Google Panda Search Updates: Will The Good Guys Win?

Panda. Penguin. Panda again. These animals, or code names, represent the latest updates to the Google algorithm which reportedly uses over 200 signals to determine whether your website should appear on or near the 1st page of natural keyword search results.

Each time an update occurs you can almost feel the earth move as SMEs running websites on cloud servers, managed servers or dedicated servers scramble to assess the “damage” (or “windfall”) and determine whether revenue may be affected by a potential lower search ranking.  If a ranking has been negatively affected, they may employ SEO experts or third-parties to make sense of the update(s) which may appear a few days apart or sometimes in intervals as long as several weeks.

This process gathered momentum in February 2012 with the first release of Panda, representing a massive effort to reward high quality websites, which published original text and multimedia content along with link references to any sourced or quoted material.   This impacted nearly 12% of English websites around the world.  It then followed this up with another refinement in early April, which affected an additional 2% of U.S. search queries.

The rise and fall of a website in the famed Google search results essentially came down to a public set of quality guidelines published by Google, which it said would ensure you remained competitive in natural search rankings.


The three core ways Google indexes your site are based around the following:



Many of these are painfully obvious although they do require discipline to implement, including offering a site map to users, generating friendly URLS from content management systems powering you site, and perhaps most importantly, building web pages primarily for users, not search engines or “machines”.  More specific points are highlighted in the quality guidelines above.

The updates are designed to penalize spammers who employ keyword stuffing or link schemes to gain a higher result, and reward sites that publish original, useful content for their particular target audience. Any form of unnecessary duplication or plagiarism, can potentially hurt your ranking.

By the end of July, Google may have accumulated a total of 86 changes to its algorithm, including some highly technical features based around HTML5 resource caching for mobile.  This particular change is relevant since it reduces latency for search results by caching different areas appearing on the page.   Improving speed or reducing page delays is now considered a critical metric in gaining a higher search result.

“Our experiments demonstrate that slowing down the search results page by 100 to 400 milliseconds has a measurable impact on the number of searches per user of -0.2% to -0.6% (averaged over four or six weeks depending on the experiment). That’s 0.2% to 0.6% fewer searches for changes under half a second!” said Google.

Further, both HTML5 and mobile, represent disruptive forces for an SME struggling to remain competitive in search results.  HTML5 aims to turn a browser into a virtual operating system with the power to run native applications without any need to download plug-ins such as Adobe Flash. And, by 2013 web access by a phone will exceed that of desktops and laptops.

Google wants to reward sites that load cloud-based content quickly on low-power phones (and tablets) in millions of locations around the world.     HTML5, cloud, mobile phones and speed thus represent new challenges for SMEs attempting to reach a larger, more mobile global readership or consumer base.   Increasingly, if you simply rely on dull, duplicated web content, it will not be enough to get you to the first page of a search result.

Instead, SMEs will have to publish deep, original content with a number of multimedia hooks that can be shared on social networks (increasingly one of the most used apps inside a Smartphone.)

This is a major reason why SMEs are signing up for new Content Delivery Network (CDN) services from Virtual Internet. They essentially allow a company to move website closer to the user via a globally distributed collection of cloud datacenters, thereby reducing latency and speeding up page load times.

This was an area of discussion in a previous blog entry entitled Impatience is a virtue: Why Google loves an instance CDN that highlighted a key trend in user behavior:

In 1999 users were prepared to wait 8 seconds for a page to load; in 2011 this wait time is now 2 seconds.   In 1999 web pages only weighed 14kb in size and contained only a few multimedia objects. Today the average page weighs over 500kb and represents a dazzling array of JavaScript, Ajax, Images, CSS, Video and database-backends.

And the quest for originality in web content, has prompted Google to add another worrisome guideline for SME and ISV website owners:  If a website is reported as infringing on the copyright of others Google will now rank that site lower.   In addition to this latest signal it has also decided to re-tune results for different languages (besides the earlier English-Panda update).   This will affect roughly 7% of international language queries, except Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.

The upshot of all these changes or additional algorithmic signals is that trying to ‘game’ the Google search results should in theory become a fool’s errand (although the jury is still out on this point if you pay attention to the all the complaints in user forums online).

Not even so-called SEO experts can categorically claim to know all the signals that Google will use (or has used) or how it will tweak them in the next six months to influence a search result.  But, what is obvious is that publishing original, educative, informative and unique content should in theory put you in the leading peloton of websites that gain a higher ranking.  By following the design, content, technical and quality guidelines above you put your website in the best position to gain a higher ranking.   Additional tools, such as a CDN or fast-loading cloud server should also benefit you in the long term since Google has made no bones about its desire to reward websites that load quickly.

So design your website for people, not machines, and don’t let the daily fluctuations of the SEO stock market distract you from publishing unique, quality web content favored by Google, Bing and Yahoo. In the end, the good guys will win!

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