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?
- 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.
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 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?)
This aggressive advertising is something that crops up again and again on the sites that have been affected in the US:
Giving prominence to your adverts and placing them in advertising blocks it appears could be damaging to your search results:
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:
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?”