What is Google Panda? (AKA Farmer Update)

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Panda

Google changes its calculations of search rank all the time. Every minute (except for right now as you will see) in fact the ranking calculations are tweaked to make the search results “better” for the users. Then, once every quarter or half year, Google rolls out a big change. Google has made many changes to the algorithm in the past, and each time someone gets affected and they notice changes to their traffic. Often the changes are meant to reduce the effect of specific SEO tactics, other times it might be to increase the value of particular new methods of web development.

So what is special about Google Panda?

The name is relatively meaningless. People have called the stages of the rollout of these changes Google Panda 2.1, Panda 3 etc. The specific change was aimed at websites with low quality content or content copied from other websites (hence the Farmer name). However there are several things that seem to make this particular set of changes unique.

  • The changes were made to target a specific type of website, those with low quality content. Often these are called article directories, like goarticles.com. In the past changes to algorithms go after minor methods of SEO, this time specific websites were used as examples of poor content building tactics. The reason for this was that feedback from Google users showed that were not interested in the results from websites like eHow and ezinearticles.com.
  • The changes were rolled out very slowly over a period of time. In fact Google is still working on this specific set of changes after nearly two months of tweaking. This is rare, and shows the expected impact of the changes.
  • It is speculated that all other normal updates to Google have stopped. Again this shows how Google is assessing the impact.
  • The impact to specific websites has been huge. Some websites, like eHow, have reported a drop in traffic by almost a third. 30% of traffic gone over night.

So what is Google Penalising?

From what we understand Google is penalising the following;

  • Duplicate content
  • “Low quality content” meaning pages with only small amounts of information
  • Domains that are seen to be content scraping, stealing information.
  • Websites that have a high bounce rate or exit rate. At this stage this measure is highly speculative, but Google has hinted at it.

They have a list of things to consider, some things are conflicting and murky at best. How they calculate these values is difficult to ascertain. Their list of things to look out for seems to say, “we are only looking for people who are experts in the area”, which the actual results seem to disagree with.

What is the fallout from the change?

Aside from the massive drop in traffic to article content sites, it seems there have been a few other side effects.

  • Single page niche sites have improved their position. It seems this is because Google recognises they may have specific content that is valuable.
  • Some big networks, like BBC.com have seen a significant improvement in their position and traffic. We think this is a general indication that domain authority is now valued higher than page authority.
  • It also appears that Google is now using page quality as an indicator of whole domain quality. This means that if you have one page of poor content, your whole website is affected.
  • If someone else has stolen your content, you may still be affected by the arbitrary nature of deciding who wrote the content first.
  • It also appears that if you had a lot of links coming from the types of sites targeted, then your own ranking may be affected, even if your website is top quality content.
  • By some measures the quality of the search results has decreased. Because a lot of bigger websites were the ones most likely to be affected, small niche sites with focussed information benefited. This means that in a lot of instances websites with no follow up information, no actionable content or no other content but the search terms are number one.

So what can you do if you are affected?

  • Do nothing. Seriously we advocate not panicking and just waiting to see what happens. We know Google is working on the next round of updates to this change, so you may see your website ranking improve suddenly.
  • Slow down on “off-page SEO”. Again, right now you don’t know what websites will be classed as quality and those that won’t. Google keeps saying “aaahh yes, but we are just reinforcing old policies” which is rubbish because they are actually placing arbitrary emphasis on rules that are difficult to enforce.
  • Keep building unique content, don’t syndicate. If you were carrying out good SEO, then you would have been doing this already. Keep writing good content, and don’t then try to “spin” this out to article directories. Just wait to see if a)the directories respond with their own methods of improving their rank and b) if Google does something further to these poor saps.
  • Last resort: Check for duplicate content and reword what you have. Have a look at your most affected pages, and then check to see if someone has ripped off your content. Reword and rewrite the ones that you think are most affected. Again, this is a last resort, because it will not improve your ranking overnight.
  • Read the webmaster forum. Have a whine over there, you will be in good company.

I am sure there will be more to come.

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