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2011: Year Of The (Google) Panda

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2011: Year Of The (Google) Panda
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Perhaps the biggest story line in Internet search this year has been the ongoing saga of the Google Panda Update. Let’s recap, and look ahead to next year.

Has Panda been the most significant thing to happen in search this year to you? If not, what was? Let us know in the comments.

At the beginning of the year, there was a lot of attention being payed to the quality of Google’s search results, as the content farm movement was reaching a high search result saturation point. There was also a lot of criticism. Eventually, Google finally took action. It launched in February (globally in April), and initially earned the nickname “Farmer” update. I believe this was coined by Danny Sullivan. Then Google came out and let the world know what its real name was: Panda, named after a Google engineer that goes by Panda.

“He was one of the key guys,” explained Google’s Amit Singhal in an interview with Wired in early March. “He basically came up with the breakthrough a few months back that made it possible.”

So, whether you think Panda has been a great thing for search, or it has ruined your life and/or business, I guess you have this guy to thank. Though, I’m sure if he didn’t come up with it, someone else at Google would have come up with something similar. The criticism was getting pretty strong, and Google can’t afford to lose users due to poor search quality. Though Google does many, many other things and offers many products that people use on a daily basis, search and advertising are still Google’s bread and butter, and Google’s quality has still kept it high above competitors in search market share.

We’ve probably posted close to a hundred Panda-related article at WebProNews this year, if you count the ones leading up to it, about content farms and their effects on search, and the ones about the update before it actually came to be known as Panda. I could probably turn them into a book if I wanted, so I’m not going to rehash it all here, but let’s go through some highlights.

Google “Panda” Algorithm Update – What’s Known & What’s Possible was an early look at some things that were evident, and what people were speculating about what might be hurting them with the Panda update. There were a lot of good comments on this one too, for further discussion.

Suite101, was one of the sites hit hard by Panda. In that Wired interview, Matt Cutts actually mentioned them by name, saying, “I feel pretty confident about the algorithm on Suite 101.”

Suite101 CEO Peter Berger responded with an open letter to Cutts. You can read it in its entirety here, but it concluded with:

Another level of depth may be added to this discussion if the word “quality” were more fully defined. “Quality” without much more precisely defining it, especially when the quality mentioned does only seem to be a quality signal relating to a given search query, leaves a lot still misunderstood…

HubPages, which eventually had some recovery success attributed to the use of sub-domains, noted a lack of consistency on how Google viewed quality. According to CEO Paul Edmondson, some of the site’s best content had dropped in rankings, while others went up.

Dani Horowitz of DaniWeb, which recovered, dropped, and recovered again, shared some interesting stories with us about how some of her most relevant stuff stopped ranking where it should have, while other less relevant pieces of content (to their respective queries) were ranking higher.

Google, however, has always acknowledged that “no algorithm is perfect.”

Panda hit a lot more than content farms, and sites that in that vein. E-commerce sites were hit. Coupon sites were hit. Affiliate sites were hit. Video, news, blogs and porn sites did well (at least initially).

Oh yeah, Google’s own properties didn’t too bad either, though some of its competitors did well also.

There was a lot of surprise when Demand Media’s eHow wasn’t hit by the Panda update, as this was essentially known as the posterchild for content farms, but that didn’t last. In a future interation, eHow eventually got hit, which led to the company deleting 300,000 eHow articles and launching a content clean-up initiatve. Yahoo just did something similar with its Associated Content this month.

Eventually Google simply put out a list of questions that all sites should consider when thinking about creating “quality” content. The moral of the story is that, no matter what kind of site you have, if you heavily consider these things, you should have a better chance of beating the Panda update, because you’ll be creating good, trustworthy content. Those questions were:

  • 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?

Other fun Panda nuggets:

Panda reference in Google Earth Day Doodle

Google Panda Update Gets Animated (And Kind of Weird)

Google Panda Update: A Delicious Set of Resources

Google tells you exactly where to let them know when you’ve been hit by Panda

Hitler Not a Fan of the Google Panda Update

Panda Bread: The Ultimate Treat For The Panda Enthusiast

So here we are, almost through with 2011, and we’ve seen numerous iterations of the Panda update. We’ll continue to see more next year most likely. Google has said flat out, that it is done with them for the rest of 2011 though.

In 2012, we can look forward to not only more Panda updates, but more focus on “above the fold” content from the sound of it, and who knows what else Google will have up its sleeve. The most important things to remember are that Google makes algorithm changes every day (over 500 a year), and there are over 200 signals the algorithm uses to determine rankings. Any of these signals or tweaks can help or hurt you. Stay on top of what Google is doing, and keep a focus on quality, and you should be fine. Remember, if you want Google’s RESPECT, you better RESPECT Google.

Panda has affected a lot of websites. It’s cost people jobs, forced companies to rethink their content strategies, and even inspired people to offer rewards for help recovering.

You can view all of our Panda coverage from throughout the year for more details, advice, case studies, parodies, and just about anything Panda-related that came up.

Has Panda improved Google or hurt it? Let us know what you think.

2011: Year Of The (Google) Panda
Top Rated White Papers and Resources
  • http://couponcodehut.com/ Iamseo

    Still many websites are struggling with Google Panda. I have three to four clients whose website ranking is good in Yahoo and Bing but after google panda they have lost their ranking in Google.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      Absolutely. It’s an ongoing issue that sites are going to need to address if they want search visibility.

  • http://www.taliawebdesign.co.uk Coventry web design

    Definetely it has been the most significant thing to happen in search this year that affected a lot of websites.

  • lots0

    Ignore Google.

    Act like they don’t exist and you do just fine.

    Delete your google webmaster account.
    Remove all google code from your site.

    And watch your conversions climb.

    • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steve G

      So how would you explain that high quality sites that have never used Google services, including Analytics and Adsense were hit hard with Panda? Do you have any hard evidence to back up that everybody should drop Google like a bad habit?

      • Pjoy

        Yes have proof.

        Few years back i put google analytics on one of my client sites which was ranking well for some niche terms getting good traffic, no adwords ads were showing for these search terms at the top of SERP. After about 1 week of putting the google analytics adwords ads started appearing at the top of the SERP of the keywords getting traffic for my client site. Have never used google analytics on any of my sites or clients sites.

        Give someone a stick and they will beat you with it. Better don’t use google analytics.

      • lots0

        Yes I have lots of proof, way too much to post in a blog reply.

        You might want to check those ‘quality’ websites, you might find they are covered with adsense or they market through adwords or both.

        You might also check into google’s preference towards large branded corporations… keyword [branded]. Small sites don’t stand a chance anymore.

  • http://agrobuah.com pepaya

    The workmanship is good to be listened to.
    can make at home look at some of your posts
    thank you …

  • http://www.NickBaerGallery.com Nick Baer

    The more work I did, the worse it got. Google Analytics, Google Merchant, site map, books.google.com … every time I worked harder to add my original content to the index, using prescribed tools, the less rankings I got.

    Next, I will try removing all Google code and webmaster tools.

    I believe having these “tools” only alerts Google that you are a store for Google to extort adwords payments from.

    Every time I do a Google search on keywords relative to my niche, I fine low quality, less than relevant results.

    I will not be extorted by Google to buy adwords. The last time I did, Google created useless keywords that drove up my costs, but not my results.

    • http://www.freedomoffshore.com/belizeibc.html Belize IBC

      Thanks Nick, there is a lot of truth to what you say. I think Google does try to get sites to pay for adwords by giving them some traffic for awhile to wet their appetite and then they pull them from the rankings for a while just to try to coax sites to buy adwords.

      Best to go to the Directory of Ezines to get your traffic and forget Google.

  • Ryan Kempf

    I think the Ipad is continuing to be #1

    • Frank

      What does this have to do with Panda?

  • http://mutualstudentconsolidation.com Jali

    You have address good points in your writing. Panda is a webmaster (some) headache in 2011.

    I feel more of these to come in 2012. Just fasten your seat belt.

  • http://willtaft.com/blog Will

    This is an ongoing saga of frustration and disappointment for a lot of website owners. I have written a few times, on my site ironically, about how it has adversely impacted me. I really feel my site was success for what I enjoy doing. I had 10,000 to 15,000 visitors per month and good search engine results and traffic. I do it out of a passion for the process, not to make a living. But, because I have many real “evergreen” posts that drew in probably 50% of search traffic, I was hammered by the Oct Panda. I don’t see many people talking about this particular issue, but it really hurt some of us. I won’t detail here since anyone that is interested can read my posts, but… Basically because these posts have dates that are not recent, Google has started burying them in search results in favor of pages on the same topic that are newer.

    This happens even though these newer pages are not necessarily better content. My older content often has long comment threads with many experts weighing in. Although the page publication date may be a year or two old, the comments go right up to the current day.

    When I searched specifically to see where my pages were in Google some odd pages that were on the first page of results popped up. They caught my eye because they were either direct copies of my content, or transparently reworked copies. In other words, my content was STOLEN and then returned before my original pages in search results! So these sites are getting better results with my stolen content that I am with my original content. The only explanation is that these plagiarized pages are what Google sees as “Fresher” content.

    Google used to be able to tell my content was original and these others were stolen. I would see my content copied, but my originals were always way above the stolen content. Now Google, with their increase focus on more recently dated content, my older, original pages are buried.

    • http://www.spam10.com Ahmed

      I noticed that i am focusing on google webmaster tools and analytics and spending more time working with these tools more than developing my web site.
      I decided to stop trying to get noticed on google and will concentrate on developing and updating my website

  • http://www.hobotraveler.com/blogger.html Andy Graham

    Panda has cut my traffic in half, which is fine.

    What is not fine is that Google is a monopoly, and I have no alternative. There is no way to disagree on any points, Google is the editor of my writing, there is no freedom to write as I wish, or want.

    I have a Travel Blog, I have no desire to be political correct, therefore popular, so that American remain ignorant of the 90 countries I have visited in my 14 years of perppetual travel.

    Google forces writing to be mainstream, or popular, and lying controversy is a rag, Google appears to want tabloid level intellegence.

    I just do not want to be in partner with Google, we are striving to not need Google traffic, that is the main effort of 99 percent of our comapnies work.

    • Frank

      Hubspot told me my homepage was college level or above reading, after i dumb-ed it down, my rankings went way up. Your content may require above average reading ability for your niche. Don’t make it stupid, just ensure that everyone who reaches your content can understand it.

  • Frank

    My site was not hit near as bad as most others, hardly at all, i do not have duplicate content, all content is truly related and relevant. That’s not so hard, is it.

  • http://www.CaptainCyberzone.Com CaptainCyberzone

    I’ve seen the visits to my sites (three completely different in set-up and content) fluctuate up and fluctuate down with each Panda tweak but, on the other hand, I have yet to see any stark improvement in the results of my “searches”.
    Perhaps Mr. Panda should tweak his diet and add or delete fermented bamboo.

  • http://mypcrepairbiz.com Robert

    There’s been a lot of hype about Panda, and I don’t get it. None of my 20 sites got penalized.

    The ones that did had low quality content.

    There are a few exceptions but the bottom line is:
    A BETTER USER EXPERIENCE.

  • http://amriawan.blogspot.com Bang Iwan

    Thanks for sharing

  • http://einternetmarketingservices.org Rick Samara

    Excellent wrap-up coverage of Panda in 2011 Chris.
    I’m looking forward to recommending this article to few groups I have on Facebook!

    To tell you the truth, Panda really hasn’t impacted me much. I feel that I intuitively now know what Google’s expectation are.

    Quality, fresh content with a little of personal analysis and I really don’t think you can go wrong!

    Thanks!

    Rick

    Internet Marketing Services for Small Business

  • http://netmediathailand.com Alan Johnston

    I am loving it over 200 articles written with TLC and Google Panda loves it!

  • http://www.basictechnews.com emrm

    right all

  • J.C.

    Yes, it was the year Google killed my whole business, my site, after more than a decade online, with no chance of getting it reindexed as they ignore your appeals, nor tell you what the damn problem is. Google needs to be regulated heavily by the government; like a public utility. Those monstrous algo changes need to be regulated. Life was great for many years without these stupid algo changes. These changes only benefit them now.

  • Mike

    Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!! Google’s clumsy and heavy handed approach to a problem just proves that this company has way too much power over Internet usage.

    I think Google is violating anti-trust law all over the place and needs serious investigation.

    Even better would be a competitor that can produce superior SERP’s. I use Google a lot for research and believe me there has been no real improvement in their search results. I get old sites, totally inappropriate sites and much worse. And I’m an experienced user!

    End of rant!!

    • http://www.topweddingquestions.com Wedding Etiquette

      Agreed! Do a search for “wedding etiquette” and, other than Emily Post’s and Martha Stewart’s stuff, see some really outdated, stagnant or useless advice. SIGH!

  • http://primadiscordia.com/ Howard Crane

    Someone here in the comments boldly suggested to drop Google from your mind completely.

    I focus as little as possible on searchability in the past few months and my clients haven’t suffered.
    It’s in the nature of content spam vs Google that the rubbish will always find new ways to outwit Google, and in turn they’ll have to outwit the rubbish!
    In between are honest people like myself and my clients. It’s like Google has grabbed us by the dicks, and are waving us up and down and left to right.

  • http://Www.Kramm.com Rosalie Kramm

    My experience with Panda has been incredibly positive. I have been blogging with a sincere message to fellow court reporters and attorneys consistently for the past three, four years, and when I would find content farms creating content for competitors that was obviously not written from the heart or with industry knowledge, and yet the websites would rise in ranking, it was very frustrating. I believe Google has done a great job weeding out insincere sites. There are still some weeds to pull, and I trust Google to get it right.

    • http://www.NickBaerGallery.com Nick Baer

      Do you “sell” anything thru your blog? Anything of yours, not adwords?

      I am finding that Panda penalizes sites that sell their own goods.

  • http://www.busybeecandles.co.uk Nathan Hooper

    We ranked no 3 for a prime keyword before Panda, dropped to 9 and are working our socks off to get back up. Now 6. I don’t think it’s really a fair change. Sites with virtually no links now rank above us. What’s that about? They have no links not just because they don’t promote but because the community couldn’t give a rat’s arse about them.
    No surrender – I’m going Panda hunting ;) I hear there are two in Scotland now!

  • http://www.business-trader.com.au Business Trader

    I am a big fan of the Panda update. My site finally got the recognition it deserved which resulted in some very nice traffic spikes!

  • Perry Adams

    I am really disappointed in the Google results I get now. My main searching is for purchasing decisions and the relevance of search results on Google has dropped so badly that I have had to switch to Bing as my primary search engine.

  • http://www.jualsewarumah.com rumah

    thanks a lot Google panda about you my website increase 2 PR

  • http://real-estate-property-in-delhi-ncr.blogspot.com/ Atul Sharma

    This year really has gone with full of the Google updates so many times. You have given many important links in the post. Thanks for this nice post.

  • http://www.carmats2u.co.uk craig mckenzie

    My site has been all but wiped off by panda. I Feel incorrectly as i sell a specific neiche product. i have an e commerce website selling car mats, the descriptions are relevant to each item. I feel very upset by this as its ruined me, Google help forum doesnt give any answers and i cant get help. I was page one ranked for 2 years, now im completely missing, i am relying totally on adwords now and it does not make me a profit. I will be closed in 4 weeks, Thanks google for ruining my small business

  • Babyfacemagee

    I have 10 sites and each ranks on page one for multiple terms on Google as well as Bing and Yahoo. Together I get about 100,000 visitors a month, with the bulk coming from three of the sites. All of the sites have only been created within the past 8 months. I attribute the success to original content. I have written no less than 500 original articles and informative product reviews and posts ranging from a couple of paragraphs to 4 or 5 in length. Original content is key to success and rankings prove it.

  • Jayden Smith

    I’ve seen a lot of people talk about ‘quality’ and other vague terms.

    For example: “Would you trust the information presented in this article”

    How does an Algorithm determine such factors? I don’t believe Google has that level of sophistication. Not yet, at least.

    There are certain on-pages factors, that I think need to be addressed.

  • http://pixax.blogspot.com jenny

    2011 is bad for all those blogger and site owner who effected from panda .. but panda also make a thing its kick off all the smap and copywrited things from SE. i am also a panda efectey but its good