Keeping up with Google Panda

By | May 5, 2011

Don’t you just love it when Google comes out with all these fancy names like Farmer and Panda for their updates? But jokes aside, these updates are like earthquakes in the internet world, and for many it was clearly disastrous. Just like earthquakes can level entire cities, you don’t want to become collateral damage when that happens.

In any major algorithm change, there are always winners and losers, because those sites that dropped would be replaced by others. Most people would think the Panda update was a mistake on Google’s part judging from the hue and cry from disgruntled site owners, but it’s worth bearing in mind those that gained would mostly be keeping quiet!

The Panda update did manage to clear up many splogs, autoblogs, and other low quality pages from the results, based on what I’ve been seeing and hearing. But a lot of legitimate sites also got penalized, and that is what you don’t want to end up as.

As usual, Google never talks much; so there’s much speculation and not much else. I now notice many SERP changes even for single keywords – In a single day. Unlike previous updates, changes seem to be hitting some long tail keywords too. The good news for me is I haven’t really been affected by this latest round of updates, but what I can observe still seems to come back to basic things.

Google Panda updateDuplicate content – Google is obviously still not at the stage where it can differentiate between original and duplicate content all the time. A lot of autobloggers got hit by the Panda update, but there are still many that got away and even claim to be doing better. However, it doesn’t mean it is alright to copy others; copying has always been a MAJOR problem on the Web, and EVERY Google update seeks to address it. Don’t get caught with someone’s copyrighted material, like so many others have had!

All my sites have only original stuff from the start, and although I did not get the “recognition” from Google a few years ago, the latest update indicates that Google has finally started to recognize (and rank) my sites and pages. So all you guys who produce your own content, don’t lose heart, it does pay to be original, even if it has to take time.

Quality of content and on-page SEO – Logically, the goal of every search engine is to be able to evaluate what is quality content and what is not. I don’t think Google is up to that stage yet, but what Google cannot accomplish, humans can. A human can easily spot a low quality page littered with inaccurate or misleading info, or spelling gaffes.

This is most easily spotted in pages with spun content, keyword stuffed, or if someone who is poor in the language and doesn’t really know what he or she is talking about. These things can still easily get past search engines, but not humans. I can’t count the number of times I come across low quality sites or pages that were ranking well (only because of their backlinks), while searching for something in Google.

How many people have used automated software to get thousands of spammy links and ranked their pages high, only to get demoted some time later? Does it occur to those people that once they get their site high up in the search results, its profile rises, and therefore, it is bound to attract a lot more attention? So, if it’s a glaringly poor quality page/site overall, it can easily be spotted by a Google “quality checker”?

Still doubt this? I am willing to take a bet if you manage to rank a site high for a huge, competitive phrase or keyword (using tons of backlinks), then it better be good, otherwise it’s not going to hold its SERP position for long, and will sooner or later drop away. Nobody really knows how Google is now defining “low quality” but I strongly suspect they are incorporating human judgment into their results, at least for high traffic, competitive keywords.

PandaSpammy links – This is a contentious issue, because many webmasters will argue that Google doesn’t take spammy links into consideration; otherwise anyone could create spammy links to their competitors, and then take them down. I feel for the most part, Google does not care about spammy links, but IF the quality of the content and the on-page SEO factors do not correlate with the number of links the site or page has, it further acts as a signal for demotion; a red flag if you will. New sites also are not supposed to get a lot of links. That is why many new sites that get spammy “link blasts” usually get penalized in some way or the other.

Think about it, why should a low quality site get so many links, unless they were all unnatural links? Many people do not seem to care how their site or page appears to people, and only focus on backlinks just so they can get good rankings. This is WRONG and they will get penalized sooner or later, if they haven’t already.

Loading pages with ads – This may, or may not be a factor, but personally, I don’t believe in using up the maximum ad slots, just because I can. Your visitors do not visit you for your ads, but for your content. If you know your visitors dislike ploughing through a sea of ads (which also slows down your page loading time), don’t force them to!

I feel the most important take-away message from all these changes Google is doing is just this: Create good content for humans, not the search engines. As long as you keep doing that, you should be quite safe from all the turbulence out there.

On the whole, the Panda update was needed, and there is every reason to expect more and more of such updates from Google in the future, even as Google admits they need to refine their changes so as not to hit the legitimate guys. Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Hey, it’s OK to be the tortoise!

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