Google Panda Update

Although the latest update to the Google algorithm, now known as the “Panda” update, (but also called the “Farmer” update) has so far only come into effect in the US, its implementation over the rest of the Googleverse is imminent, and it looks like this one is going to have a significant effect on search engine optimisation.

Even with the limited roll-out, there are already a lot of opinions out there about the effects of this update which, according to Matt Cutts, is a purely algorithmic change. Google claims that searcher feedback has been positive, and to be honest, we’re largely in favour of the idea behind this change, even if there are some potential problems with the implementation.

Improving Search Results Quality

The stated intention of this update is to improve the quality of the search engine results. They’re trying to filter out things like content farms and duplicate content from showing in the rankings, and on the whole, it’s a good idea.

According to Matt Cutts, low quality content will be filtered much more rigorously now, and having too much low quality content, (duplicate content, or content that isn’t useful), can now have an impact on your sites rankings.

Google suggests that the best way to get around this will be to improve the quality of the page content, or to simply remove those pages from the site altogether. Where the pages are ones which currently don’t have quality content, but will, (for example a review page), they suggest using the robots.txt file to allow bots to crawl the page, but instruct them not to index it. Then once the page is populated, removing the ânoindexâ line, and leaving it to be indexed as usual.

Other Website Quality Issues & Side Effects

One of the side effects of the quality issue seems to be that Google, if it determines that your pages are of low quality, will crawl your site less frequently. This means that you might not see quick results if you make changes to these pages, but you can always check your logs to see how often you’re getting crawled, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect in terms of how long it will take to see improvements.

The following are some of the other quality aspects that may affect sites.

Too Many Ads

Another issue that may affect the quality of your page is the ratio of content to advertisements on your page. That isn’t to say that you can’t advertise on your web pages. Just that there appears to be a limit to how much advertising you can do, and still maintain the original quality of the page. Google, of course, does not tell us what that ratio is.

Hidden Text, Geo-Location & Accessibility

Cloaking, where a user sees different content on a site than a search engine does, has always been a big no-no as far as Google is concerned. However, in the past, there have been several attempts at what might be considered acceptable cloaking. For example, a bot may see HTML text, while a visitor sees Flash.

Whatever people may have believed, it has now clearly been stated that there is no such thing as acceptable cloaking. Any time a site uses code that displays something different to the bot than to people, that’s considered cloaking, and will be acted against appropriately.

Geo-location targeting can be a sort of exception to this, in that content is displayed based on the location of the visitor. Because it’s not something directed specifically at the Google bot though, and not intended to make the site appear different to crawlers than to humans, this is still acceptable.

In general, any sort of hidden text, even if it’s being hidden for reasons of accessibility, goes against Google’s best practice guidelines, and should be avoided at all costs.

Links & Link Building

Links remain an important indicator of the credibility of your site. Of course, the discounting of sites like content farms, or pages without quality content, will have an effect on link building attempts too.

In theory, with this new update, your links will be worth considerably less if they’re coming from sites which Google considers content farms.

When asked about link building, Cutts stuck to the standard Google reply: Build good sites, with good content, and you’ll get links. A safe, and not particularly helpful reply, as was his comment on building links to internal e-commerce pages, where he suggested becoming an authority on the given topic to get links to your product page.

Article marketing, links in press releases, and retweets were all definitively exposed as having little to no value.

More Changes To Come

According to Matt Cutts, Google already has several more changes to the algorithm in the works for this year. Their focus will continue to be on reducing the visibility of low quality sites and content farms, and helping people with original content rank higher.

They’ll also apparently be taking a look at spam sites with exact match URL’s, and links from spam sites with exact match anchor text.

Despite the worries that people have been expressing about what these changes mean to search engine optimisation, Google does make a very good point on this score.

They say that if you focus on providing useful, unique content to users, you’ll automatically be doing the right thing. “Don’t chase the algorithm,” said Cutts, “focus on making sites that users love.”

The Future Of Search Engine Optimisation

In the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of speculation that search engine optimisation has a limited future. In a sense, this is true. As people spend more time trying to leverage Google’s system in their favour, Google will spend more time looking for loopholes, and discounting them.

In another sense though, it’s not true at all. These changes don’t mean that you can’t design, write and plan your sites to make them more likely to be ranked high in the search engine results.

What will change though, is the focus, the method, and the means. We think that these changes will lead us away from search engine optimisation, and toward a new discipline. We’ve chosen to call the future of search engine optimisation “search engineering.”

Remember that you heard it here first.