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20 Apr 2011

Google Panda / Farmer update

by Josh Hales

Google have recently rolled out a new update which they are calling Panda. The update aims to tackle, in Google’s own words, “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”.  So what constitutes a low-value site?  Well here are some examples:


• Sites that mass produce content, sometimes even copying text from external sites or using computers to auto generate it (know as content farming – hence the ‘farmer’ update).  These sites offer little in the way of value or authority on a subject and make a profit from small amounts of revenue from a vast array of pages and subjects.  Examples include about.com or mahalo.com.


• Sites that have lots of ads.  Adverts are a natural part of the web but Google is trying to de-value those sites that just bombard you with ads rather than providing a useful and informative browsing experience.


• Sites that users don’t like to visit.  This is a hard one to track but Google doesn’t want to show sites that users just don’t want to spend time on, which points to the fact that the site is low-quality.
So what happens if a site is deemed low-value by Google?  Well any sites ‘caught’ will simply drop down in the search results for the queries it ranked for.  Below is a chart created by Sistrix based on mahalo.com’s rankings before and after the update.

SEOPanda1

There is a clear shift in rankings from a fairly even spread of rankings across pages 1 – 10 pre Panda, to post Panda where the majority of rankings are on page 7 – 10.


Naturally the next questions you will have are will I be affected and what can I do to avoid being de-valued?  Even though this is a relatively large update, unless you are copying content, spamming users with ads or have thousands of pages with no one visiting them, then you probably won’t be affected.  That said there are stories of legitimate sites loosing rankings as a result of the update so it’s a good idea to take precautions.


Content is King – This one may be slightly obvious, but if Google is de-valuing sites that copy or auto generates content then write unique, useful and valuable content.  Be a source of information about the subject you want to rank for, this has always been a primary SEO tactic and one that Google’s Matt Cutts has always recommended.  Not only will it avoid your site falling in the low-value category but it will help your rankings and attract visits.


Ads Come Second – In line with content is king, make your adverts secondary to the content of the page whether it be the amount of ads, positioning or size.  It is easy to improve ad revenue by making ads bigger, more central or simply by increasing the number of ads on a page but users come to the site for the content not to browse the ads.  Make your content the primary feature of each page, whether is text content, a video or images.


Interaction – Get your visitors interacting with the site; make it easy to use and nice to look at.  Allow for user generated content such as comments on blog posts.  Link up with Facebook and Twitter and interact via social media to get a community feel to your site.  Let Google see that users like to spend time on the site and are willing to interact via comments or Facebook.  Below is a screenshot from an SEOMoz blog post, SEOMoz are excellent at user interaction and building community.

SEOPanda2

The recurring theme is to simply make your site better.  Give it more value, make it easier to use, be a source of information, a community and an authority within your industry.  These are the qualities Google are looking to reward with premium positions.


Personally I think the update is a step in the right direction for Google, it was becoming too easy for websites that had no real user value to rank competitively.  Sites that where genuinely useful and informative were being out ranked and this update has addressed that issue.  I have no doubt that there will be a new and inventive way to pollute search results but Google will of course complete the cycle by bringing out another update to tackle whatever that might be.

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