Google Panda Update: Lack of Consistency on Quality?

By: Chris Crum - March 23, 2011

We’ve been talking with a lot of people who have had their sites impacted negatively by Google’s recent “Panda” algorithm update. Our thinking is that the more sides of the story we hear, the more webmasters and content producers will be able to learn from it. With that, we had a conversation with Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages, which made the list of the hardest-hit sites.

Have you gained additional insight into the Panda Update as time has progressed? Share in the comments.

HubPages, which launched in 2006 as a social content community for writers to write “magazine-like articles”,  pays 60% from the ad impressions to the writers. You may find how-to articles, not unlike those you would find at eHow, but also in a variety of other styles. Authors on HubPages publish nearly 3,000 “Hubs” a day, over 7,000 comments and thousands of questions and answers and forum posts, according to Edmondson. Last year, there were over 13,000 total incremental pieces of content a day, he said.

When directly asked if HubPages is a content farm, Edmondson told us, “Actually, HubPages is to articles what YouTube is to video. Like YouTube where enthusiasts post videos of their choice, our community write articles about whatever they wish and are passionate about. This covers a wide range of content from poetry to recipes, and pretty much everything in between. Writers choose what they write about, and they own their content.  In return, they stand behind the content, build readership and interact within the HubPages community.”

Paul Edmondson of HubPages Talks QualityOn where HubPages stands out compared to sites from Demand Media, Associated Content, and others, Edmondson said, “First, we think authors rule! We align our interests with our authors – and this is key to our long-term success. At HubPages, authors choose what they write about and they own the content they write.  We also share impressions with the author for as long as the content is published on HubPages.  Our incentives are aligned with the authors’ needs. At its core, HubPages is a passionate community of writers. The value that is created goes well beyond the revenue opportunity,” he said. “To have a truly healthy ecosystem, writers need social interaction, feedback and praise.  To this end, HubPages has offered the ability to fan authors – which turned out to be commonly known as ‘follow’ in 2006.  Some authors have thousands of followers for everything they publish.  We also developed an accolade system to give back positive feedback and encouragement.  When these items are combined, HubPages is revealed to be a very unique collection of people, with authentic voices, sharing their knowledge with the world.”

When asked how frequently HubPages articles rank among the top results for searches in Google,   Edmondson said,  “Some of our content ranks very high, and some isn’t in the index at all. We don’t have the data to answer this question for every piece of content and the potential search terms that a Hub could rank for in the search results.”

When asked if articles are written specifically for search, he said, “It’s up to our writers. We let them choose what they wish to write within our editorial policies. We offer tools and education for our users to become better online writers – this includes – among a vast array of things – best practices for search.”

“SEO has to be an important part of any publisher’s traffic sources,” he said. “We make SEO tools available to our writers, its up to them whether they want to use it or not. We are very sensitive around not abusing search engine practices and will take down articles that are obviously trying to game the system.”

We had a separate conversation with a HubPages writer, who for this article will just go by the name Chuck. He is a college economics instructor. Chuck tells us,  “HubPages is a very good site for earning money.  This has been both my experience as well as that of other writers on the site who have published Hubs on their earnings experience.”

Chuck says the freedom to write on whatever topics a writer wants to write about is one of the main things that makes HubPage attractive. “This not only allows writers, including me, to focus on topics that interest or excite us but also gives us freedom to explore new areas of writing.  I find that this freedom offers me an opportunity to challenge myself as well as the opportunity to broaden the range of my writing.  It also lets me test the money making potential of other areas outside my immediate area of interest and expertise.”

Chuck says the HubPages team is constantly updating the site by regularly giving writers new tools to work with. “These changes and updates also include continual updating of the look and feel of the site which keeps it fresh and new-looking for visitors,” he says. “HubPages has an excellent training area on the site which enables both new and existing users to learn how to use the various tools as well as allowing all of us to keep our skills current in other business aspects of the site.”

“The Professionalism and quality of the site attracts good writers which in turn attracts increasing numbers of viewers which benefits all of us,” he continues. “The HubPages team puts a strong emphasis on marketing which not only continually brings in new viewers and writers, but also enables the team to keep writers informed about current reading tastes and habits of visitors.”

“HubPages is also a good social networking site,” he adds. “ It offers the opportunity to meet and interact with others from around the world both through exchanges on Hubs as well as in the Forums.  In addition to learning from the writings of others and comments left on my Hubs and those of others that I read, I have met and been in direct contact with a few people both Hubbers and visitors which have resulted in some mutually beneficial exchanges of information.  These exchanges have included my receiving some photographs from fellow Hubber Ralph Deeds which I was able to use on 2 of my Hubs.  On my Hub about Mathew Juan I was contacted by a visitor who not only provided me with additional information for my research but I was also able to provide him with some information which he used to update his website.  I received a nice email from a local artist whose work I wrote about on my Hub about Public Art who requested permission to use my photos in his advertising.  I have had other, similar exchanges, on of which I am still following up on and which might lead to some paid writing assignments.”

Chuck says he’s never written for Demand Media, Associated Content, or Suite101 (all of which have seen some impact from the Panda update – some more than others). “However, I have done some writing for,, and,” Chuck says. “ Most of my writing on all of these have consisted of articles related to Hubs I have written (but not copies) with links back to my related Hub article. I have collected a few dollars in Google Adsense money from these but am reconsidering keeping my AdSense code on them as I believe it was Jimmy The Jock in his piece on Success Stories who said that he found he made more Adsense earnings by not having ads on outside sites as more of the readers then tended to go to his Hubs rather than wandering off to an ad on the other site.  His experience showed him that bringing the people to HubPages generated more ad clicks.”

Last week, HubPages launched a new ad platform. “Changing the long-held equation between advertisers and individual online writers, HubPages is launching its HubPages Ad Program that will give its writers access to the premium ad rates that so far have been restricted to giant publishers,” Edmondson said.  “This offering is the first time that any online writer will be able to access significant advertising revenues, as available via premium advertising networks and direct sales, while retaining all rights to their own content.Individual writers have always been considered too small to be worth advertiser attention and the agency model wasn’t built to work with millions of content producers. While the democratization of content has occurred, the earning power has not been available until now.  HubPages is leveraging its size and scale as a top 50 site (Quantcast) to negotiate better ad money on behalf of our writers.”

Edmondson addressed the Panda update on the HubPages blog recently, saying that they hadn’t seen it consistently drive traffic to better-quality Hubs. “On one hand, some of our best content has seen a drop in traffic; simultaneously, we have seen traffic rise on Hubs that are just as great,” he wrote. “We are taking this seriously — behind the scenes, we have been crunching data and focusing on making sure that we are doing everything right from our side. We have an editorial policy and internal system that rewards original useful content, and this aligns with what Google wants, too.”

“We have several internal quality metrics that make up HubScore and we have deeply analyzed things like content length, view duration, Hub Hopper ratings, and HubScore,’ he added. “These elements have been compared to changes in Google referrals, and again, based on the way we rate content quality, the fluctuation so far looks random at this stage of the update. We believe that a change of this size will take a settling-in period. We have reached out to Google and will continue to study the update.”

Like any other site that has user-generated content or a massive amount of articles, it stands to reason that there is a mix of both good and bad quality content on HubPages – not unlike YouTube. It’s how Google ranks the content in search results that ultimately matters to users of the search engine, which at this time accounts for the majority of Internet users. HubPages’ quality metrics are probably not identical to Google’s quality metrics, but it’s interesting that Endmondson thinks some of the site’s best content was negatively impacted. My guess is that HubPages is not alone in this.

We’ve still seen examples in the wild, where Google continues to rank less authoritative content over more authoritative results. We’ve referred to the “level 4 brain cancer” example several times, which continues to show an eHow article as the top result over actual experts in the brain cancer field. In fact, one of our own articles is even showing up on the first page now (presumably from having referenced it a few times). While we’re flattered that Google would consider us enough of an authority on the subject, I think users would still prefer to see more useful advice from a medical standpoint.

Another interesting side story to this whole Google search quality thing is that Google has a patent application out for essentially what Demand Media does – suggesting topics for people to write about based on search. Are we going to see Knol results “filling in the gaps”? More on that here.

Many of the sites hit hardest by the Panda update are trying to find ways to become less dependent on Google. It’s wise not to be too dependent on any one traffic source anyway, but the Panda update has really driven this point home. HubPages has taken some time to improve its own internal search. As Mike Moran said in a recent article, this is a good way to keep from driving your visitors back to Google to find what they’re looking for.

For additional insight:  Google “Panda” Algorithm Update – What’s Known & What’s Possible

Thoughts on Google’s search quality post-Panda? Share in the comments.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Todd Herman

    I think its about time the big dogs of search did something bout these adwords and add plastered sites. Makes for a horible user experience. Hats off to google! T

  • vybixa

    So its not only Mr. Crum fanning the eHow “hate press”, even (understandably) their competitors. Could it be that eHow / Demad Media actually have slightly better quality content than the Hubpages? I could faultthe Big G on the algorithm, but we all know that these results are NOT set in stone for any considerable period.

    At the start of last week, my sites were COMPLETELY out of the first page and appearing mid to end page 2 (from a pre Panda first page top 5). Now (though admittedly I have no syndicated content et al), I rank TOP for each of my long-tails in multiple google domains, albeit I do not appear AT ALL in some others, again from a good pre-Panda position. So, the results will change over time, and the good content (as percieved by google) will,like cream, rise to the top.

    • Chris Crum

      I don’t subscribe to this “eHow hate press” concept. I do not hate eHow. I have said repeatedly that the site does have some quality content, and I have also acknowledged that Demand Media has taken and continues to take steps to improve quality. I have simply tried to cover the search quality aspect of the topic. I have no problem with eHow ranking for certain queries if the quality and authority is there. The same goes for HubPages or any other site, whether it’s the New York Times or EzineArticles. It’s about users seeing the best results for their searches.

      Demand Media and eHow are brought up so often because they dominate the market, and the user complaints. It’s similar to why we refer to Google so often when we talk about search or search marketing – Google is the clear market leader – therefore it gets more attention, heavier scrutiny, etc. I don’t hate Google or Demand Media.

      • vybixa

        The eHow “hate press” comment was to point out how often you have quoted them in virtually your posts on the subject. unfortunately, repeatedly pointing out that Demand / eHow have some quality content does not offer you any redress here. On the google side, I have NOT known you to write negativey about it, but then again, I have not read all your articles.

        The main point I wanted to introduce to the discussion was the fact that it is too early to slaughter the Panda results (and I elaborated with my own experience). Hopefully we’ll hear a lot more of this from WPN (and yourself) in the near future, as I believe, this is how it is going to pan out.

        On a side note, would you know whether google purges their entire index when they issue an update? (or when rolling out their update) It certainly seems so.

        • Chris Crum

          It’s fair that I do mention eHow a lot, but for the reasons stated above. I’ve written plenty of things both positive and negative about Google. I simply try to call things as I see them.

          As far as it being too early to “slaughter the Panda”, you may be right about that. Google will continue to tweak its algorithm as it always does, and even some who were initially hit by the Panda reported a return to rankings.

          As I stated at the beginning of the article, “Our thinking is that the more sides of the story we hear, the more webmasters and content producers will be able to learn from it.”

          As far as the index purging thing, I can’t answer that with any degree of certainty.

  • Adsense Publisher

    Really? No idea why your rankings are all over the place for articles? Wow, somebody really needs to take a class in SEO. They’re called backlinks you moron! Two articles that have similar keyword or key phrase density where one has more backlinks to it will prevail for the most part. There are other signals, but none more important than the words you use, how you use them and then of course people linking to your page using specific words. It’s why anybody can game the system still. The thing is Google will catch on if you don’t do it slowly over time, like they did with JCPenny and

    • vybixa

      Your language does give away the depth of your thinking. That said, you can assume for the purposes of this interaction that I have a good grasp of SEO, on and off page. Nevertheless, having done neither on my part (leave alone the organic SEO that happens anyway), I noticed the swings I mentioned in my previous post (just to re-enforce the pre and post panda rankings).

      Well now that you are much the wiser, could you go and wash your mouth out? (hands too if that makes you feel better)

      • Adsense Publisher

        If I was replying to your post I would have replied to it. I was posting in regards to the author’s original post, to the author.

  • alimac

    Google’s search quality seems to have degenerated over the last couple of years. Whether they have lost business/functional focus or their algorithm has turned into an unmanageable monster I can’t say but my impression is that every time the “fix” something they break many other things.

    These days most Google searches (and Places) return spam and sites with little or no merit (as defined by publicly stated SEO criteria). Has Google got so complex it’s easier to con ?

    I have started using BING ,,, something I never imagined I’d be doing a year ago !

  • Erik

    The new Google Algorithm bumped my website second page listing for Andover Pest Control when it previously had first place placement for this search term.

  • voltara

    Hubpages content is garbage, just like most of the sites mentioned above. Be honest, they are just link farms. Stop pretending they are anything else. The “articles” are next to worthless generalities which wouldn’t exist if they didn;t contain links. These are the sort of websites we all hate, unless we are using them for SEO.

    The main reason google results may have declined in quality in recent years is due to people gaming the system. and results from garbage sites like those mentioned above ranking through seo manipulations.

  • Igor@seo tampa

    Another example how Google changes effect general population.
    A small number of good sites (non content farms) has lost high SERP positions – thank you Google!

  • Compulsive Thinker

    Okay…….For some of the new guys……Here is some info from an older SEO man :)

    Look up Pagerank carving…that is what is going on here.

    Reverse Pagerank carving……

    See what Ehow, HAS is “back links” or “references” on every article..

    Next they no follow those references and then link to other sections of there site with TONS of link juice.

    Its one of the “data points” that everyone is missing here….

    THINK……does each one of YOUR website pages have two links to a credible source and are they no followed giving your pages juice?

    no,…….then you better get on it…yep, no follow the reference which will boost your inner page links……

    PR Carving WAS hot in 2007 and its BACK!

    Feed the that Panda some BAMBOO! ITs hungry!

    Long Live Pagerank carving!

    PS: Most of you will just ignore me and think I am nuts, The smart ones will play and get ahead :)

    It could be worse…….Pandas are generally friendly :)

  • JNFerree

    The experts I talk with (and sometimes hire) to train my guys on on-page and off-page optimization advocate using pretty much the same formula and link building strategies. Where I get most of my link juice PR4+ is by booting up Market Samurai, running pagerank and anchor text analysis and doing the heavy lifting that any good linking strategy would cover. All this chatter about link farms and bot this and bot that is a big ole waste of time. I listen to what Matt Cutt says and follow the leader.

  • mourino

    The main reason google results may have declined in quality in recent years is due to people gaming

  • pavan

    thanks for useful article(Have you gained additional insight into the Panda Update as time has progressed?)

  • Andy Keep It Personal LTD

    Any ideas when the Panda update hits the UK?

  • ProPortugal

    Google seems to be constantly changing their algorithms with both negative and positive effect. One day we’re on page one and the next page two or three.

    Quality content is extremely important however it seems that if you are trying to promote (duplicate) your original content on other sites you are now penalised.

    It would be nice to know how you can promote your site to attract visitors without being penalised for passing your original content onto others. Anybody know the answer?

  • jb007

    See what Ehow, HAS is “back links” or “references” on every article..

    Next they no follow those references and then link to other sections of there site with TONS of link juice.

    Its one of the “data points” that everyone is missing here….

    • Property Portugal

      Interesting. I was checking my backlinks the other day and found that a certain property listing site that I use had done the same. First they linked to my original content and then went no follow. Now I know where all the juice went!

  • Sandra

    its horrible, Any ideas when the Panda update hits the Australia? but my hosting in US

  • muntahar

    I sure anytime my lucky

  • Nicolaj B. Müllertz

    Im looking forward to see the update in europe, and how it will attack non english sites :)

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  • KubaSEOTräume

    I think it´s fair! Any ideas when the Panda update hits the German?

  • game

    If your business was hurt by Google’s panda update, maybe you need to rethink your business model.

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