Summary of Google’s Panda Update
In late February 2011 Google announced the launch of a new search algorithm update, now known as the Panda Update. Successive updates of the algorithm change itself have also been released in previous months: 11th of April 2011 was an important update tagged as Panda2 which brought changes to the algorithm and also unleashed Panda on the totality of English Google websites. Most recently, in the first week of May 2011, a new update has been launched, not as important as the previous two in terms of change, but none-the-less important for all SEOs.
What is the Panda Update and why was it released?
Since its early days Google has been fighting web spam in as many ways as possible. The Panda Update is a natural evolution of this habit: an attack on web spam. The update targeted a particular problem that had been growing in importance over the past years: content farms.
Content Farms are websites loaded with short articles on just about any subject, each article page is surrounded by advertisement, the article’s quality is debatable and little to no user interaction exists. The objective of article farms is to help the “farm” outrank competition by sheer content weight and help it generate ad revenue.
It’s important to state that Google’s objective is to return the most relevant and qualified quality websites based on user queries. Content farms were abusing the existing search algorithms due to their massive size, thus allowing their lower quality articles to rank well for many keywords. From Google’s perspective, this harmed the quality of their search engine, which harmed the search experience of their users.
Consequently, the Panda Update mostly affected content farms and content scrapers by severely dropping their page rank for many keywords. In fact most small, well oriented websites probably never felt the passing of Panda.
However, even if you have a smaller website, you could have been hit hard by the Panda update because you are using practices deemed of “low-quality”, which the update specifically targets. The algorithm was created with one concept in mind: how does this web page enhance user experience. If many aspects of your web pages aren’t user-oriented, most likely you’re doing something Panda doesn’t like.
Surviving after Panda
I’ve read a lot of rant on the Panda update, and quite honestly most of it comes from deceptive publishers. In my opinion the update is good, it will improve Google’s search quality and will reduce the presence of many useless web pages, but a few “best practices” will help honest webmasters avoid undeserved punishment.
Site-wide impact: one of the most devastating aspects of the Panda update is its site-wide impact. Having a few low-quality pages on your website could have a negative impact on your entire site’s page rank. Duplicate content is one of the hardest aspects to tackle for some webmasters due to the way sites link to web pages; blog-like structure anyone? It will become increasingly important to “noindex” pages which compile content from other pages on your website. Good examples are “Tags”, “Archives” and “Categories” pages. The logic being that these pages are intended to improve user experience by helping the user find the articles he wants and by helping crawlers navigate to deeper content. The page itself does not need to be indexed and as a webmaster you probably don’t see any need to have it indexed.
Near-duplicate content: different pages which vary only on a few keywords fall into the “near-duplicate content” category. An easy example for this type of content is a website trying to rank a service page for different cities, each having the same content and only the city-name changing between pages. Overall this practice should be avoided. Instead webmasters should use Google Places and other local directories to gain visibility in local search.
Low content-to-structure ratio: having too little content (on a page) compared to website structure will cause your page to trigger a low-quality and/or duplicate content flag, this occurs in many blog-like platforms and websites. Easy examples of this situation are websites with huge link-filled footers and sidebars.
Ad domination: this is a flag-triggering aspect of web pages for Panda. Too many ads for too little content is a guaranteed route to low page quality and consequently low page rank. Google is not opposed to ads in web content, heck adsense represents the largest chunk of its revenue! However it is widespread opinion that web pages dominated by ads have no value. Keep user experience in mind when it comes to ad-to-content ratio and you should be alright.
In the end a few logical guidelines will help steer webmasters in the right direction.
- Avoid spelling or stylistic errors in your content. Users enjoy reading well written content. This will also help your credibility.
- Would you feel comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? (this one comes from Google)
- Avoid thin content (too little content compared to structure, ads and other irrelevant elements).
- A solid, well-performing internal linking structure will help push certain pages in the SERPs.
- The page is not duplicate content for any other page on your website
- The page is not duplicate content for any other page on the web
- Keep your articles concise and avoid pointless repetitions.
Updates on Google Panda
Many months following the Panda Update, Google has been tracking search results quality and surveying users on their satisfaction. The response to the Panda update has been overall positive from users and somewhat negative from webmasters (webmasters tend to have a biased point of view in regards to algorithm updates).
Google has stated that roughly 12% of all english searches have been noticeably affected by this update. The company has since decided to roll out the change to other languages around the world. Google estimates that up to 9% of global searches will be affected.
Finally, the Google Webmaster team has published an article explaining how Google searches for high-quality sites. This article lists 20 questions that a webmaster should ask himself in regards to his website, to help determine if the site is of higher or lower quality.