other ways that you can get the ball rolling in terms of increasing your visitor numbers.

Here’s where you can watch the reply of the show that features this discussionThis Week In Organic is the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news. Sign-up to watch the next live show at ThisWeekInOrganic.com.