Google launched an algorithm in 2011 that disrupted the traditional page ranking system most businesses had come to understand and utilize. These changes were so significant that Google actually named the update as Panda; whereas, most of the thousands of updates that have been made to algorithms are less significant and therefore do not warrant a formal title. The term Panda was actually named for one of the top engineering influencers on the update, Navneet Panda.
The Panda Premise
The rollout of the Panda update took several months to complete, and it was done so in phases as the changes were a new approach that Google had never tried in the past. Prior to Panda, the primary focus of page rankings was the effective use of keywords. The keywords entered into the search engine by users were matched by Google with website pages that featured the same keywords. Panda acts differently with an additional step that attempts to demote pages on factors other than keyword searches. So, even if a page matches a keyword search perfectly, it may not be listed within the first 20 results for a number of reasons.
Issues and Concerns with Websites
Basically, Google is determining which pages provide the most value to your search. If they feel you will not like a page due to poor content, inappropriate links, or too much advertising, they will demote the pages further down in page rankings so that you are presented with useful and reputable sites in the first two pages of results. The Panda process began by working with a sample population of Google employees and asking them questions that would help to create a superior page ranking algorithm that results in a more enjoyable browsing experience. Such questions included:
- Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card?
- Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?
- Do you consider this site to be authoritative?
- Would you be okay if this was in a magazine?
- Does this site have excessive ads?
These issues have been a concern of users and websites for years. The lack of quality of so many websites was becoming an industry-wide troublesome topic because search engines were leading people to poor quality sites simply because they were following the guidelines for SEO quite well. This lead to many companies and individuals to lose interest in website optimization. Google is always working to improve search results and the user experience; therefore, they are now beginning to incorporate the aspects that people dislike and like, regarding websites, into their algorithms. Essentially, websites are being grouped by Google into bad and good sites in an attempt to determine the difference between the sites in a mathematical manner.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Now, it is more imperative than ever before that you evaluate your website to determine whether or not Google will classify it as good, bad or ugly. You can no longer rely solely on using SEO properly to improve your page rankings. It is essential to evaluate your site from the perspective of the visitor viewing your pages and whether or not it adds value to their experience. Panda will look for excessive use of advertising and the location of the advertisements to determine whether or not it is a value-rich site.
Most people strongly dislike pages that feature too many ads across the top of the page. The people have spoken and now, Google is working to demote pages like this so that you do not have to see them in your search results for at least a few pages. A good website will allow visitors to find content straight away rather than only seeing ads. If a site has a poor layout or simply too many ads in general, the site will lose ranking and do so relatively quickly. Do not forget to continue incorporating value-added SEO into your web content to improve page rankings. The Panda updates are separate from the SEO algorithm that searches for relevant SEO-rich websites to determine page rankings.
Google is not entirely forthcoming pertaining to all aspects they consider to determine whether or not a site should be demoted; however, you should also focus on site visual aesthetics, credibility, trustworthiness, and usability. A site that is not visually appealing could hurt your ranking as most people find unattractive sites to be unprofessional.
The Importance of Page Layout
It is also important to consider the layout of your pages. Be sure to break up large blocks of texts with graphics and visuals. You can also break them down into smaller text blocks and make the content easier for the reader. And, be sure that you do not use extremely wide text columns nor small text as they, too, can be challenging to read. Some great examples of top layouts include those by newspaper companies.
Focus on the Quality of your Content
It is also essential to provide quality content rather than programs that spin and reuse content that has already been published on other sites. It might be worth the additional money to hire a native English speaker to write your content to maximize the value of your content. And, Panda could also demote pages for duplicating content. If you have been reusing existing content either exactly as is or with a few minor modifications, this process, often referred to as content aggregation, is no longer going to be effective and could have negative consequences. Google is now using Panda as yet another methodology for punishing sites that reuse content rather than to provide original and value-added content.
Penguin addresses on-page and off-page issues and concerns, as well as issues with linking. On-page issues relate to aspects including non-transparent redirects and keyword stuffing. It also includes presenting one set of information to search engines and an entirely different set of information to the site visitor. This is called cloaking. Off-page issues relate to aspects such as content duplication, hidden text, and more. Google has been warning everyone for years to follow their guidelines or consequences could be implemented. Now, Google is backing up their initial threats with page ranking demotions through Panda and Penguin.
The idea behind these algorithm changes is to provide better quality sites to users rather than simply site matching. These programs were also put in place to ensure poor quality sites are not featured in the first few pages of search results and reward quality sites with improved page rankings. Sites that are unattractive, have too many advertisements, insufficient or poor quality content, or seem unprofessional or untrustworthy, these sites will all be susceptible to a page ranking demotion through Panda.