It sucks to be Ebay right now. I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose 80% of your organic traffic overnight. And yet, exactly that has just happened!
Just look at Moz graphic of how Ebay's search rankings plummeted in the last 48 hours.
Google, or rather Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google announced late yesterday on Twitter that they are rolling our Panda 4.0. The major update to the search engine algorithm is effective immediately.
What Did Panda Originally Intend To Do?
Back in February of 2011 Google first released Panda, or farmer as it was also dubbed, since it went after content farms and other sites with thin content. Since then it has had many releases (official and unofficial) to the point where Google said it wasn't going to announce when they release it anymore. However they announced the new version, 4.0 because it must contain a change to how the algorithm works.
Wait, Spammy Sites Still Rank High
So with all these updates why do so many obvious spam sites not only rank, but rank on first page? For an example of this see my earlier post on metadata. Simple answer is that spammers and black hats test the algorithm until they find a workaround. These tricks work until Google eventually catches up with them.
Google wants to give you, the searcher, the best possible experience, and not direct you to a page that has all the right ranking factors in place but isn't what you really wanted, or is outright spam.
Okay, So What Does This Mean For My Site?
So there are basically 4 types of sites that this update will affect:
- Spammy sites that rank well
- Good sites that rank poorly
- Good sites that have mediocre rankings
- Good sites that rank well
So as this seems to be a change to the algorithm instead of just another update, Google should be able to identify the better spammy sites. You know the ones, they don't have spelling or grammatical mistakes, look pretty good, maybe even good enough to be fooled by at first. They should be pushed way down in the SERP's, or at least off of page 1.
Real websites by real people that have good original content (there is a caveat on this I will explain below) and either rank poorly or only OK should get a boost from this update. Either because the spammier thinner content sites will move down below them, or Google's updated algorithm will now deem their content worth ranking higher. These sites might also be lacking in other ranking factors areas, like backlinks and basic SEO.
Then there are the innocent causalities of Google's war on spam. Sites that have great SEO, an amazing link structure, great share-able original content, but for some reason will fall victim to this latest version of Panda. So what do these sites have to do to get back their rankings?
Moving Forward - Why Original Content Isn't Good Enough Anymore
The SEO landscape has changed dramatically since the early days of stuffing keywords, going after tons of backlinks, and over optimizing sites just for Google.
The smarter SEO/Marketer knows that while having a strong technical SEO foundation is necessary, it is more important to have content, calls to action, consistent activity and promotion. So is that what this update is all about?
Are We Facing A Content Shock?
As more and more businesses embrace content marketing, some people fear a content collapse. While this is a normal step in the evolution of any "living" system, I cannot see it as black and white as Mark Schaefer paints the world in his recent article "Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy".
I tend to agree with the statement though that deep pockets will win, but that is part of living in a free economy. Quality has its price.
Content does not equal content.
Fluffy Link Bait vs. Rainmaker Content
And like Sonia Simone's article "Surviving “Content Shock” and the Impending Content Marketing Collapse" points out, there is a difference between Huffington Post or BuzzFeed link bait "10 things you didn't know about Miley Cyrus" articles and rainmaker content.
(Which is by the way a great term as I always struggled with giving that great, amazing, helpful and incredible well-written content that one cannot help but share a name. Rainmaker Content, as Sonia calls it, really hits it home.)
But that is precisely why Panda 4.0 could mean very good news!
If All Else Is Equal It Must Be....
So let's take a fictional example of 100 websites all trying to rank for the same keyword. They all have similar SEO profiles, i.e. backlinks, metadata, authority etc. They all also have about the same amount of content which provides detailed answers to typical searcher's questions. And while determining which content is "better" can be relative and arbitrary, especially for an algorithm, let's say they are pretty much equal.
So who should rank on first page, who should get top position? Well one factor that I think will start to play more of a role with this update, is Google Authorship and Google+ profile. Having Authorship setup, being in a lot of circles and active on Google+ will be a large part in determining quality of the content.
It goes back to trust, authority and of course, embracing Google. It just makes sense that if you have tons of followers and are active in engaging with them on Google+ instead of Facebook, the content you put out (as an author) must be good. Whether or not you agree with it, it does seem to be looking like that is the case.
Personalization and Localization
This of course leads to dramatic differences between the SERP's of Google, Bing and Yahoo. It also does what any good product or service does, creates an ecosystem you are not willing to leave. Like having $1,000 invested in iTunes media makes you not willing to switch to an Android so easily, so does having search results that know you.
A quick search for "Panda 4.0" for instance in Google, Bing and Yahoo will give similar results, but with a big difference. That big difference is on the Google results (I went incognito to get unpersonalized results) where Barry Schwartz is in first position, with his picture and the 78K+ circles he is in.
On the Bing results page his picture shows up on the right along with Wordstream from the Twitter feed. But if you want his article you have to scroll below the fold, and know that he writes for Search Engine Roundtable. And on Yahoo, no picture of him anywhere, but he is above the fold, but you need to know he writes for Search Engine Land.
My Google SERP's with personalization is similar to the incognito one, except that it has Google+ posts from myself and people in my circles in it. This pushed down a few results below the fold and even moved Wikipedia, despite Google's love for it, to page 2 (remember, where the dead bodies are).
Keep On Writing! (Or Start To!)
If you are writing for your business or a client's, it's the same, write with passion, write to the reader, answer questions, be informative and give examples. Write about current events related to your industry, events you attend, anything relevant. Make sure to give your readers options to follow you, subscribe to your blog, contact you, download an offer.
You are not going to move up in the rankings by adding a few pages here are there and having a marketing student write some stuff for you for a few hundred bucks.