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What Google Panda and Penguin Updates Really Mean: Part 1

In most cases where Google forces a change to its search algorithm, the changes are barely noticeable and tend to affect less than 1 percent of overall search results. Granted, however, that Google’s index tends to border around 40 or 50 billion Web pages, even “minor” changes will shift landscapes entirely.

The moral of this post is that Content is once again king, and having been usurped by Links as few as 10 years ago, is back on the throne of Search.

This post is a two-parter, where our next installment will go over the more recent Penguin updates in more detail. It feels fitting, however, to give some backstory of the Panda updates that have lead us, since 2009, to our current juncture.

SEOs are a reactive, twitchy lot

When engineers in the Google Webspam team make announcements of a more drastic nature, SEO consultants everywhere tend to write knee-jerk articles which have inflammatory titles such as “SEO is Dead” or “Google killed SEO.”

Google, in their own humor, have responded by branding major algorithm changes with adorable animals — most recently, Pandas and Penguins. Despite these furry, adorable mascots, there is still a lot of noise about updates when they get pushed through. If you’ve been having heartburn about these fuzzy animals and how they might affect your standings in search, there are a few things to remember that can keep your strategy focused on activities that will keep you a few steps ahead.

It can be a little hard to keep track of all the updates. Thankfully, SEOmoz created a history of the Panda and Penguin updates to help sort out the organized changes made by the Google Webspam since the institution of Panda and Penguin.

Panda renewed Google’s focus on “good content”

Whenever Matt Cutts publicly makes a statement on behalf of the Webspam team, you can bet that he’s going to say something about “good content.” It’s no surprise, since it’s in Google’s monetary interest to keep visitors coming back to search, so that Google in turn can continue to keep advertisers interested in spending money on their Adwords platform.

Recently, the Panda and Penguin updates have made it much harder for SEOs to manipulate search results through link schemes, as spammy content networks and article sites have been devalued in their ability to pass Page Rank, or “link juice” as SEOs like to call the authority passed by links.

The Panda updates are specifically targeted at sites where unique content is not the focus of that site. If your has any of the following hallmark signs, you may want to rethink your layout / site design:

  • Low ratio of unique content to auto-generated content
  • Low ratio of unique content to ads
  • Redundant content or empty pages

Since the notable Flordia algorithm update of 2003, the name of the SEO game has been “get links.” The value, however, of one link over another, and the relevance of authority passed by links, is something still disputed regularly by SEOs, as not all links are created equal. In the past, savvy SEOs found out quickly that link acquisition was a pretty easy thing to manipulate, and the topical relevance of those links was also easily manipulated through the keyword on which the link was positioned (also known as the anchor text). This backstory is key to part two of this blog series, so stay tuned for that in our commentary about the Penguin updates.

For the Panda update, the thing to remember is that low-rent content sites were targeted. Content networks, article directories and similar sites dubbed “content farms” have one thing in common — the quality of the content, judged by engagement factors, is very low. Thus, any links coming from said farms would be devalued by Google’s algorithm. The result is that any site which relied on content networks, article directories or similarly spammy content sites have been devalued in their ability to pass link juice.

The thing that you don’t hear SEOs talking about often is the positive results for high-quality content sites. I’ll save the theortical SEO speak for part 2/2, and the news is looking very good for content publishers.

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