Google's new Panda update (or 'Farmer' if you're a webmaster) is squarely in the crosshair

Google's new Panda update (or 'Farmer' if you're a webmaster) is squarely in the crosshair of our trusted columnist, Dominique, this month, as the Games and Casino founder runs the rule over the latest algorithmic development from the search giant.

The buzz is on about the new Google update - named 'Panda' by Google, nicknamed 'Farmer' by webmasters. It was first implemented in the US, and by the time you read this, it is also likely to be live in the UK.

It all started with an announcement in the Google Blog:

Posted by Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, and Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer:
" the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking - a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries - and we wanted to let people know what's going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites - sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites - sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on."

In an interview with, we find Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal further explaining the development.

'So we did Caffeine [a major update that improved Google's indexing process] in late 2009. Our index grew so quickly, and we were just crawling at a much faster speed. When that happened, we basically got a lot of good fresh content, and some not so good. The problem had shifted from random gibberish, which the spam team had nicely taken care of, into somewhat more like written prose. But the content was shallow'."

"Matt Cutts:
'It was like, 'What's the bare minimum that I can do that's not spam?' It sort of fell between our respective groups. And then we decided, 'okay, we've got to come together and figure out how to address this'."

In addition to this, Google's Wysz posted in Google Webmaster Help: "If you believe you've been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content."

Google's JohnMu (John Mueller) gave very similar advice:
"If you do have such high-quality, unique and compelling content, I'd recommend separating it from the auto-generated rest of the site, and making sure that the auto-generated part is blocked from crawling and indexing, so that search engines can focus on what makes your site unique and valuable to users world-wide."

What you don't hear a lot about from Google is that this update also goes after copied content. In January, prior to the update release, Matt Cutts said that Google was "evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others' content and sites with low levels of original content."

A few weeks later, Panda/Farmer made its debut. So we can assume that it also targets duplicate content and copied content. This, of course, is something most webmasters welcome with open arms. Content thieves are a never ending nuisance; let's hope this new algorithm puts them out of business.

Article marketing

So what do you do if you have relied heavily on article marketing? Looks like a lot of the directories are pretty much worthless now. The days of creating cheap content for a link and some traffic are over. Auto-blogs, $3 articles and non-informative basic overwiews of a broad topic are not going to help you anymore. To get links, you will need to create high quality content with images and even video and find niche websites that will display the content after serious editorial review.

Article marketing is not dead; quality articles on quality sites will still be beneficial. What is 'dead' is the type of article that has no value to readers and the sites that accept such articles. Consequently, links from these places are also useless.

To see whether this has hurt you, read on.

How to check if you were affected: published a survival guide. To see if you were affected, Wordtracker suggests you follow these steps:

• 1. Go to your Google analytics dashboard.
• 2. Check the graph, but even if all looks well, go to the next steps to make sure.
• 3. Go to the Search Engines report in the Traffic Sources menu, and there you choose 'non-paid'.
• 4. Now click on 'Google'.
• 5. Click the 'Keyword' column heading above the list of keywords.
• 6. On the large sub menu, click ' Country/Territory'.
• 7. Now enter 'United States', or alternately, if the algorithm has been rolled out in the UK by the time you see this, 'United Kingdom' into the filter.
• 8. Find the 24th of February on the resulting graph.

Do you see a dip? Ouch!

Wordtracker also has a series of suggested steps to help you get out from under that Panda. These are some of the ones most likely to help:

• Find the pages and page types hit worst on your site.
• Isolate differences between those hit and those not.
• Make a list of your different types of pages, for example, forum, quality article, low quality article, light category, quality-category, product, blog post, etc. Put the list in a column in a spreadsheet and start building a table.
• Add columns for relevant factors like 'lots of ads', little content, some dupe, all dupe, etc, and also number of pages and percentage drop in Google US organic visits. Fill in the values for each type of page.
• Look at how much of your site (percentage of pages) is taken up by your lowest quality pages and improve that.
• If you have lots of pages that dupe your own copy (e.g., as happens with some content management systems and on
a lot of ecommerce sites that build new URLs for 'faceted' pages) then add 'rel=canonical' tags to the 'duped' pages. This stops Google seeing those pages as dupes.
• Edit any 'over-optimised' pages.
• Improve anything that might make the user's experience better.
• Offer users more when thev first enter a page, for example, images, videos, attractive text and pages linking to your best, related editorial content.
• Make as many of these changes as you can at once in the hope of shaking off the penalty quickly. With editorial content improving, you can then add back any marketing you are missing, in steps, checking to see you don't get slapped again.

This, of course, only helps if some of your pages are affected, and others are fine. If your whole site is tanked, you'll just have to figure out what all the offensive parts are and replace them with quality content.

So then who was adversely affected by this?

Barry Schwartz from SEO Roundtable says:

"I ran a poll about five days after Farmer/Panda was rolled out asking 'how did this update impact you?' We've had 313 responses to date, which isn't a bad sampling size. Of course, you have to consider those who were impacted are more likely to respond, but anyway, let me share the results with you.

• 40% said Less Google Traffic (Negative Impact) (128)
• 25% said Same Google Traffic (No Impact) (80)
• 18% said More Google Traffic (Positive Impact) (56)
• 14% said Don't Know Yet (44)
• 1.696 gave Another Answer... (5)"

The biggest losers

Sixtrix published figures of the hardest hit sites, and Search Engine Land published an easy to understand version. Table 1 shows the ten hardest hit sites:

Personally, I am happy to see this update. Content thieves... who needs them? Good riddance I say! As far as the article marketing goes, I don't see why thoughtless gibberish should rank as well as quality, researched, unique articles anyway. Why should some of us work hard while the rest coasts on what is mostly BS?

If people would put the time they spend coming up with ways to game Google towards creating quality, I think they would do a lot better anyway. (Ok, SEO guys, you can beat me up now.)
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