Pandas may be universally beloved by adults and children everywhere, but webmasters of most article publishing sites are ready to pull out the shotguns when it comes to the Google version. At the end of September, the search giant unveiled the latest iteration of its infamous algorithm known as Panda / Farmer, and the groans of “here we go again” echoed through cyberspace. Google downplayed the update as just one of approximately 500 changes they make to their ranking algorithms each year, but it is obvious that some modifications have a greater impact than others, and the late September change crippled some major sites all over again.
Play until You Win or Lose, Never Knowing Why
Editorial quality seems to be a prime driving factor of the Panda / Farmer structure, but how Google’s algorithm determines what is quality and what is not is infuriatingly obfuscated on purpose by Google Guru Matt Cutts and friends to prevent the less ethical from gaming the system. A heavily spun article is going to wave a huge red flag in front of the Google bots, but other aspects are not as clear. Google does not seem to favor proper spelling and grammar over borderline illiteracy, and it is not unheard of for a snake-oil hard-sell affiliate site to outrank the content on an informative institutional website for the same subject matter. Some wags have claimed that Panda / Farmer is a bit like going to go play a new game in Vegas where the rules are kept hidden and you just play until you win or lose… without really knowing why.
Middle Ages Warfare
The SERP wars are starting to resemble Middle Ages warfare where one army would make incursions onto enemy territory only to be fought back and then make more incursions and be pushed back again. Nowhere is this oscillation more evident than in hubpages.com’s well publicized arm wrestle with Google’s Panda / Farmer algorithm updates. Hubpages was one of the most heavily penalized article publishing sites and saw its traffic drop precipitously until it fought back by giving each of their thousands of writers their own subdomains: writerxyz.hubpages.com. Google started indexing those subdomains independently and the SERPs zoomed upwards. In the last few weeks Google seems to have caught on to the shift and traffic is trending down again. Hubpages and the other article sites are certain to fire back with some innovation or another to regain the lost numbers and Google is just as certain to amend its algorithms for the zillionth time to knock them down again. So the online version of The Hundred Years’ War continues.
Penalized Due to Other Content?
Is an otherwise valid, original and informative article on squidoo.com, associatedcontent.com or any of the other major publishing sites to be penalized because it appears on the same website as Bollywood’s Sariest Desi Girls, or How To Hack Into The Pentagon? That is a question that the webmasters of these sites keep asking themselves and no clear answer from Google has been upcoming.
More Invisible than Claude Rains
While it is true that no one holds a gun to the heads of web surfers forcing them to use Google for their search navigation, the indisputable fact is that the vast majority do. Catering your SEO to any of the other engines that don’t draw flies and hemorrhage money (Microsoft loses $4 billion a year on Bing) is essentially pointless. Google is the 900,000 pound gorilla in the search world, and you either achieve high SERPs there or you become more invisible than Claude Rains.
A factor that could severely impact email marketers is the prospect of ISPs adopting Google’s strategies to assist them in their eternal battle against spammers. Perfectly legitimate email marketers could fall afoul of these new Googleized algorithms through the slightest violations of deliverability best practices. It behooves all email marketers to carefully ensure that their subscription lists are ultra-clean and continuously updated, and any hard bouncing addresses are immediately purged.