Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, or are not involved in the internet as a career you cannot have failed to have heard about Google’s latest shake up of the results they display in their search engine, it’s been nicknamed Panda 2.2 after the technical employee who invented it (the Panda bit, not the 2.2, that’s just the version).
The update is said to address the mistakes which were made in the first update earlier this year, which had the most dramatic effect on Google’s search engine results pages for quite a few years, unfortunately they were not all positive and a number of innocent bystanders got caught in the crossfire. The feedback from the SEO community on the 2.2 update seems more positive, most people are reporting no major changes with their websites, a few of us have had relatively minor improvements and a couple have reported in excess of 100% increases in their traffic in the last week. Unfortunately I have heard of one website which lost virtually all of its traffic overnight, a couple had been working on it full time for several years, building unique content and following the webmaster guidelines, as laid out by Google, but suddenly their business is gone overnight. Granted, it may bounce back, but as you can imagine they are not best pleases as it stands.
So what is Panda all about?
Many moons ago SEO’s could rank a website high by pointing a large number of links at it, job done, the more links the higher the site rose in the search engines, mainly Google but also Yahoo, Bing (or MSN as it was then), Ask etc. The problem was that this was very easy to manipulate and a thriving industry grew out of india and other countries with growing economies, building huge volumes of links to point at clients websites. They came from forums, including profiles, signatures and posts, blogs were emerging then too but comment spam wasn’t far behind, articles were also quite new but quickly exploited and of course, business directories started springing up by their thousands.
Google soon started to clamp down on the different techniques to manipulate their algorithm, so directories were devalued, unless theme based and even then it’s believed that the links are not as strong, even some of the top directories of their day such as Aviva were penalised. Forum comments and profile links no longer carry much, if any weight at all, blog comments were soon to follow. Of course, as this was all happening new methods of creating links were being discovered, such as web 2.0 properties (part profile, part blog, part article directory depending how you use them), so Google needed something else.
Next, or simultaneously to some degree, they began to use other signals in the links, things like the anchor text on a page corresponding to key indicators on the target page like the title and header tags, and the authority of the site which links in to the target. This made things slightly trickier, but in some cases was also easily manipulated too. Unfortunately a result of this was millions of pages of content all over the internet, some completely identical, some spun, so whilst not grammatically identical, basically the same, and those who put in a little more effort would manually rewrite, basically they were all junk though. Take a look at some of the big article based sites and look up common terms like “how to quit smoking” or “how do I lose weight fast”, you will find hundreds or possibly even thousands of articles all saying basically the same thing. They are not there for the good of the site, or for the author to show off how much they know about the topic, let alone because they wish to share some breakthrough information with the wider public, they purely exist for the backlink and the possibility of a click through to the target site.
Anyway I digress, so what is the Panda update all about? Google, quite rightly, doesn’t want the type of content mentioned above appearing in their search results, it just clogs them up with junk! But removing it couldn’t be done manually, as there are probably hundreds or thousands of people adding this content to the internet daily. The only way they can control it is to change the algorithm to filter it out, that’s what Panda is designed to do.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your standpoint) a lot of webmasters have applied the same approach to developing their own websites content, prime examples being internet shops who copy and paste product descriptions from their vendors, so that exact text is probably used numerous times around the web, or general information websites where companies have taken big chunks of technical information and copied that onto their websites. These are the type of sites which also appear to be suffering from the latest update and I’ve personally noticed several competitors’ sites almost vanish into oblivion in the last week and I’m confident that it’s because their pages were almost copied and pasted from the vendors’ site and brochures.
Another unfortunate effect of the first update earlier in 2011 was that in many instances the original author was not recognised as such, and was therefore penalised whilst a site which copied it was remaining in the SERP’s (sorry, I try not to be techie, that stands for search engine results pages (or placements depending on who you talk to) the hope is that 2.2 will address this and while it may not rectify previous damage hopefully it will prevent it from happening again. Although to go back to the earlier story of the couple who have lost traffic, perhaps it’s not 100% right yet and will require further development before we can completely relax, even if we do have compelling and unique content on every single page.