Who was affected by the Google Panda Update?
One of the main reasons that the Google Panda series of updates have been so widely discussed is that many high-profile websites lost a majority, or in some cases almost all of their Google search engine traffic. The most high-profile websites that were affected and thought to be the target of the initial Panda update were about.com (owned by the New York Times parent company), and eHow.com (owned by Demand Media). These large websites and other websites with similar content models are referred to as content farms and were hit extremely hard by the Panda 1.0 Google update.
What are content farms?
The most popular definition of a content farm is a website that contains article content pages written by paid non-Experts or outsourced through Mechanical Turk to create content tailored to rank well when given to search engines. These pages are considered by most people to be shallow or low-quality content and not very useful to searchers. The content farm pages that a user came to from a search engine usually had a large number of advertising content blocks along with the article content. The Panda 1.0 update was originally called the Farmer update by prominent search engine bloggers and journalists based on the fact that the update seemed to be primarily affecting the so-called content farms.
What are content scrapers?
Google also publicized that search algorithm updates made at the end of January 2011 were targeting so-called search SPAM including content scrapers. Content scrapers are individuals or groups that go to websites, load their content pages, and using browser-based tools take the HTML & image content. This content is then stored by the scrapers and published to a website or group of websites and submitted to Google and other search engines as their own content when in fact it was scraped and stolen from the original publisher and content producer. Google's team publicized their efforts to fight this in response to many complaints, including those highlighted in Jeff Atwood’s blog post
where he wrote:
In 2010, our mailboxes suddenly started overflowing with complaints from users – complaints that they were doing perfectly reasonable Google searches, and ending up on scraper sites that mirrored Stack Overflow content with added advertisements.
And even after special help from Google's Matt Cutts and others to get rid of StackOverflow scrapers from search results, Mr. Atwood noted in the same blog post :
Despite the semi-positive resolution, I was disturbed. If these dime-store scrapers were doing so well and generating so much traffic on the back of our content – how was the rest of the web faring? My enduring faith in the gravitational constant of Google had been shaken. Shaken to the very core.
The Panda 1.0 update was thought to target content farms primarily, although some search industry bloggers speculated that it also targeted content scrapers in a further attempt to reduce their rankings in Google search results after the late January 2011 update that originally targeted the scrapers.
The aftermath of Panda 1.0
So, with the Panda 1.0 update out live and the Google anti-search-SPAM PR team out in full force, the algorithm update was considered a success by Google and by other outside commentators. Yet the NYTimes (about.com) and Demand Media (ehow.com) lost a large percentage of their advertising revenue when the update affected a majority of their Google search referrals, which was a large overall source of their traffic. This loss of traffic and advertising heavily affected their revenues and led to layoffs. These two companies were the high profile losers from this Google update, but there were other websites and companies that were similarly affected.
There were still a lot of unknowns as to how the Farmer/Panda algorithm update worked, who it was targeting, and what could be done to recover Google search engine traffic. Search engine industry bloggers were working overtime in February and March of 2011 with speculation, hounding Google representatives for more details, and surveying analytics and website traffic firms like comScore and Alexa to look at which websites were affected. What they didn’t know was that this update was only the first in a series of updates, with more search industry turmoil coming in April.
Part 3 on the Google Panda update can be seen at this link