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Something’s Broken…Will Google Fix It?

April 9, 2011 · M. Wist

Since it’s already been discussed to death, I won’t go into too much detail on the particulars of Google’s recent “farmer” update – officially referred to as the “Panda” update. It is, however, worth noting that what Google is trying to achieve with the update is certainly admirable from a development and product improvement standpoint. At the same time, it’s also clear to many webmasters that Google may have missed the mark a bit with the update. To be sure, the Panda update has cleared out some trash from the search engine results pages (SERPs), but the update illustrates one thing more clearly than anything else. Namely, that trying to determine what is “good” content by virtue of an unthinking algorithm is a tenuous process, at best.

Google Farmer Update

That fact has a lot of very respected and knowledgeable SEOs shaking their heads in disbelief, with many contending that Google has caused a lot of “collateral” damage to businesses without actually improving upon anything. To give a very slight background of the issue:

Google’s Panda update targets so-called “content farms” that produce large volumes of poor quality content, typically in the form of regurgitated articles and news, “how to” articles, etc. The idea behind the Panda update was to systematically determine where this content existed and to tweak the Google algorithm to lend less credence to that sort of content.

Without actually naming names, it’s clear that things have gone awry in certain areas. There is a certain “how to” site, for instance, that I’ve found myself on time and time again after conducting searches entirely unrelated to my work. As someone who tends to take matters into his own hands, I’ve searched the Web for a wide variety of information, from fixing my lawn tractor to properly installing gutters and downspouts. On this particular site that always seems to show up in the SERPs (and which shall remain nameless),  I’ve never once found any meaningful information. The content is entirely original, but the actual value of the content is absolutely nil. It is just this situation that points to the heart of the Google Panda problem.

Namely, it’s not really possible (yet) to utilize an unthinking algorithm to determine what is “good” content. The only thing an algorithm can do at this point is to compare various elements of a site’s content against other content on the Web (and elsewhere) and then categorize it accordingly. The result is that very good content could exist that quotes other articles or that touches upon the same themes as other articles, perhaps including quotes (in the event that it is a news item) – but that content, by virtue of overlapping with content elsewhere on the Web, is penalized. Another factor is the length, in words, of the article, which is a topic that SEOs have long discussed. As just about anyone with a grasp of the English language can attest, it is quite possible to produce an excellent piece of writing that is limited to 200 or 250 words. It is equally possible to ramble for 1,000 words and say absolutely nothing. All of the “how to” articles I’m referring to on the still-unnamed site fall under the latter category and, as a result, I simply never visit that site anymore when I see it in the SERPs.

If you want anecdotal evidence that the Panda update has been a massive failure, look no further than the fact that my now-always-avoided site is still up there at the top of the rankings for all those keyword searches I perform. The bottom line is that if Google is utilizing character or word counts in this algorithm, then they’re really missing out. Either way, the fact that this particular site still ranks for…well, anything…is a sign that something isn’t quite right. Lest anyone accuse me of sour grapes, let me note that neither my company’s website nor any of the numerous websites we own has been adversely affected by Panda at all, though we have seen some very significant traffic spikes after the update.

Another anecdotal example I’ve seen – more extreme than the anonymous site I’ve mentioned above – is detailed here. In this example, a site is producing good, original content and even has traffic to the website by virtue of mentions on the radio. Many who hear about the site on the radio follow up by doing a search on Google, only to find that they can’t find the site referenced on the air, but instead find among the top results other websites that either a) link to, b) re-write or c) steal the content on the site. I’m not sure what to make of this, other than Google seems to be rewarding those who DON’T produce original content but instead just link to it (or steal it).

Still others point out that competitors to Google’s many, various products have been hit very hard with this latest update. And, as I’ll discuss in the near future, article marketing has changed after this update, with many discussing new “rules” for producing content for websites. There is, of course, plenty of time for the dust to settle fully here, but SEOs will surely be scrambling to fix their sites and those of their clients in the coming days. Within a few more months, there should be a new de facto industry standard relating to how to produce content, but the savvy search engine marketer will likely wait for Google to fix something that is clearly broken before going too far down any particular path.

One Response to “Something’s Broken…Will Google Fix It?”

  1. SEO Copywriting - Post Google Panda Update on April 11th, 2011 6:08 pm

    [...] and while I have serious doubts about Google’s ability to *actually* determine bad content (discussed here), if you produce something that actually is bad, how long do you think it will be before Google [...]

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