Submitted by: Daniel Kidd
This year Google has made 2 major changes to its algorithm. The first to target spammy or scraper sites websites republishing other people’s content on their own site, followed by the larger ‘Panda Update.’
Late February, Google launched a substantial algorithm change known as ‘Farmer’ or ‘Panda’ aimed at reducing rankings for low-quality pages or websites and providing Google users with higher quality sites. The sites Google have targeted offer text that is relevant for a query, but which may not provide the best user experience. Google calls it a ‘high quality sites algorithm.’ Strong factors contributing to Panda include content quality and uniqueness, along with the density of advertising on a page. The focus is to create a stellar user experience.
The idea is that quality ‘raters’ tell Google what they like. All sorts of questions are asked around the sites trustworthiness, credibility, quality and how much they would like to see the site in search results. Then they compare the difference. Questions include examples such as ‘Would you trust this site with your credit card?’ ‘Do you think the design of this site is good?’ and the list goes on.
Panda now goes beyond the sole focus of the PageRank model. Many new ranking factors have now been introduced. Together with user metrics and social data, Google can rank websites based on a wide range of scoring criteria. Along with link building and SEO on page factors, content integrity, usability and aesthetics are all potentially now in the realm of SEO.
The Effect of Panda.
Panda has aimed to destroy SEO-reliant sites and content farms. However, for some unsuspecting companies it has devastated their web-based business. For example, a number of prominent UK technology based companies have dropped substantially in rankings, along with original content sites such as the British Medical Journal. The update also demotes one of the complainants to the European Commission, Microsoft-owned Ciao, which has almost vanished from many search results.
But some sites, including Google’s own YouTube, technology sites including Techcrunch and Mashable and newspaper sites such as the Mirror and The Independent have been boosted.
Panda has been a profound change to Google’s algorithm and it is certain that there are sites out there being hurt by its effects, which don’t deserve it. Though Google said only 11.8% of U.S. queries were impacted by the update, organic traffic losses of up to 80% were reported.
Site owners who have been impacted were vocal in their unhappiness and Google opened a thread in the Google webmaster central discussion forum. Some include,
“We’ve experienced a significant drop in our traffic (almost 35%) as a result of this change (with an equivalent drop in revenue). We believe that our only crime is that we host user-generated content.” (rpray2007)
“Although as far as I can tell my sites didn’t violate quality guidelines and can get no answer out of Google why this happened. In despair I changed over the format and style of both sites. Not fun when ones total income gets evaporated to a possible algo glitch.” (bloggingman)
However In time, Google believes Panda will truly improve search quality and overall user experience.
Amit Singhal (Google Software Engineer) notes that some sites have incorrectly assumed Panda is to blame for the changes in their rankings, but they’ve rolled out over a dozen tweaks to their ranking algorithms. Rather than focusing on algorithm tweaks we should be focusing on delivering the best experience for users.
So what does this mean for us SEO specialists?
Is it time we say goodbye to low quality link building altogether? This is a core issue for some sites along with saturation of advertising and lack of unique content. Some major factors we may now need to consider include:
Affiliate links and ad units: The ratio of affiliate links to non-affiliate links is not too high.
Advertising: ensure the content to ad ratio makes for a good user experience.
Remove Low-quality links and content.
Quality: Sites must make the effort to contribute value to the web and its users. This may be in the form of published resources, information, guides, images or video. Sites should commit to an editorial schedule.
Social Signals: Quality links, shares and likes from social networking sites.
Use blogs, webinars, infographics to create high quality content helping to build leads.
Along with high quality content, the way in which we manage our link exchanges may also need more care and consideration.
Steer clear of posting articles on sites Google have deemed as ‘low ranking’. Think twice about where you want your articles to appear and be linked to.
Watch out for sites covered with Google AdSense, text links or other advertising gimmicks. Google do not class these as quality sites.
Sites with no moderation. If your link is approved immediately it’s likely that this site is home to a lot of spam.
Where we have previously been focused on a set of understood requirements for SEO, we now need to think more about engaging with our visitors to provide quality, interaction and content that is trustworthy and has ‘shareability’ amongst visitors so it can be dispersed across media channels.
The real impact of the Panda update has been a fundamental shift in the expectations and interpretation of what defines ‘quality’ in the users’ online experience.
About the Author: Daniel writes about a range of online, social media and
search engine marketing