On Friday, Google posted an update on its Webmaster Central blog entitled “Providing More Guidance on Building High-Quality Sites“. The piece expands on much of what Google has said about the Panda update since its original release on February 24th.
In public statements about the Panda update, Google has referenced a number of questions that they’re attempting to answer algorithmically. “Would you feel comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?” and “Would you accept medical advice from this site?” are two that have been around since the beginning. Friday’s Webmaster Central post offered up a more substantial list with some of the highlights below:
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
Along with the set of questions, Google’s Amit Singhal also added:
One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.
Answering the “Feeling” Questions
We can deduce how Google can algorithmically answer quite a few of the questions (Richard Baxter did just that in a great post), but what about those “feeling” questions, like the credit card question? It’s tough to say, but actually having most of the questions answered about your site might provide some valuable feedback. If you’re an in-house SEO for a site that has been punished, perhaps one of the following services can be used to support a claim for a redesign or some other change in site philosophy.
The cheapest and most scalable way to get this feedback would have to be through Mechanical Turk. If you haven’t used the service, mturk allows you to break a project down into mini tasks that mturk’s users will complete for sometimes as low as one penny.
Let’s assume our task is for the user to visit the site in question, then answer one of our “feeling” questions. It would take no more than a minute of a Turkers time, so a fair price would probably be around 10 cents. Set your project to run until you’ve got 50 answers, and for $5.00 you’ve got 50 responses to your question. For another $5.00 you can ask Turkers to visit a competing site and ask the same question, allowing you to compare the results between the two sites.
FeedbackArmy is another option that would work. Think of FeedbackArmy as a front-end for Mechanical Turk, as they both use the Turk workforce. You’ll end up paying a bit more than if you dealt directly with Mechanical Turk, but the setup process is much simpler.
UserTesting is a higher-end feedback solution. For $39 you’ll get a video of a user interacting with your site. UserTesting allows you to ask the user up to 4 questions after they’ve completed the feedback video, which would be a perfect place to ask some of our Panda questions.
Other Panda Odds and Ends
NPR did a story on Panda’s effect on one company’s struggle since getting Panda-fied: Google’s search tweaks puts a company at risk
Matt Cutts quote from that story:
Think about something like an Apple product, when you buy an Apple product you open it up, the box is beautiful, the packaging is beautiful, the entire experience is really wonderful.
It sounds to me that this statement is really just another way of saying “large amounts of duplicated or poor content on your site can impact the entire domain”.
Reversing the Effects of Panda
Tom Critchlow had this exchange with Matt Cutts on Twitter:
@mattcutts assuming a site completely reworks their site/content after panda, how long before they will regain traffic?
@tomcritchlow short version is that it’s not data that’s updated daily right now. More like when we re-run the algorithms to regen the data.
Moral of this story: Don’t expect rankings to come right back after making changes. This is a little frustrating because webmasters can’t make a change, wait to see if the change “worked”, then try something else. It also might explain why there have been so few reports of sites regaining their traffic.
A Third Panda Spotted?
Rumors picked up in early May that a third Panda update may have gone live. Users were reporting wild fluctuations in rankings and other oddities in the Google cache and site search commands. Considering what Matt Cutts said above, it makes sense for Panda updates to hit suddenly and all at once, rather than over a period of time. Some are reporting that their exact match domains took a hit.
So our Panda timeline now reads:
- Feb 24th, 2011: Panda rollout on Google.com searches
- April 11th, 2011: Panda rollout to all English speaking Google sites. Additional tweaks made to original algorithm
- May 3-6th, 2011: Third Panda update?
Have you seen any traffic changes during this time frame? Have any of your sites recovered from initially being Panda-fied?