Webspam And Panda Updates: Does SEO Still Matter?

Are Google Results Getting Better?

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Webspam And Panda Updates: Does SEO Still Matter?
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It’s been a crazy week in search. While not entirely unexpected, Google launched its new Webspam update (which should still be in the process of rolling out, as Google said it would take a few days). This update, according to the company, is aimed at black hat SEO tactics and the sites engaging in them, to keep them from ranking over content that is just better and more relevant. While most that don’t engage in such tactics would agree that this would be a good thing, a lot of people are complaining about the effects of the update on the user experience, and on results in general.

Do you think Google’s results have improved or gotten worse with this update? Let us know in the comments.

The Webspam update, as it’s officially been dubbed by Google’s Matt Cutts, is really only part of the equation though. Cutts also revealed that Google launched a data refresh of the Panda update around April 19th. So it would appear that a mixture of these two updates (along with whatever other tweaks Google may have made) have caused a lot of chaos among webmasters and in some search results.

What The Panda Update Is About

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about Panda here. I feel I’ve done that enough for the past year. If you’re not familiar with Panda, I’d suggest reading through our coverage here. Essentially, it’s Google’s attempt to make quality content rise to the top. There are a lot of variables, opinions and speculation throughout the Panda saga, but in a nutshell, it’s just about Google wanting good, quality content ranking well.

What The Webspam Update Is About

Interestingly enough, the Webspam update is about quality content as well. In fact, Google’s announcement of the update was titled: Another Step To Reward High-Quality Sites. It can be viewed as a complement to Panda. A way for Google to keep spammy crap from interfering with the high quality content the Panda update was designed to promote. That is, in a perfect world. But when has this world ever been perfect? When has Google ever been perfect?

When Matt Cutts first talked about this update, before it had a name or people even really knew what to expect, he said Google was going after “over-optimization”. He said, at SXSW last month, “The idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit, so all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, ‘over-optimization’ or overly doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level.”

At the time, we wrote an article about it, talking about how Google was working on making SEO matter less. This week, Cutts aimed to clarify this a bit. Danny Sullivan quotes Cutts as saying, “I think ‘over-optimization’ wasn’t the best description, because it blurred the distinction between white hat SEO and webspam. This change is targeted at webspam, not SEO, and we tried to make that fact more clear in the blog post.”

Well, it’s clear that black hat webpsam is a target, because the post says those exact words. “The opposite of ‘white hat’ SEO is something called “black hat webspam” (we say ‘webspam’ to distinguish it from email spam),” Cutts says in the post, later adding, “In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. ”

OK, so as long as you abide by Google’s quality guidelines, this update should not impact you negatively right?

The part that isn’t quite as clear is about how much SEO tactics really matter. While he have clarified that that they’re more concerned about getting rid of the black hat stuff, he also said something in that post, which would seem to indicate that Google wants content from sites not worried about SEO at all to rank better too (when it’s good of course).

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites,” says Cutts. Emphasis added.

To me, that says that Google is not against white hat SEO (obviously – Google promotes plenty of white hat tactics), but they also would like to have it matter less.

While I’m sure many in the SEO industry would disagree (because it could cost them their businesses), wouldn’t it ultimately be better for users and webmasters alike if they didn’t have to worry about SEO at all? If Google could just determine what the best results really were?

Don’t worry, SEOs. We don’t live in that fantasy land yet, and while Google (and its competitors) would love to be able to do this, there is little evidence to suggest that will happen in the foreseeable future. In fact, I’d expect the nature of how we consume information from the web to evolve so much by that point, that it may not even be a relevant discussion.

But rather than talk about what the future may bring (though Google’s certainly thinking about it), let’s focus on the here and now.

Who Has Felt The Effects Of Google’s Updates?

You can browse any number of forum threads and blog comments and see plenty of personal stories about sites getting hit. Searchmetrics, as it usually does following major Google updates, compiled some preliminary lists of the top winners and losers. Before we get to those lists, however, there are some caveats. For one, the firm was clear that these are preview lists. Secondly, the update has probably not finished rolling out yet. Third, they were put out before the Panda refresh was made public, and Matt Cutts says the list isn’t indicative of the sites impacted by the Webspam update.”

He told Sullivan, “There’s a pretty big flaw with this “winner/loser” data. Searchmetrics says that they’re comparing by looking at rankings from a week ago. We rolled out a Panda data refresh several days ago. Because of the one week window, the Searchmetrics data include not only drops because of the webspam algorithm update but also Panda-related drops. In fact, when our engineers looked at Searchmetrics’ list of 50 sites that dropped, we only saw 2-3 sites that were affected in any way by the webspam algorithm update. I wouldn’t take the Searchmetrics list as indicative of the sites that were affected by the webspam algorithm update.”

OK, so the lists apparently more indicative of the lastest Panda victims and winners. We still don’t really know who the biggest losers and winners on the Webpspam front are. Perhaps Searchmetrics will release another lists soon, with this new information taken into account.

Here are the lists:

Searchmetrics list

Searchmetrics list

Note that Demand Media’s eHow.com is not on the list. If you’ve followed the Panda saga all the way, you’ll know that it has always been in the conversation. Thought of as a content farm, it was the kind of site many thought Panda was designed to target. While it managed to escape unscathed for a while, Panda eventually caught up with it, and Demand Media made a lot of changes, which seem to have helped tremendously. They deleted a lot of articles and implemented some other things designed to keep quality up.

During the company’s most recent earnings call (there’s another one coming in May), Demand Media said it hadn’t been affected by a Google update since July. It will be interesting to see what they say on the next call.

There is some speculation that eHow may have benefited from recent Google updates, whether Panda or Webspam. Here’s a tweet from WebmasterWorld/PubCon Founder Brett Tabke:

Did ‘ehow’ just make a comeback in the serps? hmmm – ran into them in 4 searches in last hour. 1 hour ago via web ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

We asked Demand Media if they’ve seen any increase in Google referrals. The company won’t comment because they’re in a quiet period ahead of their results announcement.

Are Google Results Better?

There is never a shortage of criticism of Google’s search results, yet it has managed to steadily dominate the market, so clearly they’ve remained good enough not to alienate the majority of users. There do, however, seem to be some very identifiable flaws in some search results right now.

For example, there is all kinds of weird stuff going on with the SERP for “viagra”. For example, viagra.com, the official site, was not on the first page, when it should have been the first result. Just as I was writing this piece, viagra.com reappeared at number one. More on the other viagra page issues (some of which are still there) here.

For the query, “make money online,” the top result was a page without any content on it whatsoever. Not what Google had in mind in terms of quality, I assume. Looking now, it actually appears Google has fixed this one too.

A couple things we’ve seen mentioned by webmasters repeatedly, with regards to what has gotten sites’ Google rankings hit, are exact match domains and sites with a lot of links from spun content sources. Of course not every exact match domain is hit, but it could be a factor for some topics that do tend to generate a lot of spam. Viagra would certainly fit that bill, and may have just been an innocent casualty, which Google had to correct. I wonder how many more of those there are, and if Google will correct them.

From what Google says, it’s more about things like keyword stuffing, link schemes and other things that violate its quality guidelines. You may want to go read those carefully.

Update: Apparently, the Webspam update is now called the Penguin update, even though Cutts already called it the Webspam update. Sigh. I guess I have some re-tagging to do.

What do you think? Did Google get its Webspam update right? As Panda continues to march on, is that making results better? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Webspam And Panda Updates: Does SEO Still Matter?
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  • http://www.desreslondon.co.uk/ Lisa


    What i would like to know is how can an SEO come out of this huge impact? What are the different ways to rank better?
    Is link building dead?
    How much importance should be given to On page and Off page?
    Is off page dead or on page dead?
    Does exact match domains work?
    What will be the future of SEO?

    Need Answers

  • hari om agrawal

    Now finally Google is rewarding content based site. I do not use Google ad-word nor Google ad-sense, only adding contents for the last more than two years. I never encouraged back links or reciprocal link nor got done SEO work for my site. Many websites are using my contents/articles on their website without placing workable links from their sites to my website even than traffic from Google search result have increased many fold to my website during the last few days. Good job done by Google.

  • jim

    will there be any change in this update. Or google will continue with this update?

    My website was ranking on the first page few keywords. Now it is nowhere on the search results. The website ranking on the top now has no information on the page.

    What kind of update is this? Google update is now showing spam websites at the top.

  • http://www.vareart.com Edmund

    Today’s Google has forgotten the webmasters who had been raising them up. Now, in order to appear on the front page of Google, it is much more difficult than a few years ago.

  • http://www.fuss3printersupplies.co.uk Dave Whelan

    Hi Our rankings were hit on Nov 18 2011. We run an E-commerce site selling printer cartridges. Now how do you write compelling and interesting articles or web content about a HP black toner cartridge. Companies do try, but all this amounts to is keyword stuffing. You can’t really Facebook LIKE a printer cartridge or add to your G+ circles can you. What about a Facebook page for printer cartridges, no I don’t think so. If you do you need to get out more and start living. All we offer is great prices and next day free delivery. So how can Google understand that.
    My moan now:
    Also we have to compete with all the stolen printer supplies on Ebay. I know of Canon service engineers making over a £1000 a month by just over ordering consumables for contract customers and then selling them on Ebay. They even leave on the Company Bar code on the items that are stolen. Our only option is Google Ad Words. Is that not what all the Google updates are about.

  • http://bestwebsitename.com Glenn Madden

    The update killed our simple website http://pumpkinbed.com
    The Keyword and our trademark Pumpkin Bed is in the address.
    There is little direct competition for use of the phrase Pumpkin Bed.

    After the last update we are not coming up anymore.

    We are still number one on Yahoo and Bing.

    But Google seems to think that fishing deep for other web pages somewhat related is more important than our main index page.

    In a search for Pumpkin Bed all the results come up with internal web pages from blogs and other related websites.

  • http://www.website-consultancy.com/ Website Consultancy

    Feel a little sorry for ‘aboutus.org’ as I feel they are pretty genuine about what they’re doing. But regarding any website that ‘once’ had a dodgy SEO appointed – unfortunately their work has come back to bite the site.

  • Retheesh

    One of my friend’s website is also affected by this google update. I think it had happened because of the “over optimization”. He has optimized each and every page on the website. His website is related with India tourism and its url is http://www.indiatourism.travel/ . Earlier, its position in SERP was on first page and now it goes to 15th page. A great decline!!! I also couldn’t predict what will happen next…Whether the website position comes back to its previous state in SERP. Eventhough it is a good information portal, google affects its listings. I ‘m now really confused about helping my friend. Could you please suggest a good way???

  • http://www.twitter.com/cutey Ashley, cutey

    The problem is, they’ve removed obvious spam, but left paid for links alone. So it’s just increased how effective paid links are.

  • http://www.funnywallphotos.com RoseGUst

    Their is no use for panda update!!!

    It just waste all the people who spent their money to get ranked their website and all of the ranked disappeared with a blurred explanation of google why they do this!!!

  • http://www.cityofshamballa.net Chris

    Check the domain names, if they match the key words, the chance of ranking is higher

  • http://www.pingoo.tk ihsan cahyo


  • http://waterbutts cheryl

    Our company sell rely mainly on internet sales and now our website has vanished when it was on the front page. Many people are complaining. Google will probably change its rules again soon! We are using Yahoo and MSN

  • http://www.roibot.co.uk AlanF

    I cried with laughter at the number one (UK) ‘make money online’ site. An empty wordpress site, now with a few hilarious comments.

    I though that my SEO skills had come to fruition when my site hit mid page 1 last weekend on a very competitive keyword (but now just dropped to top of page 2). But now I realise that it was because of my lack of SEO skills!!!

  • Lena

    I think Google’s new search algorithms skew information, particularly towards blogs and reviews. What if you’re not interested in a blog or review? For example, last week I was searching for “discount makeup”. I had something in mind I wanted to purchase as a present. I tried different search terms, and page after page, I kept on getting makeup review pages, blogs about makeup, you tube makeup review, and anything and everything that had to do with customers and beauty guru’s advice on makeup. And no shopping. Even when I put in “discount makeup shopping” still no stores.
    It was frustrating! If I wanted advice or reviews, I would have said “makeup reviews” but that was what I wanted.
    So I went to Yahoo search, tried the same search, and got a bunch of discount makeup websites on all 3 pages of search. Found an awesome brand and made my purchase.

  • Stevenson

    *Unemployment rates are going to rise!

    *More small to medium business temporary getting tons of search expand thinking they can hold the traffic and end up in the trap.

    *More expensive Adwords keywords in the future and makes it not worth to advertise on Google.

    *Bad search results from Google. It i all about paying. Forget about SEO, put your hard earn money in PPC.

    Really depressed!

  • Ana

    I have a computer for sale on my website and I was on the 1st page for this particular product. After Panda update,for this computer (and keyword), google show some result on the 1st page and starting from 2nd one, websites listing with absolutely not related search and keywords (and they don’t sell this computer). My website on a page 7. HOW IT CAN benefit a customer, who is looking for this computer?
    It’s been crazy, because my second website don’t have a 10% of content and articles like this one, getting now more visitors, than first one. I don’t think Google did a good job yeat.

  • http://www.johnbeagle.com John Beagle

    Google is like a bull in a china shop. No matter how careful it is something is bound to get damaged.

  • John

    Dear Google, please kill your penguin update! Sign the petition here:

  • http://www.imoneytize.com Fatih Bulut

    Its been nearly a month since i first noticed my site jumped to 2 from page 3 for the keyword “make money online”. I sensed something was going on but i was unsure that someone was again playing with google’s algorithm. So this update, i guess, began a month ago. Then i did some more seo and now my site is on page 1 with major keywords and some relevant others. I ll expose soon what google thrives on. My other sites too been affected in a positive way.

  • http://www.top-travel-tips.com Birgir Gislason

    Why does Google always over engineer and complicate things?

    1. If you want to get rid of webscams, i.e. sites linking to you which looks like scam (multiple links from the same domain to a single page on your site). Why not give Webmasters the option within Google Webmaster of simply identifying those sites which YOU believe are not real sites? Simple and effective way of identifying scam sites!

    1.a Why use links pointing to a site as a criteria of quality content? If you remove that feature, then you get rid of webscams altogether, right!

    2. Google Panda is all about quality content! But what is the criteria?
    Again, why not give webmasters the option of uploading pages to a Google Panda Verifier which would give you feedback on whether the page is rubbish, poor, average, above average, or excellent? That would at least give you the chance of improving the content in line with Google’s criteria, if you want to meet their criteria.

    Just two simple options for solving Matt’s engineering challenges of making algorithms to figure out the world.

    But if you implement these sort of simple solutions, you might be out of work?


  • JohnnyAppleSeed

    I think it’s time for everyone to start thinking of using another search engine that really is fair. Google got to where it is toay becasue of us tech folks telling all our friends how good they were.
    So let’s just do the opposite. It’s sad that Google is simply penalizing many webmasters and small mom and pops in favor of the big brands. We need to get the message out to Everyone that Google simply sucks now. Alternatives?
    Lets just get rid of Google and promote other engines that don’t have skewed results. Let’s start NOW!

  • http://www.mobileprogramming.com jimmy parker

    Google penguin Update…. really affected lot of good sites too…without giving any warning or message to webmasters.Because of this lot of SEO Experts will lose their projects and rankings.

    This is really big update for all the webmasters.I am running small website which is on first page and now lost its rankings in SERP’s


  • http://www.glenwoodfin.com/ Glen Woodfin

    The biggest flaw I see in the Penguin Update is that one can now direct link spam to their competitors and destroy their ranking even though the competitor has not done anything against Google’s policies.


  • http://www.convurgency.com Seo Toronto

    Google claimed that they are pushing sites which contain great content but you can see there are lots of contradiction, spam sites are on top searches.

  • http://onlinemarketingcenter.com Michael Peterson

    If you believe that a financial article from 2005 written by a reporter at Smart Money is more relevant than an entire web site devoted to the same topic with 100% current information…. then Google did a great job! In many cases it’s welcome back to the middle of the last decade!

  • http://tudordavies.wordpress.com Tudor Davies

    SEO still matters and always will but I think it needs a new definition. It’s no longer tips and tricks to cheat your way to the top of Google, instead it should be a “philosophy” that makes us analyse the reason why we are doing something. If we are doing something for Google then we need to stop but if we are writing for the user then what’s the problem with that?

  • http://www.manwithvan.pro Man With Van

    Ok ok…. i think i am understanding this a little bit. I need a bit more research to fully understand it. My website just vanished from search result for a very highly competitive keyword. My domain name does not have that keyword at all, but i managed to bring it to first page via link exchange – reciprocal link exchange. Now suddenly it is no where to be found. site is driver with van dot com an d key word was London Removals :(

    Now anyone can suggest w hat exactly i need to do. the site is on PR2 for the last 6 – 7 months and it just dissappeard for the major keyword :(

  • Geoff

    I have 121 web sites and some of them have been wiped out because they had a lot of short faq pages and people in yahoo answers used them a lot in support of their answers. As a result Google penalised the out of existence and I had no control over it.

    Google has stuffed up big time. There are lots of innocents and I have shut down my Google account and I am now going to support Bing.

    The right way to have done that would have to just not counted the links and then no one could have been hurt on this.

    So the message is, do not make a site that has pages that people in yahoo answers will want to link to. These pages of mine were excellent and loved and provided Google with good content.

    They destroyed it!

    The other thing I found from this. If you want to knock someone out of Google, go to yahoo answers and leave a load of links to the same site each day. Google will see this as web spam and that site will be history.

    Well done Google. Once this gets out, the public can control your rankings. This is the worst stuff up Google has ever made. You have hurt a lot of good people!

    Put it to the test if you don’t beleive me people.

  • http://Bayrvpark.com Frank

    If you look at the results of some of the RV Park search results, you will see that review sites and other topic sites that are not “RV Parks” come up before any rv park so I think that some search results are not improving. I think google should be able to understand the difference between RV Parts, RV Reviews, RV Supplies, and RV Parks.
    An example search, Texas City RV Park, has 2 sites that do not have the keysword in its content and they are not “parks” but are industry related. The search, Kemah Campgrounds, has two Parks in the Kemah area, then two sites that are industry related, next comes my site which has Kemah Campgrounds in the content. The first two results are good but I think my site is more relevant than the second two results. Thats my opinion.

  • Joan Smith

    This update is the WORST EVER! Small business that rely on their web presence have been wiped out! Google says they are worried about black hat sites, I’m sure google is worried about their pockets! Shitty results mean more adwords payments for them. I’m changing to bing! Google sucks.

  • Andy Robbins



  • Robert Andrews

    Terrible Search Results! Great sites with good content have disappeared altogether:( People are out of business OVERNIGHT and they did absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever. I’m switching to BING!

  • http://www.smstroop.com/ zain saleem

    new panda update dropped my daily traffic from 2500 to 1000 only, and it has been decreasing day by day, i m enable to understand,all of my posts are self written, and users liked it very much, but panda did’nt like my website, and dropped it down, i request to google officials to take action against this damned software update,thnx

  • http://Www.writingfortheweb.co.uk Malcolm Davison

    It’s clear that in future, an SEO agency’s priority must be to create quality content and keep it regularly updated. This is now more important than ‘white hat’ changes. But better content needs a completely different skillset. Is the SEO industry taking reskilling seriously? At writingfortheweb.co.uk we see no sign of it yet.

  • http://www.tripleoption.com Ryan

    I agree with most of you, their business model and the standards they pushed on the world, are slipping away. I have seen hundreds of sites slip and have clients asking what’s going on, and we use their standards to the T. $600 stock?

  • http://woodprojectplans.be2do.net ozra

    Google just breaks my heart; I am a fairly new IMer and finally got 2 sites ranking on page one (different niches). Tons of hard work, last of my money – (age 62, no job etc) just to see my sites disappeared.

    All original content, totally relevant to subjects.

    As has been stated, it seems that the little guy is once more to be trampled – by a company that is where they are because of the little guy!

    It sucks really big time.

  • Carl

    Google search results are a joke. All I find on the first page is irrelevant. They are not indexing as many web sites either as I searched in quotes for a phrase used in an article on a popular website and it turned up no results. Went to the site and found the article and phrase. The old Google would have indexed all content from that SE friendly site. I’m using Bing more often for search. I love their image search too.

    I think Google is on its way out. Hope Facebook start their own search engine.

  • http://www.setxwebdev.com/ SETX WebDev

    I can’t help but feel that Google brought a lot of this on to themselves. They invented Page Rank, and it was gamed from the very beginning.

    Here we are, after 10 years of being encouraged to build links (albeit ever so naturally) we find Google (seemingly) pulling the old proverbial plug on it all.

    Secondly .. this whole business of people being totally dependent on Google for their payday is a fail. No one in their right mind, in the business sense would ever find themselves relying totally on just one venue for their source of income.

    Matt Cutts may think that SEO doesn’t matter by way of his .. (or even no search engine optimization at all).. comment.

    But SEO still matters .. it might even matter more now than it ever did before all of this came to a head.

  • http://www.erdent.com erdent

    The fact is, Google force us to provide fresh and original content for our visitor. When you give your visitors what they need, you will win SERP in google. CMIIW

  • http://lovezack.blogspot.com Zeke

    I guess this proves that quality content should be emphasized over solely tricks learned from white hat SEO. My blog http://lovezack.blogspot.com uses some SEO, but I really focus on offering top-notch entertainment content.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.internetingeniousmarketing.com NIck

    A lot of things happened the last years, assuming for the best of the web. Definitely a lot of changes happened and of course a lot of years good work have been vaporized just in a sec.I have seen websites irrelevant with the search subject to gain the first position.The most obvious I can understand is that these sites are good clients in Ad-words.
    We will see more in the future like these and we have to be prepared or to thing more Bi-n-g

  • http://www.jahaniha.com shahram

    Please help me
    Site has greatly reduced
    The reason is that I bought back link
    But what I put out my site
    Can someone tell me what to do?
    website : www.jahaniha.com
    email : jahaniha.com@gmail.com

  • http://www.FirstPageOf-Google.com Wolfgang

    You know, it’s difficult to know what to think, I’m hanging back a bit to see what others think, and I’ve not done any back-linking since all this started, personally my own site have not been hit,I shall wait to see what happens.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405955937 David

    It’s actually a great idea. Today, the only firms that can afrfod to get the best advice on SEO and Social Media are the larger corporations who are now beginning to take over a lot of the SERP’s. I’ve seen large corporations begin to require employees to connect to a Facebook Fan page or submit comments to blogs etc which makes it very difficult for the small company to be heard. Transparency will allow the smaller players to have a voice in a space that was created for them.

  • http://www.HawaiiCarRentals.net Stephen Parquet

    Google search results are now WAY WORSE. When you look for “car rentals,” for example, I have no problem with a company like Expedia having the top position, but EVERY position (20) for two whole pages is rediculous!

  • http://www.whitehatseoteam.com/ Katheryn@ white hat seo

    Today Google panda plays a vital role for controlling the spam. It’s really helpful for our seo service. Because every time our comments or any activities are getting spam, it’s create a negative impression to our buyer. So panda help us to rescue from that’s kind of misery.

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