Google has a long history of applying its own strategic goals to the broader Internet, and due to market share, it is uniquely possible for them to actually accomplish it. The strategic intent associated with Panda deals with website content quality. It has been used to punish website owners for not going the distance to create useful content as a service, and it has the potential to change many features of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) with the next update.
Read on, and some predictions about possible changes to the Google search algorithm based on past updates as well as comments by Matt Cutts, the Google webspam liaison, will be outlined and described for your convenience.
While backlinks have tended to be a focus of Penguin, another of Google’s updates, Panda still considers them. Rather than focusing on penalties for links, though, Panda focuses on ranking and weighting inbound links according to quality to be used in SERPs.
You can expect to see further improvement in the way Google collates data like anchor text, link popularity, and relevance to surrounding content. It is important to remember that Panda penalties tend to be longer lasting than being dinged by Penguin. While the latter tends to resolve itself once a manual penalty is removed by Google, the effects of Panda penalties fade slower because of how it uses multiple, historic elements to determine quality.
Highly monetized sites were one of the first targets of Google Panda. This targeting was largely because of the often-used tactic of putting black hat sites up that provided nothing but a platform for advertising. You can expect Google to continue to fine-tune the exclusion process for sites that have no secondary purpose outside of revenue generation. Since there is such a heavy focus on usability,
Panda should also begin to weed out sites with ads that disrupt good user experience (UX) such as those with automatically playing audio, video, and sharewalls. Sharewalls have long been a contested tactic used by blog and news sites, which force users to stop perusing content and decide whether to share the site on social media like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Panda is best known for its use and advance of machine learning. The update provides the search algorithm with guidance about brand popularity, but one of the biggest worries in the exclusion process is the prospect of singling out and punishing businesses with a real market-following and demand.
Going forward, Panda is likely to continue to advance the ability to recognize and promote popular brands, but it should also begin to better deal with viral phenomena. This is an area in which social media is great for dissemination, but search engines are less well suited to delivering the newest and most popular memes.
Panda represents a first step away from paginated ranking. In the past, webmasters were able to focus on specific areas of their websites for quality content while neglecting others. The update attempts to look at websites holistically for ranking all of the pages. Blog sites with great content but badly implemented landing pages and problems with navigation are an obvious target. Going forward, Panda is likely to continue to improve how it is able to rank sites to weed out those that just focus on a narrow range of the UX. The most recent softening in Panda 4.0 was a nod to the fact that small businesses are often penalized, so more fine tuning is likely to take place before year’s end that helps identify and differentiate between lopsided SEO as a tactic and honest small businesses trying to build a brand.
One area that has not seen much more than lip service by Google is the concept of over-optimization. They have discussed penalties in the past, but no clear line has been established to determine what it means to go too far. However, some clues are available in Webmaster Tools. The fact that Google has attempted to regulate and minimize the use of rich snippets and structured data with their Highlighter tool means that overuse of these tactics may soon come under fire. Use of this type of markup provides search engine guidance similar to how meta tags once worked, but the highly technical nature of their use tends to restrict how many webmasters use it. As use increases, though, Panda is likely to be enlisted to minimize the SEO power of schema and other standards of data enrichment.
Thin content was an original focus of Panda, and it has remained central to the theme of the update. However, the softening of Panda that came with 4.0 shows that Google recognizes that small businesses are often targeted erroneously.
You can certainly expect Google to further fine tune this aspect of exclusion in order to help differentiate between badly planned sites and those meant to act as accessories to real businesses. That aforementioned softening resulted in the return of rankings to many small businesses, but it also resulted in BlackHatWorld lighting up with reports of spammer website rank increasing overnight. Fixing this is likely to be a primary focus for Panda going forward.
This is especially true given the substantial hit to ranking that industry leaders like EBay, RetailMeNot, and StarPulse took on the day the softening went live. Estimates of total organic traffic loss on those sites range from 33 percent to as high as 80 percent.
Duplicate content has been a focus of Panda, and it will likely continue to be so. However, Google is moving towards a model that penalizes for similar content rather than just content that has been duplicated verbatim. Content spinners have been an effective grayhat tool of content managers for years due to the ability to easily foil duplicate checkers like Copyscape.
Matt Cutts has come out and said that simply rewriting old content should not add value to a site. You can expect to see less organic search traffic from spun content or rehashes of old concepts as more installments of Panda are made.
The focus on quality content under Panda’s guidance has never wavered, but it has evolved. The fact that you were once able to target misspelled longtail keywords as an SEO tactic highlights this fact well. Matt Cutts has made statements about the importance of ensuring that your content is grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. There is a good chance that proofreading and editing will become an absolutely crucial aspect of web design and content management very soon. Much like Hummingbird and Penguin created opportunities for writers, Panda stands to place copy editors in a much more vaunted position related to web development.
Each of these factors has historically been a focus of the Panda algorithm. Due to the highly inductive method necessary for puzzling out update details, few hard clues are provided other than videos by Matt Cutts. Given the ever-evolving nature of search engine networks like Google, it is likely that Panda will expand into even more realms of website analysis associated with quality. After all, Panda was intended to put high quality sites at the top of SERPs.