‘Panda’, Google’s new major update marks a significant change in the way Google ranks our websites. Generally search ranking factors are tweaked continually but every now and again something more significant happens we need to pay attention to. We discuss ‘Panda’ implications below and also some other more subtle changes which have evolved and need to be given attention.

Panda – Google’s major update

When Panda was rolled out in the US many sites – around 12% – were affected. Some positively and quite a lot negatively. So, when it came to the uk around two weeks back there was some trepidation from some of our customers whose livelyhood depends on their Google rankings. Some have experienced negative affects on traffic and are still studying the reasons, but generally things havent changed that much in our customer base.

What sort of sites are affected?

Many people in the search engine world have voiced their thoughts that Google puts too much emphasis on backlinks to the the cost of high quality content. The new Panda update seems to be an attempt to redress the balance.

As alluded to previously, good quality content is what Google is looking to favour when ranking sites. Conversely, sites with poor quality, non original content are getting penalised. Specifically sites Google considers ‘content farms’ are ones that are suffering. Sites which have little unique content and rely on taking content from other sites – including shopping comparison sites, review sites, some ecommerce sites, and sites which exist primarily to support advertising ….


There’s a list of uk losers and winners here – Panda UK Early Winners and Losers.

This has clear ramifications for sites with ‘duplicate content’ and the message is clear – produce and rely on good quality original content if you want decent rankings. Producing well written, added value information is what counts and copying information from other sites is a definite no-no.

Evolution of other important factors

Obviously being a practitioner of SEO we have first hand experience of what works and what doesn’t in search engine optimisation. In addition we draw information from a wide variety of authoratitive sources on a daily basis, and putting all this into the melting pot here’s a list of changes we need to be aware of ( Rather than peppering the post with links back to these sources I’ve listed the links to these main sources at the end of the post to hopefully enhance readability).

  • Good quality content is increasingly important. The Panda update emphasises this but recent studies have shown that, for example, webpages with larger amounts of informative, well written text rank better than shorter pages. So, dust down your copywriting skills and produce interesting and informative information with the end customer in mind (rather than search engines) that’s where the focus should be.
  • Despite this backlinks are of course still essential but may have been, will be, slightly de-emphasised over the next year os so compared to content and other factors like social media (see below). One recent finding is that anchor text in backlinks is more significant for rankings where it doesnt ‘exact match’ the target phrase. For example, if we are targeting ‘Pembrokeshire hotels’ the variants like – ‘Great weekend breaks in Pembrokeshire hotels’ and ‘Pembrokeshire Hotels package offers’ and other variants will probably be more effective than a load of anchor text based links using just ‘Pembrokeshire hotels’ (and its certainly less spammy).
  • Still on the subject of backlinks, as well as unique domains being an important factor for your backlink sources (rather than muliple links from the same domain) it seems that getting a diverse range of different types of links (eg from article sites, social media sites, directories etc) is more important than many links form the same type of site – even if the one type are high quality.
  • There is now overwhelming evidence that activity on social media sites – particularly Facebook and Twitter – is a definite signal for Google and Bing rankings. Specifically ‘shares’ on Facebook are important (references/links to your site from your and your fans/friends walls). Google’s increasing involvement in Social Search is also indicative of this – particularly with the imminent arrival of ‘+1′ tagging (equivalent of facebook ‘Likes’) and the use of this in the SERPS. (Its just become available in the US and will be here soon)
  • One last point about backlinks: ‘no follow’ is used by major sites (eg YouTube, Wikipedia etc) to tell the search engine bots not to follow and not to pass ‘link juice’ to the site linked to. So the message from SEO professionals has been not to treat these links for equity building in your site. It now seems there is increasing evidence that despite this the link could still count and pass through some, if not all, of the link juice.

There’s a list below of the main sources we derive our information from. You can get lots of detailed information on any of the points discussed from these. In our SEO Training Course we discuss how to account for these factors in your SEO strategies.

SeoMoz Blog
Searchengine watch blog
Social Signals and Ranking
Searchmetrics Blog – Panda UK
Webproworld – blog and forum