Over on the other side of the pond on the 23rd February 2011, big changes happened! Google released the panda update (aka the farmer update).
So what is the panda update?
The panda update refers to the growing amount of low quality content websites which rank higher that great quality websites. Basically, Google has updated it’s algorithm to push these low quality websites down and it’s been quoted that 12% of all search results are affected in Google.com
How has Google established that they are low quality?
Matt Cutts (senior engineer at Google) has been quoted as saying:
There was an engineer who came up with a rigorous set of questions, everything from. “Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?” Questions along those lines.
So instead of using complex algorithms, they have handed the power over to website testers to grade sites so this data could then be included into an algorithm.
So what were the main signals that the website testers were looking for?
From various sources I have found a few factors:
- Low quality content
- Having a large amount of adverts to external websites
- User experience and branding
Google was quoted as saying this about the website content issue:
“Our recent update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, so the key thing for webmasters to do is make sure their sites are the highest quality possible. We looked at a variety of signals to detect low quality sites. Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”
In terms of large amounts of adverts, this specifically refers to:
- adverts that are more prominent than the actual website content
- adverts that are predominantly above the fold over content
- web pages that have excessive adverts where the web content can’t be identified
With reference to poor user experience and branding; if a website user has a bad experience with a brand (or website), if they perform another search and see the same brand, they will more than likely avoid the website and click on the next listing.
Which sites will be affected by this?
From a Google UK point-of-view, the update hasn’t happened yet, but in my opinion here are some sites that could be affected:
- Ecommerce sites with poor product pages
- Tourism sites with poor or duplicated holiday reviews
- Business directories with duplicated business information
- Websites with specific landing pages with poor copy
- Websites that advertise other products (affiliate links etc)
- Websites which have poor usability and branding
So what can I do about these signals?
This is very simple and will be very affective in terms of combating the panda update:
- Review all of the content on site and write unique and user focused content – remember, aim the content at users not search engines
- Remove poor quality content altogether
- Add the no-index tag on pages with poor quality
- Remove adverts so web copy becomes the primary focus
- Start talking with communities to improve the brand
- Improve website usability – use programs like ‘Clicktale’ to record what users are doing on site and adjust according if there are problems and common trends
- Review your analytics data to see where users are leaving your site so you can make amendments – look at exit rates and bounce rates.
IMPORTANT: Websites that may only have a small amount of pages that are low quality will find that the whole website will be affected so you need to act now.
How do I know if I’ve been penalised by the panda update?
This is simple:
- Either your rankings will drop and you will receive less traffic
- Google will not crawl your website as often for a specific term
Should I worry about the panda update?
Yes, I’d recommend to all website owners to go and review all of the above aspects and make changes to your website with one golden rule in mind – make sure it works for the user, not the search engines. This way it will increase brand loyalty and make your content readable and linkable.
Over the past few weeks I have already seen websites that rank well in Google.com lose traffic, nearly as much as 56% and big ranking drops.
When is the panda update going to happen in the UK?
I’ve heard two pieces of information on this. One source said in 3 months, but Matt Cutts has been quoted as saying “within weeks”.
Matt Cutts has noted that the changes are more widespread in the US (Google.com) than that expect outside of the US, but in my opinion it’s vital that you act now.
Edit (05/06/2011) – Read my post on how to beat the Google Panda UK update, click here…
Panda image courtesy of SXC.hu