Keeping up with Google’s Panda

Google has been making significant updates lately. Google Panda 2.3 Update is now live as part of a commitment to “return high-quality sites to Google users”. Judging by comments on forums such as Webmasterworld, keeping tabs on this is very tricky business.

The initial premise was to weed out so-called “content farms” and other low quality sites from the SERPs. Along with some high profile casualties, a significant number of sites have been experiencing a massive drop in their rankings and consequently traffic. A couple of months ago Google stated that 12 percent of search results were to be affected in the US but Panda has now gone global and the effect may be greater than initially stated.

Evolution of the search engine
The search engine has evolved from being based on what was on the webpage taking into account factors such as keyword density, title and meta tags. (At this point, the engines were analogous to mere indexed “yellow pages” ) to the experience we’ve had this century with PageRank and link quality. This in turn led to the unabated growth of “content farms” — low value reproduced articles. Together with the rise of huge link exchange programs, content farms gained search rank. Once authority was established, the farm could then enter the open market and trade links to other websites to help those sites move up the ranking on the back of the juice.

We have now entered a new era with Google Panda. The approach is to extend word stemming which Google introduced in 2003 with the view of keeping the search as close in context with content served. Some like to think of it as a thesaurus on top of the term vector database. Think Google’s Wonder Wheel.

There are three aspects to consider in order to keep up with the updates:

Improving link profile
It comes back to the basics of being all about the quality of the content and most importantly context. Google published best practice guidance on how this can be achieved. It’s also good to consider industry links and citations which will weigh heavily on improving a site’s profile. Marketing and PR commentator links — even from creative activity generated online and offline are a must. Good examples of these are blogger-only events designed to create interest in a particular product or launch.

Content that users trust
It’s important to note that Panda recognises what the footprint of poor quality content/sites look like. These can be short articles containing commercially rich anchor text in poorly written content that very few people would read, duplicate content and blogroll links. Exact match domains designed for purely SEO purposes may also be devalued. There is a growing tendency for such sites to contain spun content. At the end of day, users tend to trust brands and they want to trust the sources of information that they visit. Developing user trust goes beyond creating large, professional, well optimised websites but also trust within your peer group.

Social signals
Both Google and Bing are taking these very seriously. I’m sure that many reading this will have looked at their Google social connections — what Google uses to identify social search results. Just being in the online social scene is not good enough. Social profiles also need to be active and highly subscribed. Those familiar with paid search know just how important clickthrough rates, a basic measure for interest and engagement, are in determining Quality Scores. Well, Google +1 is operating in pretty much the same fashion, where users can potentially have a greater influence than a site’s ranking.



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