What is Google Panda and Why You Should Care, and How Much, About Panda's Power over Your Site or Blog

This past week, one of my law firm clients had a problem with a guest post they were providing on another blog.  Seems that company had heard of Google Panda and was so scared of Google Panda that they refused to publish the guest post unless one paragraph within the post was rewritten -- it was quoting from the law firm's blog, and they were terrified that Google would penalize their site for duplicate content. 

Of course, this is ridiculous.  However, it was easier in time and money for my law firm client to rewrite a paragraph than argue over SEO, so there was one problem solved.  However, all this hoopla has me hearing more and more terrorized, trembling comments from colleagues and clients about the very scary Google Panda and what it means .....

So, here goes. 

First of all, what the heck is Google Panda?

Google Panda is a change in the algorithms used by Google to decide which site gets ranked first, second, third, etc. in the results list it provides to your search request.  This began months ago; there was a recent Panda update in October 2011 that some consider to be pretty big. 

Short version: the top secret mumbo jumbo that Google uses to decide who gets top billing got revamped.  

Why do this?  Google tries to explain in a February 2011 blog post, pointing to a desire to move "high quality sites" up in the search results and "reduce" the ranking of "low quality sites."  Low quality sites specifically including those that copy content from other sites ... and here is where some big reactions have come.  Some pretty big and established sites saw themselves fall in ranking at Google.com.  What the heck was going on?  So, Google provided "additional guidance" on how Google searches and ranks web sites in May 2011. 

Google suggests that you look at your site from their perspective, and ask yourself the following questions:
  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • 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?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • 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?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • 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 you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
From what I know at this point, Google Panda will still get some more tweeks, and in the long run, Google is always going to be trying to better itself -- to make sure that you don't find another search engine preferable to Google.  It looks like Google is trying to thwart content mills that just copy stuff from other sites and republish them as their own, you know the sneaky ones that I mean; however, sites that do things like publish press releases are getting hit here, too, and that's not fair (e.g., PR Newswire). 

Some reputable sites are facing a 60% loss in web traffic after Google Panda - and that's money either in sales or jobs or marketing or something, folks.  Sixty percent is a huge hit, and it's not hitting those sneaky, yucky, content copying sites -- it's hitting respectable, longstanding sites that are understandably peeved.  For many folk, being angry and fearful of the Google Panda Power is justified and I hope they get their trains back on the track soon. 

However, Google's position is understandable and if you are writing for the web with the intent to add value then I don't think Panda Power is something for you to lose sleep over.  I learned today from David Naylor that Google Panda isn't named after the cute bear but after a Google engineer named Navneet Panda.  I like David Naylor's two cents worth on Google Panda: ask yourself two questions and stop worrying about it.  The questions?  Go read Naylor's post to find out. 

And, if you really want to learn all about this, Search Engine Roundtable has done a video on Google Panda (including the October 2011 updates) which you can watch on YouTube. It's ten and half minutes, if you've got the time.


Bloggers and Anonymous Commenters Sued for Defamation by Cooley Law School

Defamation claims against bloggers may be on the rise, and it may be that lawyers, law firms, and law students are providing an online prototype for others interested in suing bloggers for alleged defamatory conduct.  Seems that a story that has been brewing on the web for months now just got some big, national exposure today as the National Law Journal (and Law.Com) have published an article entitled, "Ripping a critic's mask off: A law school fought to learn the secret identity of an ex-student blogger," written by Karen Sloan.

Blogger Rockstar05 and Anonymous Commenters Sued for Defamation by Cooley Law School

In the National Law Journal piece, readers are given a blow-by-blow of Thomas M. Cooley Law School's ongoing litigation against an anonymous blogger publishing under the moniker of Rockstar05 and three other anonymous defendants (at least two of which are those leaving comments to Rockstar05's post, with another leaving a comment at the Huffington Post), a suit filed by the law school asserting the school has been defamed by the defendants via the words that they wrote online.  The law school is also suing a New York law firm, one of its partners and another lawyer working there, for "trolling" websites under the guise of investigating a class action while "...posting false and defamatory statements about Cooley on various public websites."  Complaint in Cause No. 11780, pp. 1-2 (full copy here).

Rockstar05 is fighting against his or her name being revealed; there's a gag order in place right now on Rockstar05's identity, although Cooley's counsel knows who Rockstar05 is (and so does Karen Sloan of the NLJ, who interviewed Rockstar05 for her article).  What did Rockstar05 do, exactly?

Rockstar05, according to Cooley's complaint, wrote a post entitled, "the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam," which can be read in its entirety as Exhibit B to the Cooley pleading (full copy here). 

Public Citizen Has Filed an Amicus Brief in the Cooley Law School Case, Arguing Application of Dendrite Int'l.

Also contributing to the national import of this growing story is the amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief filed by Public Citizen, a nationally-known consumer rights group.  In its brief, Public Citizen argues for the First Amendment rights of anonymous bloggers, citing to Dendrite International Inc. v. Doe No. 3, et al., where the New Jersey courts have defined a set of guidelines for trial courts "...faced with an application by a plaintiff for expedited discovery seeking an order compelling an ISP [ internet service provider] to honor a subpoena and disclose the identity of anonymous Internet posters who are sued for allegedly violating the rights of individuals, corporations, or businesses...."

Among the standards set by Dendrite Int'l, the burden of the plaintiff to establish:

... that its action can withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to R. 4:6-2(f), the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence supporting each element of its cause of action, on a prima facie basis, prior to a court ordering the disclosure of the identity of the unnamed defendant.
Finally, assuming the court concludes that the plaintiff has presented a prima facie cause of action, the court must balance the defendant's First Amendment right of anonymous free speech against the strength of the prima facie case presented and the necessity for the disclosure of the anonymous defendant's identity to allow the plaintiff to properly proceed.
This is a big deal - and while Michigan isn't required to follow New Jersey, the opinion is well thought out and does recognize the free speech interests at stake when bloggers are sued for what they have written.

October 24th Hearing On Merits of the Defamation Suit

Right now, there is a setting on October 24, 2011, where the law school's law suit against Rockstar05 and the John Doe defendants will go forward.  More and more eyes are watching this case, and there is some commentary already that by filing this suit, Cooley has actually given the controversial words a lot more exposure than they would have had otherwise, by filing this lawsuit.

For details on the suit, you can read the press release by Cooley as well as the petitions that have been filed (pdfs available for reading and downloading at the Cooley Law School site). 

For more commentary, consider:

Professor Turley, who points out the Pandora's Box of discovery that Cooley Law School may have opened for itself.


Florida Bar's Advertising Rules Are Found Unconstitutional by Federal Judge

Details are given in an article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled, "Florida Court Strikes Down Limits on Lawyer Advertising," concerning the opinion released last Friday by the Honorable Marcia Morales Howard of United States District Court for the Division of Jacksonville.

The federal judge has held that the Florida Bar violated the First Amendment rights of Florida attorney William Harrell Jr. when it deemed Mr. Harrell's advertising message of "don't get less than you deserve," as "manipulative" and therefore in violation of state solicitation rules. 

How much will this decision impact Florida attorneys?  Maybe not so much:  right now, amendments to the Florida Disciplinary Rules await approval by the Supreme Court of Florida. 

To review the rules in place for Florida attorney advertising, go here.
To review the rules that were proposed this summer for Florida Supreme Court approval, go here. 


Tags for Your Blog Post or Tweet - Finding Popular Tags to Boost the Chances People Will Find and Read What You Wrote

Once you have written your post or tweet, you might want to consider indexing what you've written so others can find it.  On Technorati, for example, the most popular tags can be found, listed alphabetically, at Technorati's Tag Index. 

What is Technorati?  It's a site that collects information placed in blogs and then creates indices of the information as well as rankings for the blogs within its system (which total in the millions).  If your blog is not listed at Technorati, then you need to get cracking and get your blog in Technorati's sights.  It's a big deal. 

For Twitter, tags go by the name "hashtags" and you can find a listing of popular hashtags at Hashtags.org - but this site is different than Technorati's Tag Index.  Here, you enter a hashtag, and the site returns with information on how popular it is ("trending").  Look at the percentages on the left: if they're low or nonexistent, then choose a different word for your hashtag.  (For more on how Hashtags.org works and why it's a big deal, read the informative article provided by TwitterTipsCentral, "Where To Find A List Of Twitter Hashtags ".)

Tip: Create Your Own Index of Tags

And, remember that tag.  No need to reinvent the wheel.  If you regularly publish items dealing with dogs, or beer, or recipes, or speaking Klingon -- whatever your focus -- collect the most popular tags for that topic and save them.  Make your own list of tags for your use, as a ready reference.

Why should you care about tagging?  Read my earlier post, "Twitter Tip: What is a Hashtag?" for details on why tags are a good thing. 

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Blogger Sues Blogger for Copyright Infringement: Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood vs The Hollywood Reporter

Nikki Finke reports on the comings and goings of the Hollywood biz at her blog, Deadline Hollywood, and I've read her for years -- she has been instrumental in making blogs more respectable as a legitimate news source.  Nikki Finke's background as a journalist - working at Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer, in addition to having her writing appear in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post means that she had top of the line journalistic credentials when she jumped over into the blogging arena. 

Nikki Finke's decision to become a blogger is important to all bloggers, and in doing so, she undoubtedly felt a lot of backlash from the traditional journalists who do not consider blogging to be respectable as a news source.  That's a rabbit trail topic - something to discuss in more depth on another day.

Point here is, I'm not the only one who admires her work, apparently.

Over the past few weeks (or maybe months), Finke has been posting about her battles with The Hollywood Reporter and her claims that her stuff has been popping up without authorization over at THR, which is another blog.  Today, I read on Reuters that Finke's filed suit:  "Deadline blogger sues The Hollywood Reporter." 

Among her claims (and by "her" I mean Finke as well as her parent company, both plaintiffs in the litigation), an allegation that source code was swiped from Deadline Hollywood.  That's plagarism, 21st Century style. 

Finke goes on: she's also alleging that there has been theft of "intellectual decisions" in what she follows in her blog posts.  As bloggers understand all too well, posts go up minute by minute (almost as fast as tweets) when there is a big story -- and deciding what to post and when is a big thing when you're publishing a blog.  Blogging will get more consideration and exposure as a venue for words, and news, and opinion, because of this lawsuit - if for no other reason than everyone's got to catch up with what exactly Nikki Finke is alleging is the harm that has been done and how it happened. 

Once again, Nikki Finke may be helping bloggers everywhere gain more respect for the medium - this time, not on the screen, but in the courtroom.