In February this year, Google rolled out an algorithm change called Panda, intended to give lower rankings to content farms. These are sites that host not very original content specifically written to capture search enquiries and generate advertising revenue. If you are wondering why this matters, let me explain how they generate that content.
A friend of ours recently tried writing for one of them. As an accredited journalist, she was given the pick of better articles to write, typically at the rate of $20 for 700 words — presuming the finished item were ultimately approved. Her instructions were to search the web for suitable material, then rewrite it so that the source was no longer recognizable. Since this takes 1½ to 2 hours, even for an accomplished journalist, this is a lousy rate of pay. And since the material — though it will pass an automated plagiarism test — is not original, it contributes to the mountain of poor quality content on the web. A prerequisite of quality content of course, is that it says something original and/or cites its sources and antecedents.
So Google, bless them, introduced the Panda set of algorithm changes. These try in many different ways to determine whether content is good quality or not. Some of the questions that Panda attempts to answer algorithmically are:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
And 17 more (listed here).
The changes immediately impacted an estimated 12% of US searches and primarily large sites with lots of such content. But the longer term ramifications are much broader. In an April update Google extended the algorithm to go “deeper into the “long tail” of low-quality websites to return higher-quality results,” according to an announcement. And subsequent statements indicate that they aren’t stopping there. In May, Amit Singhal, A Google search engineer and fellow wrote “Our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google’s current ranking algorithms or signals.” He went on to say “We're continuing to work on additional algorithmic iterations to help webmasters operating high-quality sites get more traffic from search.”
So Panda doesn’t just matter to content farms; it should matter to everyone with a website. As Google continues to focus on and get smarter about distinguishing quality, the bar for getting found will go up. And that is good news for people who produce high quality, original content.