Google

Google Panda Update Towards the end of February and the start of March this year there was a massive change to the Google algorithm over in the US. Initially called the Farmer update, the name was changed to Panda after Google announced that one of the engineers behind the update was called Panda!

At the time of writing it looks like the Panda update has still not gone live in the UK – although we are all waiting – but it is a good a time as any to look at what has happened in the US and how it may affect us here in the UK.

What was the Panda Update?

Some facts:

  • The Panda update was an algorithmic change that was aimed at cleaning up the search results – affecting a number of content farms (a content farm is a site that has a lot of low quality or shallow content)
  • The change was meant to have affected 12% of search queries in the US
  • Google later claimed that the update was aimed at ‘scraper sites’ or sites that take their content directly from other sites and provide no original content or insight.

So what happened in the US and what can we take away from it?

It appears that the Panda update did indeed hit a lot of high profile sites – sites that you will be familiar with. Check out this article over at Search Engine Land to see the data on who was affected. It is still early days but there is plenty of talk on the kinds of sites that took a hit and the kind of sites that appear to have won following the Panda update. I am not going to get super technical here but we can have a look at a few examples of the Panda losers and what appear to be the most glaring reasons for punishment by Google.

Panda Losers

Ezine Articles

The big boy in the article marketing world – one that you have probably heard and I assume many have you have used in the past. Ezine Articles took a big hit in the keywords it was ranking for (some figures suggest around 90%) but why were they affected?

The Panda update seems to be unique in what signals it is looking for with regards to trust and quality of content – lets have a look at a normal Ezine Articles page:

Ezine Articles Pand Update image

Ezine Articles wrap all of their content with adverts – and then some more adverts. Many SEO experts in the US believe that excessive or aggressive use of adverts besides your copy could be one of the major parts of the Panda update. In the example you can see above the advertising isn’t subtle – the user is being bombarded! Does this leave the user satisfied? Unless the content is incredibly useful I would suggest that you are likely to leave frustrated and maybe a little dirty (when was the last time you cited an Ezine Article as being a valuable resource?)

Articles Base

This aggressive advertising is something that crops up again and again on the sites that have been affected in the US:

Article Base Panda Update image

Hubpages

Giving prominence to your adverts and placing them in advertising blocks it appears could be damaging to your search results:

Hubpages Panda update image

What else may be part of the Panda algorithm update?

It appears that a lot of the sites that have been affected seem to have little or no content above the fold. take a look at this example from essortment:

Essortment Panda Update image

It is of course early days and the algorithm will be infintiely more complex that the obvious things that we can see by looking at the affected sites (Google themselves claim that the update is based on a years worth of data, research and tweaking). Google could be looking at a number of other things that we cannot track – like the user data and how quickly people go back to the search results to find another answer to their query. We can, however, look at the sites that have been affected and intelligently question why they have been affected.

So what did the winning sites have?

  • In general they had well researched solid content – content that will be useful for users
  • The sites tend to be well designed, visually attractive and have good usability
  • They didn’t have lots of blocks of adverts and the adverts tend to subtle if they are there at all

It all comes back to the user and quality vs quantity.

If you don’t want to fall foul of the Panda update you need to be focusing on the user. Ask yourself if the content on your site:

  • Is usable and worthy of reference?
  • Is it  there to help the users or just to sell advertising?
  • Is it unique and is it well researched?
  • Does every page look the same?
  • Will users stick around and read the content of the page?

We need to be thinking about the relevance and usefulness of every page on our sites. At the end of the day this what will give us a unique and useful site – and these are the kind of sites that Google wants to be serving up in the search results.

Always ask yourself the question:

“Does my site deserve to be on the first page of Google for this search query?”

Recommended Articles:

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7 responses to “Google Search Update: Panda”

  1. Susan says:

    Google announced on 11 April 2011 the rollout of the Panda update globally to English language websites.

    Read more here:
    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/04/high-quality-sites-algorithm-goes.html

  2. Wayne

    The issue with this is that Google has not clearly defined the difference between a ‘content farm’ and a website that acts as an aggregator. e.g. Amazon, Major Affiliate websites, ecommerce sites that use standard product descriptions etc. I also have to take issue with whether Google’s results are actually relevant at all. Some of the search terms in my industry provide the first result dated from 2005.

    I look at Bing now with much more interest. I think Google has lost the plot, with all the changes it is doing. Google Instant was a change to drive higher paying keywords. Google Panda is a sell out to the large media organisations. Google is going after the big cash, meaning the smaller guys working on a shoestring lose out.

    My opinion is that this is the start of the demise of Google.

  3. Wayne Barker says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment. Google said that it was more about low quality sites than content farms – it is just the content farms that have been hit in a big way and are well known.
    There was a definite drop in the traffic for major affiliate sites – the way around this is to make sure that your pages do not have thin content on them. With regards to ecommerce sites with standard product descriptions it has always been best practice for sites to have unique content on them to rank well. Look at amazon and all the extra detail their products pages have on them (customer reviews, lists, ugc, cross sell and upsell). I haven’t seen any reports of a drop in traffic for Amazon.
    I take your point that the small guyus might suffer somewhat but at the end of the day Google has to serve up the results that will give the user the best experience – the big guys all started somewhere.

  4. Freud says:

    It will be interesting to see if they have merged there Adsense guidelines into the PR algorithm to the extend they know where ads are positioned! Think about it for one minute please. It’s not sophisticated to assess where text is positioned in relation to copy on a page and it’s not going to change whether the copy is quality or not. As far as we were led to believe the significant shift in the new algorithm is the consideration of social trends. This article seems to be focused on whether you have advertising all over the page, so how would this effect Google!!!

    Sorry to see your site design and content was ripped but hey, take it as a compliment 😉

    Freud

    • Wayne Barker says:

      Hi Freud,

      Thanks for the comment – we did take the rip off as (sort of) compliment.

      Whilst Google has been looking at social trends as part of the algorithm recently this is not what the Panda update was about. Many sites have built a business model on creating quick, not that helpful copy and wrapping it in ads. They have be making hundreds of thousands of pounds and dollards doing this – and all the time not helping searchers all that much. the new algorithm was aimed at scraper sites and sites that provide thin content. Wrapping your content in ads is just some of the algorithm – some people believe it is looking at design issues and loads of other signals.

      Essentially Google was being gamed and thin content was ranking higher than the content that is useful, well researched, unique and relevant – are they not the kind of results that you want to see when you search and not rubbish content surrounded by ads you are not interested in?

  5. A good post Wayne. It’s fascinating to see the fallout from this, with many sites that believed they would be safe now scratching their heads. For example:

    Review Center have published an open letter to Google on their blog asking why this happened. Their site is mostly UGC and is used as an aggregator for Google places. They aren’t filled with too many adverts so they have no idea why it hit them.

    Demand Media (eHow etc) wrote a post saying the losses they have seen are nothing compared to that reported. They made this worse by saying they are a huge provider of Adsense revenue and the biggest video provider on YouTube. This read a little like ‘we have a special relationships with Google so will be fine’ but they may just be under-estimating the losses to keep share holders happy.

    With rumours abounding of a Panda #2 being released that softens the blow for those unfairly penalised, whilst also trying to cut down on scraper sites that steal content, it looks like the effects of this change are still being determined.

  6. internet says:

    Hello, very nice blog to read about Google Panda update. Thank you so much for the priceless information, now I know more information about search engine algorithm.

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