The war on low-quality content and content farming kicked into high gear last February when Google released “Panda”, an update to its complex ranking algorithm. According to Google’s official blog post “the update was designed to reduce ranking 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.” But as anyone in the field would expect, SEO pros and website owners immediately began debating the merits.
This change brought back memories of the uproar over the 2003 update “Florida” that took some of the highly ranked sites by storm. With “Panda” there were websites that were highly ranked before February 24 that became endangered overnight, some witnessing up to a 40% drop in traffic.
So is Panda fair?
Theoretically, yes. According to a May 6 post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, “More guidance on building high-quality sites,” the algorithm mirrors Google’s mantra that website owners should focus on building great sites, not trying to fool the search algorithm. The post includes some examples that seem easy to measure, like spelling errors or duplicate content. Other quality definers are being introduced periodically and in scattered places like the page loading speed, which wasn’t mentioned in the guide but available in a Google Analytics update post. Another clue is the author tag, which was posted on Google Webmaster Central. But other examples for defining a quality website appear dubious or highly subjective. How could an algorithm reasonably measure, for example, if an article includes “both sides of a story,” or if you’d “expect to see this article in a printed magazine or book”?
Putting theory aside, what really happened is that some of the sites that re-publish content outranked the original source of the content. Google responded to this issue with an update, Panda 2.2, that has been approved but not yet released.
With the stir the Panda algorithm update had caused, Google officials stated that this is just one out of 500 algorithm updates they are intending to roll out through 2011. Let’s hope the next update won’t be called “Dodo”.