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My Take on Panda

Updated on May 6, 2011

Search engine algorithms have evolved their own kind of meritocracy in order to promote trusted authoritative content and user experience. They take into account many signals, not only from the words on the page but also from site structure, user interactivity, bounce rate, inbound link profile and much more.

This evolution wasn’t just about delivering the best search results to users it was also about building brand trust. When Google hit the scene, search was still in its infancy and their ultra clean interface coupled with results that were significantly better than their competitors quickly promoted them to the search engine of choice. We all immediately fell in love with Google, and one of today’s best known brands was born.

In Days of Lore

Those who were involved in SEO back in those early days will recognize terms like Krishna Bharat’s ‘Hilltop’ and Larry Page’s ‘PageRank’. This is why Google was different, right out the block they reached beyond the relatively crude and simplistic signals used by other search engines of the day by utilizing applied mathematics and science. The result was a search engine vastly superior to anything at that time and Google quickly stole the market.

We Love Google

The love affair with Google was maintained because there was no real alternative, but that’s no longer the case. There are two reasons this has come about. Firstly, for some time Google have been receiving criticism about search quality, primarily regarding the amount of spam and low quality content they currently churn up. Secondly the competition is fighting back - in the last six consecutive months Google has lost ground to Yahoo/Bing.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

Where did the spam come from? In an interview with Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts published in Wired, Amit Singhal had this to say:

“So we did Caffeine [a major update that improved Google’s indexing process] in late 2009. Our index grew so quickly, and we were just crawling at a much faster speed. When that happened, we basically got a lot of good fresh content, and some not so good. The problem had shifted from random gibberish, which the spam team had nicely taken care of, into somewhat more like written prose. But the content was shallow.”


Note: The article referring JC Penny mentioned in the interview can be found here

The Pandas Paw Print

Google’s follow-up to Caffeine and the criticism that ensued started to roll out in the US in February of 2011 and the rest of the world shortly after; I am of course referring to the Panda update. The aim was to reduce the rankings of low quality sites that served up duplicate or ‘shallow’ content and provided little intrinsic value to users. Specifically targeted were content farms who often hosted spun or scraped content that displayed poor language skills. Another problem is that they were often used as a means to link to and promote third party sites in bad neighbourhoods.

Was Google right in doing this? It probably was. Sites like HubPages, which is a content farm, were hit hard because Panda penalises the domain rather than just the pages that were deemed poor quality. It doesn’t really matter how good some of the content is on HubPages, and there is some great stuff, Google is working to the lowest common denominator. HubPages is not alone; other content farms have been hit just as hard.

Shallow Content, Ecommerce and Affiliates

Many sites that enjoyed top rankings pre Panda have been affected and it’s not limited to content farms. Ecommerce and Affiliate sites have been affected by the new rules surrounding shallow content too. These types of sites tend to pull much of their content and product descriptions from suppliers, manufacturers and affiliate networks. This has been the standard practice for a long time but now it’s a practice to be avoided. If you have an ecommerce site that has been hit by Panda think about where you content is coming from and whether it’s unique. Without doubt the Panda algorithm will be adjusted and tweaked, however, Google's stance on shallow content is here to stay - doing nothing is not an option.

Google's Search Tweak Puts A Company At Risk

Scraping Through

There is one great big problem with all of this. Although results have changed, overall search quality has not improved. There have been gains and losses and a general shuffling around, but search quality is no better than it was pre Panda, if anything its worse. One problem that is widely reported is that scraper sites are now outranking original sources.

Over at SEOmoz Bryan Crow comments on this issue:

A weird thing has happened as a result of panda. Something you might have expected Google's Search Quality testers to catch before rolling the update out. Due to the domain-wide nature of the signal, high-quality, original content produced by the websites who were negatively impacted are now being ranked below the exact same content, republished by partners to whom they syndicate. Even more egregious, they are also being outranked by scrapers who effectively steal and republish the same content without permission or credit.

Source: SEOmoz, read the full article here.

More on the same from

The Future of Google

I was once a vocal advocate of Google search results, yet recently I find myself looking for ways to become Google independent. If Panda was intended to deflect criticism about their results it has certainly failed with me. I now find myself thinking the unthinkable – that is championing a Microsoft service. I now use Bing more often than Google and find the results far superior.

I am not alone, pandamonium is spreading to such an extent that I question the future of Google as the powerhouse it currently is. As more people switch away from Google, the income from paying advertisers will drop, shareholders will bail and their market share will shrink. No matter how many times Matt Cutts assures me Panda is the best thing since sliced bread I still prefer sliced bread and Bing are currently slicing and dicing very nicely thank you.


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    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thank you for this explanation. I have been gone from HP for a while and was very confused about all this Panda talk. Now, at least, I have the basics. I think more research is merited before I decide how I feel about it though. It would be so weird to abandon Google...

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      7 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Interesting thoughts Peter. Well done. Even though Google is struggling to try to stay on top, there is constant work by hackers of the system to make their web sites rank higher without merit. It is unfortunate that these people are out there. Rather than providing useful content, they game the system to reap the rewards with garbage. I see that it is a constant battle between these people and Google. But Bing and Yahoo have the same struggles and they also must work hard at bringing only the best and most useful content to the surface.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      7 years ago from US

      Hi Peter, nice one and I agree with you about your take on Google. Most G searches are broken right now!

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Peter, great article. You have done a good job analyzing the situation. One of my hubs is outranked by two plagiarism sites of my article. One is gone, but the other one is still there. The Panda thing is not working, in my opinion. Hoperfully, things will get better. On Bing and Yahoo, the plagiarism sites don't apppear. Thanks for the article.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Peter- a sane summation of the situation. It may be, that behind all the rhetoric, some brains at google are working on an update to panda to produce what they really want

    • jantamaya profile image

      Maria Janta-Cooper 

      7 years ago from UK

      Peter, great article. After Panda is Google search miserable :-| Please explain one thing, why eHow (a content farm like Hubpages and Suite101)is now so popular? They are very high in rankings although their quality is relatively low. Does Google own eHow? What did eHow right? Which are the differences between eHow and Hubpages? ?????

    • doitex profile image


      7 years ago from Latvia

      I am wondering why in Google Chrome there are no possibilities to ban spam sites? (like it is in Gmail where I can report a spamer).

      I agree that for some people one site may feel like spam but in the same time for other people that site will provide value.

      Therefore lets give tools to people to clasify what is/not spam in their individual browsers.

      thanks for article - I came to it from typical "spam" site :)

    • Cagsil profile image


      7 years ago from USA or America

      Hey Peter, a well put together hub and nicely written too. I don't think the search quality of Google has improved, regardless of what Google has to say about it. The fact that it is using it's power to manipulate the search results, like the Panda update destroyed rankings of many sites and calling it an improvement, just shows that Google is out for itself than servicing it's searchers. Thumbs up! :) Thank you for sharing. :)

    • thisisoli profile image


      7 years ago from Austin, Texas (From York, England!)

      Great article, I have had to ramp up some of my DMCA work on scraped content since this update >:-

    • CMHypno profile image


      7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for all the great information Peter. I'm a rank amateur when it comes to SEO, but it seems to me that Google have shot themselves in the foot, but are too stubborn to admit it and turn their ship around.

    • IzzyM profile image


      7 years ago from UK

      Interesting stuff, Peter, and the follow through links contain some pretty amazing stuff too, especially the link about Digital Inspiration's traffic return, more so because the top Google ad I am seeing on that page is the offer of a free trial for a dubious program called Easy Data Scraper for scraping web data quickly and easily!

    • Michael Willis profile image

      Michael Willis 

      7 years ago from Arkansas

      A great take on the Google Panda attack on the search results. Although I believe they had the right idea to begin with, they did not get the end results they were looking for. Of course, Matt Cutts and his team will not admit their failure.

      I now see more duplicated material and pages that send you to another page and...another page to finally read the link you started with.

      I see this move by Google as a way to attempt a monopoly of the search engine world on the net. Crush the little guy and one day we may see all the search results being held by those who are willing to "purchase their rank position."

      How much is a first page rank worth? How much would a #4 rank on page 1 be worth?

      It's just business. It's about the money.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Good hub with concise coverage of the issues. I myself was never a Google fan, preferring Altavista, at a time when they were still a contender.

      I tend to think that allowing a search engine to evaluate content for "quality" is a bad idea. We want to search in order to find what is out there. Different searchers have different ideas of what quality content is. Some searchers are looking to buy something, so they enjoy content that is sales oriented, and which might be considered spammy by other searchers, who are looking for abstract information.

      One of the worst offenses committed by Google of late is that they feel free to rearrange the letters and words in our query and give us the results of a different, more "popular" query.

    • Daniel Carter profile image

      Daniel Carter 

      7 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      This is such a well thought out hub, Peter. Great stuff and insightful. Thanks for a good read. Pressing the "agree" button.

    • lakeerieartists profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      7 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Peter, this is an excellent summation of what I am hearing and seeing. Your points are clear, and you summarize the results of the different waves of Google changes well. I believe that you are correct in your assessment that Google has not found a solution to the new more competitiveness of its search engine rivals, and we will be seeing some changes in the search engine landscape. A little competition is not a bad thing at all, as long as we understand how to work with it.

    • rmr profile image


      7 years ago from Livonia, MI

      Google keeps saying their results are much better than they were pre-panda. I'm still not sure whether they're trying to convince us, or themselves. I suspect it's a little bit of both. I'm just grateful that Firefox added the option to make Bing my default SE!


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