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Why Are Google’s Panda Updates Important?

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Why do people keep talking about the Panda Update?

Google’s Panda updates continue to be a hot topic of discussion because they were game-changers.  Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz hosted an excellent video Whiteboard Friday where he described how traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of building links and using and validating keywords and topics was no longer enough.  

Now, website owners needed to make sure that they had good, quality content and website users would then show Google through metrics like time-on-site and number of pages viewed per website visit that they liked the content and usability of the website.  Google’s focus on these metrics is pushing the SEO discipline to focus and include these metrics in their decision making, and prioritize better marketing and usability to keep website visitors engaged and using the website for longer periods of time.  

A second reason for the chatter about Panda is because the Panda updates have a site-wide penalty attached to them.  For many websites, this meant and continues to mean that even for their good high quality content, they lost such significant amounts of search engine traffic that it critically affected their ability to stay in business, and caused layoffs and company restructuring.  This penalty aspect to the Pandalization of websites and the large number of websites affected has caused a greater, morbid fascination similar to a car wreck on the side of the expressway.  

Finally, the fact that it has not been easy to recover from a Pandalization penalty and that significant usability, design, and cross-website changes need to be made has increased attention on Panda.  With longer timeframes needed to implement Google’s suggested changes and with uncertainty that any of these types of changes would actually work, website owners have increased anxiety and attention on post-Panda recovery results.  As more months tick by without a significant number of Pandalized websites recovering search traffic, more attention, focus, and speculation will continue to roil the Twittersphere and the SEO industry.

Too much content (Google & Bing only want high-quality content)

For the past several years, I was convinced that Google (and Bing) wanted as much information as possible, and the more content they could crawl, index, and rank for search results, the better.  With Google and Bing’s latest algorithm updates and public statements, it is clear that their greatest focus is getting high quality content, and that recent algorithm changes show them devaluing and not wanting lower quality content in their search indexes.  

I spoke with Duane Forrester from Bing at the SMX Advanced conference in June 2011, and his take was that websites with large amounts of content should curate their content such that the website would give to Bing the highest quality content and be selective about what was given.  Lower quality content should still be allowed online, but be given a no-index tag so that Bing (and Google) could ignore that content for the purposes of search ranking.  With Google’s Panda update series now ranking and penalizing an entire website if the website reaches an (unknown) threshold for a percentage of “low quality” content, the urge and pressure to de-index low quality content is now imperative.  

The real dilemma for website owners is figuring out and separating the sheep of high-quality content from the goats of low-quality content as defined by the moving target of Google’s algorithm.

When is Panda3.0 coming?

The idea of another major revision of the Panda algorithm (Panda3.0?) is intriguing. We know that more large updates are coming from Google, and the question is what form they will take and who they will target.  Perhaps Panda3.0 will be Google’s optimization of the machine learning algorithm such that it runs continuously, or that it runs once daily and updates search results to users much more quickly.  

If continuous Panda analyzing does come, my highest priority request is that un-Pandalizing websites and giving websites better search result rankings when their metrics indicate greater user satisfaction will also be a near real-time result of running the Panda algorithm more often.  Or, perhaps the Panda series of updates will be smaller, micro releases that continue to be run through the rest of 2011, with a newly code-named larger release (Koala, anyone?) coming in 2012.  

The name won’t matter, though, since Google will always be in the business of trying to stay 1 (or 3) steps ahead of the search result spammers, scrapers, and black hat SEOs.  Google's mission won’t change and their search quality engineers will continue to be on the pace of 500+ search algorithm changes each year, creating a constantly changing playing field for website owners and search marketers around the world.
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