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History of the Panda Update


If you work in online marketing or SEO you will already beware that a major change to the Google search algorithm was rolled out in the USA in the last week of February 2011. The update has been named Panda by Google and Farmer by the SEO community.


Google announced the update via a blog post on its official blog:


The blog post mentions that roughly 12% of the search results were effect by the change. That’s a fairly big shift in the search engine results pages (SERPS).


If you are a business owner with a website you might not be aware of the update and the effect it may have had on your website’s organic rankings and website traffic.


Why Did Google Implement the Panda Farmer Update


The aim of the update was to improve the quality of the search results and remove or at least downgrade the importance and the organic ranking of websites that are low in quality content. This is an attack on what is termed in SEO circles as “content farms”. Content farms are sites that have a high volume of content created by “users” on a large variety of topics. These content farms are often used by SEO professionals as a way of getting targeted backlinks to a site in order to gain good organic positions for long tail keywords searches.


The issue is that too much of the content on these sites lack any real research, it’s poorly written and often short. The articles lack authority and tend to offer nothing new on the topic beyond a very basic understanding or outline. This content is often copied from the content farm and pasted on other websites (this is part of the publishing arrangement) and this process further weakens the authority and usefulness of the content.


The farmer panda update’s crackdown on poor quality content begs the question of what metrics does Google use to grade content?


This is Google’s Matt Cutts from the Google Blog:


“…This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites-sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on..."


What is Low-Quality Content in Google’s Eyes?


So that means copied content and shallow content but what else?


The sites that have suffered as a result of the Farmer/Panda update also appear to have a number of other factors in common.


Although the changes are still working their way through the SERPS the SEO community seems to be coalescing around the idea that the following factors are important:


Negative Indicators for the Google Panda Update


  • Traffic signals (high bounce rate, low pages views, low return visits)
  • High percentage of boilerplate content. (Page content the same apart from one or two variables such as location and phone number that a change)
  • Lack of original content on homepage and the rest of the website.
  • Page content that doesn’t match the search query for which they are found.
  • Misleading Title tags.
  • Keyword stuffing on pages.
  • Lack of external links.
  • Lack of social media mentions.
  • Overaggressive use of adverts.
  • Poor design


Who were the Losers from the Google Panda Update?


The good people at Sistrix have provided some great data on the keyword visibility of a number of leading websites post Farmer in the USA.


Wisegeek is a question and answer site, EzineArticles is the best known of the article marketing websites, Suite101 is another article resource,  Hubpages is a collection of hosted marketing pages and is the third article site in the top five.


The dramatic loss of keyword visibility for these sites will have had a massively negative effect on their traffic levels and ultimately their viability as online businesses. Losing 10% of your visibility would be hard to deal with but losing over 90%?


Will the Panda Farmer Update Effect the Link Profiles?


One of the major reasons for the existence of article sites is the ability to place related content with keyword focused backlinks to third-party sites. Content Farms are used as link resources for those looking to gain good organic rankings in the search engine results. The long-term question from Panda/Farmer is the effect of the devaluing of these sites and their content and the effect this will have on the links placed with the content. Will these links become worthless? Will they have a negative effect on your rankings? Will they be seen as a spam signal?


Currently, there is no data to suggest that links currently hosted on these sites have been negatively affected by the update. However, it often takes months for Google to cache a link and pass the link value on to a site. It would make sense that the reverse is also true. We may not see the full impact of the update on link profiles and organic rankings for months. I have also seen it suggested that new links built on these sites will have little or no SEO value but this is speculation at this point.


If your websites backlink profile only contains links from content farms then you may well be heading down the rankings as the update works it ways through the index. Variety is the key and you should always look to build a varied backlink profile from a number of different sources using different anchors texts.


Google Panda and the UK SERPS


The full effects of the Google Panda update haven’t been felt in the search results at the time of writing this piece. There is mounting speculation that the update is being tweaked before it is rolled out beyond the US data centres and results pages.


If you monitor your websites rankings in as well as you can compare pre and post farmer panda positions to gain an insight to what might happen with your rankings once the update is fully implemented in the UK. If your rankings have dropped dramatically in the results then you will need to start addressing the issues raised by the farmer panda update as soon as you can.


Resources for Information


These are some of the top resources about the Google/Panda update:


Tony Heywood 2011©


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