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Google’s Panda Algorithm Update: What Sites were hit and why?

James Perrin

by James Perrin on 13th April 2011

The Panda/Farmer algorithm update has been rolled out to English language regions as of Monday and a recent analysis reveals some UK sites have been hit. Let’s take a look at what sites have lost ground, but more specifically why. By now we are all aware of the Panda algorithm update. If not, here’s a reminder; Google implemented the update over a month ago in the US. It was designed to detect sites with poor content and demote them within the SERPs rankings – therefore promoting others in their stead.

Background

The update that was first revealed in the US [See: Google Algorithm update: Quality Content is King] emphasised quality content and took action against spammy websites. The same algorithm hit our shores on Monday, as revealed by @Impact_Sam [See: The Google Panda Update Reaches the UK]; this has since been confirmed by major fluctuations in some site’s rankings.

Search Metrics collected the data between the 5th and 12th April. They did this by analysing millions of different short and long tail keywords; looking particularly at the keyword search volume, position and statistical value of traffic distribution (this is their Organic Performance Index or OPI).

Findings

The full list of losers and winners was revealed by Search Metrics, but some of the notable losers include: pricedash.com, discountshoppinguk.co.uk, webdevelopersnotes.com, netvouchercodes.co.uk, pocket-lint.com, killerstartups.com, wakoopa.com, aceshowbiz.com, everydaysale.co.uk, electricpig.co.uk (this list was compiled by Search Engine Watch).

On first inspection it would appear that discount/voucher code websites have been hit the hardest. But to gain a better understanding of the Panda/Farmer update we really need to look at why they have been hit. This will allow us to look beyond the fact that Google state they are rewarding ‘high quality content sites’ and downgrading ‘low quality content sites’. What does this even mean?

Why?

Let’s look at pricedash.com first (according to Search Metrics, the website most affected by the update).

The first and most obvious indicator is that there is no original or unique content on the actual site, every written word seems to be a link. This makes it very difficult for search engine to actually pick up the website. Secondly all these links take the user away from the actual site.

Another example would be airfaresflights.co.uk. Again this literally has no written content apart from a few headings. Search engines use robot.txt files to search a site’s content – which usually embeds keywords to make the search more effective.

Search Metrics and Search Engine Watch have also indicated the sites that have been most successful. Of which we can see that techcrunch.com and econsultancy.com have gained 40.72% and 37.09% respectively according to the OPI. Why was this case? Well it’s simple, unique content and a site that is updated continuously throughout the day with blog posts and news stories:

The recent update actually makes for good news amongst copywriters and those providing SEO services in general. With a move towards on-site originality, there’s no excuse for  using thin or duplicated content as it will harm your site’s performance if you fail to do so. It is up to copywriters to provide rich quality content to sites, which is keyword optimised. As you can see from the examples, those that don’t, wont rank, allowing those who do to prosper.

James Perrin

James Perrin

Content Marketing Manager, James Perrin is a regular contributor to the Koozai blog. Well experienced in sales and marketing, James also has a passion for journalism and media, especially new media. From the latest industry related new stories to copywriting advice, James will provide you with plenty of digital marketing information.

12 Comments

  • Krish Purnawarman 13th April 2011

    Great article,.. I wonder, would DMOZ and other directory sites get penalized by Google as well, since all of its contents are links and most take the user away from the directory… ;-) ?

    Reply to this comment

  • Doug Scott 13th April 2011

    We are seeing no change in our traffic levels. Plus I would like to say we have 11 staff chasing deals down every day:)

    Doug Scott
    Director

    Reply to this comment

  • James Perrin

    James 13th April 2011

    I doubt it Krish – this algorithm update doesn’t seem to affect directory sites such as Dmoz. The examples I have given doesn’t mean that all sites will be affected, just most of them. Using Dmoz as an example, despite its relatively dismal content, it has such authority because of its links – all 19 million of them – and a page rank of 8.

    Reply to this comment

  • Copify 14th April 2011

    Good stuff James,

    Many SEO’s scratching their heads right now, nice to have some clarity and sane information to go on.

    Where do you see automated, highly spun content feeds (like AdFero) fitting in with the new updates. Are they still under the Panda-radar?

    Reply to this comment

  • James Perrin

    James 14th April 2011

    Hi Doug, thanks for the update. It’s interesting to see that not all discount/voucher code websites were hit, yours in particular as it has quite a strong page rank of 4. From what the figures suggested, discount voucher code websites were amongst those hit. Amongst other reasons, this was because these sites in particular had little or no unique content and overall fell foul of the new changes.

    Reply to this comment

  • James Perrin

    James 14th April 2011

    Thanks Copify, its a good question. Going along the lines of needing unique content, AdFero and spun content shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as long as the content is unique. From what I gather this really is a minimal requirement though as the best websites are those that not only have unique copy, but are also regularly updated with long, keyword rich content. We shall see though.

    Reply to this comment

  • My blog has lots (almost every post except press releases which are not many) of unique contents, yet mine gets hit hard (From 3,500 unique visitors a day to around 2,000 now) sigh

    Reply to this comment

  • Byron Wallis 19th April 2011

    If this is the case then the update has not worked properly. Here is a practical example in the UK – when searching for ‘Bournemouth builders’ three seemingly ‘innocent’ local builders with good original content on there pages appear on Page 40. However, on page 1 there is a site which contains only one word – ‘purple’! Not very useful Google!

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James 21st April 2011

      Whilst this is strange, it does show that a lot more goes into SEO than unique, quality content. A site with strong links will significantly optimise a site, and unique quality content will add to this optimisation.

      Regarding the site that contains one word,one of our search specialists has written an excellent piece on an anomaly within Google regarding the street artist banksy.

      Reply to this comment

  • Chris 20th April 2011

    Searched Google for headache pills and up pops the daily telegraph, daily mail newspapers etc.

    Is that good results? Not in my book.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James 21st April 2011

      To specify that you want to buy headache pills, you could use the categories such as ‘shopping’. From what we know Google are rewarding sites with unique and quality content, if they didn’t there would be a lot more spammy websites ranking.

      Reply to this comment

    • Stephen Logan

      Stephen 21st April 2011

      I think the issue with this is that search engines aren’t yet able to determine what a searcher’s intentions are. When you search for a generic term like ‘headache pills’ there are a whole host of potential intentions:
      -to buy
      -to investigate
      -to research

      We are nowhere near semantic search still, and for all its benefits, Panda certainly isn’t the final step towards Web 3.0. However, the fact that these newspapers are top (and for relatively recent stories too) shows that strong sites with good, original content are actually profiting. Okay, so the results might not represent what you wanted, but no search engine is intelligent enough yet to be able to ascertain intentions.

      The important thing is that low quality sites aren’t getting the exposure they once were. Panda isn’t a solution to all problems, particularly where generic searches are concerned.

      Reply to this comment

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