Search engine ranking factors: After the Google “Panda” update

The Farmer/Panda update is arguably the largest algorithmic change Google have implemented in the last 10 years and is reported to have affected the rankings of over 16% of websites on the internet. In many cases this has seen smaller, higher quality sites rise in the rankings whilst websites with thin or scraped content have lost ground in many areas.

Some are saying this is a great win for smaller businesses struggling to compete in search, others are more cautious and suggest it was an excellent PR move after the recent poor publicity around Google search quality and their slow loss of US market share to the Bing / Yahoo Search network.

What are content farms?

Back in the early days of the web, Google began counting links between websites as votes of confidence from one author to another and soon they became a very strong influencing factor on search results. In the scramble to climb the rankings, many companies bought hundreds or thousands of links from companies acting as “link brokers”. Due to the abuse that has followed, links of any value have gradually been getting more difficult to acquire. Several years ago Google announced that buying links to manipulate rankings would incur penalties, ruling out conventional link-farms and creating a demand for a new form of link building mechanism.

Content farms revolve around algorithmic robots that crawl the web “scraping” or collecting information from other websites. Due to the scale of the process and amount of search engine friendly information these farms could collect, they began to take over search results pages and some would argue that they still have an advantage in many niches. Content Farms create revenue from two main areas:

  1. Pay per click adverts/affiliate links within the content
  2. The “link authority” that is passed on to those companies who pay for links to their website to appear within content generated by the content farms.

The JCPennalty

The quality of Google’s search results has featured heavily in the media. American store JC Penney got into trouble by “acquiring” thousands of links from unrelated websites, with near-exact match anchor text. Prior to the algorithmic change, JC Penney were ranking at number 1 for hundreds of valuable keywords. Google announced the initial correction of results as a manual correction, however soon after the algorithmic equivalent was released, now officially known as the Panda update (named after one of the creators of algorithmic improvement). One major feature of the update is that the value of links from spammy websites has been further devalued, whilst the definition of “spam” is in constant change as technology advances.

The panda / farmer update

Whilst some businesses actively buying and depending on risky link acquisition strategies have seen a major drop in Google rankings, as a result of the update other companies have just been affected by the algorithmic reduction in value of natural/un-bought links from low authority or spammy domains.

Another major aspect of the update, seems to be the importance of a website’s link profile. In particular high volumes of links with exact or near match anchor text. Websites who bought or acquired links and didn’t monitor where the links originated in terms of authority and relevance have been indirectly affected by the depreciation in value of these links.

As the value of links are further analysed it’s more important than ever to start publishing great content, useful resources and articles related to your industry. Over time, and with a little promotion at the time of release, these articles will attract links naturally and improve the performance of your website in the mid to long term.

Summary of new ranking importance

Google is looking further affield for signals of authority, relevance and value to determine search engine rankings.

  1. Social factors are increasingly important – We all knew social factors would grow in importance for both traffic creation and brand management. New data from SEO moz Munich suggests that shares, likes, retweets and links from authority sites such as Twitter and Facebook actually have an ever-increasing value to SEO.
  2. Link sentiment – Search engine algorithms analyse the semantic context of the domain and page that makes the link. The linked-to page is then analysed for relevance to the linking site. This feature has been around for a while now, but it’s thought the algorithm is more aggressively focussing on relevance, domain authority and the context of the link.
  3. Anchor text Link profile – Google is looking for a “natural” inbound link profile. A website with 95% of inbound links with perfect match  anchor text, would look very suspicious and likely have the value of those links suppressed by the algorithm

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