Google’s Panda / Farmer update on 2-24-2011 was a major one that sent shock waves through the Internet. Not only were Internet professionals like SEO specialists astounded, the disbelief extended to everyday website owners who largely remain uninformed on daily, weekly and monthly search engine algorithm changes. Google’s goal was to reduce poor quality sites in the index from ranking. Unfortuantely many legitimate websites saw their traffic reduced by as much as 50%.
In the land of search engines Google is the “Judge, Jury and Executioner”. You might decide that is completely unfair.
You don’t have to play the search engine game. Though you might want to consider the fact that Google serves BILLIONS of searches a year nationally and locally – you will be cutting your financial nose off. But that is your choice.
Google does not care if your company serves clients throughout North America nationally or just looks for local customers within a city or geographic area. Google really does not care if your business is the greatest thing since sliced bread, your widgets are mind blowing, your prices are crazy low and customer service can’t be touched by the competition. All Google cares about is that your website gives excellent value to visitors from Google’s search results. Google exists because Google can give its clients (search visitors) what they want… fast.
I’ve said it before and will definitely say it again:
“This Internet Thing Isn’t Going Anywhere – Embrace It”
Search Engines Aren’t Fair – They Want Relevant Information
Either you embrace the Internet as a business tool or perish. That might sound harsh and dramatic, but no matter what your business or company focus is… if you don’t have an online presence you Do Not Exist for most of your potential new customers. Google can be your best friend that returns your website investment with not only compounding interest but residuals. There is no better R.O.I. in marketing if you perform the steps correctly.
You have to understand that Google and the other search engines are in a constant struggle to provide the best search results to their users, find the best websites to meet the search terms and spammers who are constantly trying to cheat their way to the top of the results. Google releases hundreds of algorithm tweaks a year. And every so often they release a major search algorithm overhaul that really captures peoples attention.
The Panda / Farmer update was a major change to what Google deems “relevant” content. The Farmer portion of the update was specifically addressing websites that collected content from other websites; with or without permission. Either way these sites created one of the things that Google has stated it dislikes: Duplicate Content. Search Engine Land has an excellent article explaining the Farmer update and ramifications.
The Google Panda search update affected millions of websites within the U.S.A. when it was first rolled out. There wasn’t any discrimination between a large conglomerate company versus a small Mom & Pop shop website. Both were equally hit by the changes. Panda is all about relevancy and non-duplicated quality information.
Are You Struggling With The Panda Update?
If you have been harmed by the Panda Update or need a website makeover… I strongly urge you to contact us immediately. We can find a solution to fit every budget. The most important thing is that you get the help you need to get traction in climbing the rankings in the search engines.
What you can do if your website was hurt by Google’s Panda algorithm change.
For starters you have to evaluate your website honestly. if you can answer each of the following questions positively… chances are good that your website is doing well. If you can honestly see that your website needs work from the following questions, you need to take steps to implement the needed changes immediately. Google’s representatives have indicated that Google is NOT setting a recrawl schedule. This is most likely an attempt to cause the ranking to become more organic and also to block search spammers.
This List Was Originally Published By Google In Response To The “Panda” algorithm change
* Would you trust the information presented in this article?
* Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
* Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
* Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
* Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
* Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
* Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
* Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
* How much quality control is done on content?
* Does the article describe both sides of a story?
* Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
* Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
* Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
* For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
* Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
* Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
* Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
* Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
* Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
* Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
* Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
* Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
* Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
The Google Panda Update Taught Us A Few Valuable Lessons
If it is any consolation ELC saw a few client sites that previously held spots within the top 10 results for their favored keywords and search terms. Each site was filled with completely original content that we researched and wrote only to get knocked right out of the search results. Since most of these websites target national audiences this was a huge setback.
Client websites that normally dominated their category were suddenly treated “Persona Non Grata”. I’m not talking a page that rambles on and on about a topic. These pages were well researched and written as if each page was a graduate level thesis’s on their topic. We had done everything right, followed every guideline; and yet were severely penalized.
To make matters worse, websites that were supposed to be targeted by the Panda update actually surged in rankings. These included websites that put up low content pages about every possible search term for advertising gains. Scraper websites that basically scour the Internet and republish content as their own were also supposedly targeted by the Farmer side of the Panda update.
Then within the following two weeks the affected client websites surged to the top of the result again. And in some cases… higher rankings than previously held.
Why Did Our Client Sites Automatically Rebound In Search Results
Google received tons of bad press about original content websites getting hit hard. As with anything, a theory needs testing in the real world. I agree that it was rather asinine of Google to release the Panda update without complete testing to see how small websites would be affected. However using a computer model to test a theory is only as good as the programmer. And lets face it, Google was focused on the big problems and the little guys got lost in the equation. Google’s main focus was on content farms and duplicated low value content. Google’s engineers are brilliant but human. They did not think about how the changes would ripple through the Internet.
For instance, lets say you wanted to learn how to grow a Tomato plant. Undoubtedly your search came across one of the thousands of websites that take a search phrase and spin it into multiple topics and write an almost identical article to match each possible search phrases. Or you might have come across websites that take a single article and run it through a program that rewrites the article to appear different. Chances are pretty good that none of these articles gave you the advice you were searching for. You might also have come across a tiny website for a garden center with a great informative article with just the info you need on how to grow your Tomatoes. But if this small websites content was stolen and put on other websites… the tiny garden center website was treated just as harshly as if it were content thief or content spammer. This is because Google will have seen the content on multiple other websites and Google hates duplicate content as much as it hates low quality / rehashed content.
Google has always aligned itself with the users best interests. This might be a no brainer, but there are millions of companies that forget their reason for existence is their customer. Google I’m sure was faced with ton’s of cases where their Panda algorithm incorrectly harmed high quality websites. The upside is that Google responded in a timely fashion with the needed tweaks.
My personal belief is that Google added a date signal to the Panda algorithm. This date signal must have components that look to see when an article was originally published. It would make sense for Google to want to know who was the first and original author of content in order to weed out the scraper websites.
I also think that Google added a time stamp signal that dives a little deeper and looks at phrases within text. Basically Google now most likely gives the kudo’s to the site that first publishes the information. So for our client sites that had information that previously had not been seen before on competitor websites our client(s) got the credit for being the first one to write about it.
Our Local Search Website Clients Also Benefited
Local search is tough on SEO when a particular category is saturated. SEO is even tougher when your clients competition employ Grey Hat SEO techniques. Grey Hat SEO is basically techniques that flirt with being unethical. A Grey Hat technique might be one that is not entirely banned by a search engine for deceptiveness but is frowned on. It is much like Brach candy bins in grocery stores. You weren’t supposed to take a candy from one, but everyone did. However rationalized… it was still theft. These techniques are basically ones that work to trick more people in visiting a website.
The Panda update along with the Farmer update removed many of these locally based websites that used multiple ways to gain rankings falsely. Our clients with great content and were locally optimized surged in their rankings for search terms. Again I believe that Google looked at the content. I have observed for quite some time website owners creating multiple low quality websites as a means of gaining more clients. And it worked. I personally always advised clients against this practice when they questioned about why competitor x would show up x times in the search results with different websites.
I have always recommended to our clients and associates to keep to search engine guidelines, clean code and well researched / written content. While your website might only be #8 and the Grey Hat is #2, your Internet visitors are pretty savvy. Visitors bounce away from a website that does not give them the information they are looking for and the trust factor that is sooooo important in local search. People also can tell easily if a website was thrown up in an afternoon or the owner has spent hours perfecting it. What it comes down to is the visitors trust in a website converting them into a customer.
It is always frustrating to see obvious attempts to game the system. And often it is tempting to try the same tactics. But in the end honest hard work gets rewarded (at least by the search engines) and the websites that tried to manipulate search results with shady tactics… for now they have been found out.
The silver lining to the Panda / Farmer update is that with Google trying to weed out all the low quality websites, it is an excellent opportunity for website owners to rise in the rankings. So embrace the changes, follow the guidelines and get found!
Panda Photo courtesy of Stefan on Flickr.