With all the talk within the Search Engine Marketing Industry about Pandas and Farmers, you could be forgiven for thinking that Panda Farming was a new strand to SEM. In fact, Panda is the code name for the latest Google algorithm update which is causing a stir within US results. With its imminent UK release, let’s have a look at the details around this latest update, and what we can expect when it is rolled out to the UK and the rest of the world.
Let’s Demystify Google Panda Farming
For a while now, more and more dubious results have been starting to appear within Google’s SERPs. It seemed as though every algorithm update that Google applied to improve the results in the head also dragged up more poor quality content into the mid and long tail. This combined with the overall increase in length of search query used by Google users meant that more and more people were being exposed to less than ideal content.
The main purveyors of this less-than-ideal content are known as Content Farms. These sites scrape trend and search volume data, and produce content around subjects deemed valuable enough to warrant the five minutes it takes them to produce the content. As you can imagine, in most cases this five-minute content is stock, poor quality or incomplete.
This of course isn’t much of a problem for the Content Farms. Their main purpose is usually to drive people to Google Adsense or similar advertising, rather than to become your favourite destination for helpful advice and information on a particular subject. For users though, Google has let them down and not fulfilled its main goal of providing the best content for a particular search. Bad Google!
So in February 2011, Google launched the Panda update (although we in the industry were calling it the Farmer update as it was aimed at Content Farms), with the aim of addressing this rise in low quality content within its results.
The Effects of the Panda Update
The main impact of the Google Panda / Farmer update is the removal of rankings for content that is deemed ‘thin.’ By ‘thin,’ we mean content that is either incomplete, offers no added value or is simply a duplicate of other content already present on the Web.
It is pretty easy for Google to make an assumption on whether a particular piece of content is thin based on document classification, duplicate content filtering and user behaviour. These three are known to be the main areas that Google is looking into with comments like:
“As we’ve increased both our size and freshness in recent months, we’ve naturally indexed a lot of good content and some spam as well. To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments.”
From Google’s Matt Cutts – Google search and search engine spam
So if you yourself are running a content driven site and not putting any effort into the content you create, then you could be at risk when the Panda hits the UK.
As a knock-on effect from Panda, you may also see a drop in rankings if a substantial part of your historic link-building has been around weak content creation. While article submission can be a great way of generating an initial buzz or indexing, it should be just that. If your existing rankings are based on huge amounts of content being pushed out to article sites on a regular basis, you may be about to lose a large portion of your back-link profile (if you haven’t already), as these sites feel the impact of the Panda update.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from Pandas?
The first thing you need to consider when preparing your site against the Panda update is “what is the purpose and condition of my content?” If your content is stock (as is the case with many e-commerce sites), or just a quick rewrite of content found on every other site in your niche, you may be in trouble. If you have taken the time to think of ways to make your content unique and useful for your users, you should be fine.
As we at Epiphany have said for a long time, “Content is a benefit for SEO but should not be created for that purpose alone.” You need to consider how users will perceive the content and actually want them to read it. Your content should reflect your brand and stand out; Five minutes rarely makes great content.
On top of this, if your back-links all come from links embedded in articles you have scattered across the Web, you may be in for some tough times ahead if those links were having any benefit in the first place. I have already alluded to our stance on article submissions, but to reiterate, article submissions have a purpose but it isn’t to get great links or develop a solid brand link profile. If you are using it for this then erm… good luck.
The Google Panda / Farmer update is a positive thing and should help people get into the correct mindset about content creation. The update is not aimed at legitimate sites, and any sites that have been impacted unfairly have been reviewed and the issues resolved by recent tweaks. To sum the whole thing up in a single qwerky paragraph:
“Pandas only eat Bamboo, so as long as your website isn’t made of Bamboo you will be fine. At Epiphany we help you make your site a monolith of Granite that is impervious to Pandas (and apparently Bacteria), therefore our clients need not fear the Google Panda update!”