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Earlier this month, the 2011 SMX Advanced conference got underway in Seattle, and Day 1 ended with a much-anticipated question and answer session between Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan and Google’s search quality boss Matt Cutts. Unsurprisingly, the agenda was largely dominated by that now-notorious bear, the Google Panda. In fact, Sullivan began the interview by revealing a large toy panda bear seated at centre-stage; a clear message to search marketing agency owners that panda-monium won’t be dying down anytime soon!
Since the introduction of the Panda update (also dubbed the Farmer algorithm), the fur has really been flying, with many site owners complaining that they have been unfairly penalised for duplicate content and are now being outranked by low-quality scraper sites – the very sites Google hoped to strip of their authority. According to Cutts, the issue is being addressed with more changes and improvements to the algorithm, and his answer has effectively set the search industry abuzz with speculation about Panda 2.2; the roll-out is expected to occur any day now, and some online sources are even speculating that Panda 2.2 is already here. Regardless, most site owners have only one question on their minds; how does a site recover once it’s been pinned under the paw of Panda?
On the day following the Sullivan/ Cutts Q&A session, the results of a poll conducted by SEO Round Table revealed that the majority of sites affected by Panda have not yet begun to see any recovery:
It seems that despite the best intentions of Google to reward higher-quality sites with more authority, the Panda algorithm has led to problems for genuine sites whose content has been duplicated by scraper sites. To make things trickier for these unfortunate sites, Panda is run manually and infrequently, meaning that changes made to help a site penalised by the algorithm will only begin to aid recovery the next time Google runs a Panda assessment.
The interview also touched on a rather amusing incident highlighting those unprecedented disconnects between user intent and search results. Newly appointed Google CEO Larry Page recently contacted Cutts and the search team with a Google query that had him stumped: “warm mangoes”. Cutts was baffled until Page explained that he wanted to know why mangoes get warm when stored in boxes*. His search had yielded plenty of recipes, but no answers! Fortunately, should you choose to Google the term today, you’ll find an enterprising web user has created a Warm Mangoes website to answer all your mango-related queries!
So, joking aside, how should site owners avoid unwarranted Panda penalties? The best kind of content, said Cutts, is the type that helps the Internet thrive; and any skilled SEO writer would agree with him. His advice to site owners is that they should focus on issues like site usability “because it’s good practice, not because Google says so”. He also assured the audience that sites considered by Google to have relatively high quality content can still rank even if they are hit by Panda, which will have a reduced effect on the site.
There are a few simple precautions you can take to ensure that your site “bears up” under the scrutiny of Panda. If you’re noticing a dip in traffic to your site, review it and be sure that it meets the following standards:
• Content is original, informative and well-written (this should apply to all pages on the site)
• Site can be easily navigated by users
• Content focuses on meeting user needs rather than pushing a business goal
• All page titles, image descriptions and key phrases are appropriate
• You are only linking to other high-quality sites
• Usability takes priority over on-site advertising
So will version 2.2 see this rather grizzly bear transform into a cuddly caniform? Google should be confirming the roll-out of the latest Panda update any minute now, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on developments – watch this space!
UPDATE: Google has confirmed Panda 2.2 – here’s the latest on the Panda algorithm from Search Engine Land.
* In case you’re wondering, mangoes produce carbon dioxide, which causes a closed container to heat up. Admit it, you were dying to know!