As spammers find ways to manipulate and leverage search engine algorithms, SEO becomes an increasingly difficult endeavor. To rank well in search engines five years ago, search engine marketers needed only to publish a piece of content (as short as 250 words), submit the URL to a handful of directories, and reap the benefits. Two years ago, this strategy still had an impact, though it began showing diminishing returns. Today, after Google’s recent content-based algorithm update dubbed ‘Panda’, the search giant took aim at content writers engaging in this practice because it results in a proliferation of ‘thin’ content.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam Team, claims that Google deployed the Panda update because of content marketers pushing the boundaries of its spam algorithm, producing low quality content that resembled spam without actually being penalized for it. Low quality content proliferated and flew under the radar of the Web Spam Team.
As the perceived quality of searches suffered, Google figured out a way to ‘fix’ the results. To combat the rise of low quality content, Google implemented an algorithm change that was more aggressive in detecting spam, penalizing publishers that produce useless content for the sake of ranking for a particular keyword. ‘Panda’ acted as a call for the offending publishers to create higher quality, unique content.
How SEO Changed After the Panda Update
In a recent post regarding SEO content creation, SEOmoz examined how Google might analyze content to determine if it is ‘thin’, or ‘low quality’. While search crawlers can’t measure subjective qualities such as persuasiveness or the perceived validity of an opinion, they can evaluate content from a data-driven perspective.
What Counts as ‘Thin Content’
- True duplicates (internal): the same page with different URLs (e.g., product description page that is reachable from multiple URLs)
- True duplicates (external): perfect syndication (or malicious ‘scraping’) of content across multiple sites
- Near duplicates (internal): content that is for the most part identical, but may have a few operative words swapped in and out (e.g. identical product pages that swap every instance of ‘blue’ out for ‘green’)
- Near duplicates (external): syndication of content that swaps out a few operative words (e.g. product information pages that swap out brand names or locations)
- Low Unique Ratio: using an image of a tweet as the page content: good example given at http://www.seobook.com/huffington-post
- High Ad Ratio: high advertisements / content ratio
- Search within Search: indexed results pages from an internal site search
Fixing Your SEO Content Strategy
Responding to those affected by Panda, Google’s Webmaster Central blog recently published an article covering ‘thin content’ and the changes in Google’s spam detection. Google’s head of search, Amit Singhal, asks web publishers to reflect on a number of questions that assess content quality and perceived trust from customers. Questions like ‘Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?‘ and ‘Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?’ can help determine whether the website is guilty of violating Google’s newest search quality guidelines.
Is SEO ‘Dead’?
After any major update to Google’s algorithm, apocalyptic practitioners will often declare ‘SEO is dead!’ This is certainly not the case. SEO may have become moderately more difficult than it was in the past; however, the same basic principles stand: Good, solid content will naturally attract links, while high ranks and search engine traffic will follow.