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.