Google Discusses “Big Panda” Algorithm Change

Filed under: News — Tags: , , — Brian

Google’s most recent algorithm change was targeted specifically at content farms — the kind of sites that have lots of crummy low-quality content and exist solely to make money off of ad revenue. Often these kinds of sites would employ good SEO and outrank legitimate information sources on Google with their mostly meaningless articles.

Google’s Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal recently talked about this algorithm change with Wired, where we learned that this algorithm change was known internally at Google as “big Panda.”

How Google Identified Content Farms

One of the big questions with this algorithm change was how exactly Google identified, algorithmically, which sites were considered content farms. This is of particular interest not just because many sites are reporting being innocent casualties (which always happens, and most of them are not) but because one of the most well-known sources of useless content farm information, eHow, was not nailed by the rankings.

Google shed a little light on the process in the interview. They used outside testers as a method of determining what a “low quality” site was. These testers had a document with a series of questions to fill in on each site.

Then we asked the raters questions like: “Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?” … “Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?” Questions along those lines.

From that data, they were then able to put sites into groups — these are high-quality, those are low-quality — and then with big Panda they attempted to identify what was different on-page about those groups and alter the Google algorithm to detect them.

And we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side. And you can really see mathematical reasons …

And what about eHow, the notable content farm that seemed to be looked over in Google’s content farm algorithm change? Singhal had one thing to say that may be an indication that eHow slipped by because the structure of their content farm was just blurry enough to slip past the algorithm change:

However, our classifier that we built this time does a very good job of finding low-quality sites. It was more cautious with mixed-quality sites, because caution is important.

Ads to Content Ratio Seems to be a Factor

One of the things we’re pretty sure is affecting this new big Panda Google algorithm is the amount of ads on a page — or possibly the content to ad ratio. And let’s be honest — that makes perfect sense. When you go to a site that is plastered with ads everywhere, and you have to scroll down just to find the first paragraph of content, and then there’s more ads in between each paragraph — you and I do not consider that a high quality site. In fact, intuitively, we all know that’s the first sign of total garbage on the internet.

This is not, as some people contend, an issue of Google punishing Adsense users. It is instead Google punishing sites that are low quality and with a poor user experience, and Google is willing to punish even those sites that are bringing in Adsense revenue.

These are sites that seem to see the Google Adsense heatmap and completely misunderstand it:

Google Adsense Heatmap

This map is indicating how often ads are clicked on, statistically, based on the ad position. This map suggests that an ad above your content is probably going to be clicked on more than an ad to the right of your content.

This is not suggesting that Google Adsense users should put an ad in every one of those positions! It is not recommending that they should put an in every orange box. But this is exactly what you see low-quality content farm sites do.

There may be a few sites with excellent original content who construct their site and ads this way, but I think we can all agree that we’d rather see fewer sites like this out on the internet. I for one will be happy to see less of them when I’m clicking on Google search results.

Other Panda-Related Posts:

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14 Comments | Leave a comment

  • Quite helpful SEO tips. Thanks!

    Comment by website design

  • I have a website who has lost its ranging sharply from 1st page to 52th page. From your article,i think the main reason is many copied duplicate content.I want to know whether there is any change to improve the ranking again, or need to use a new domain.


    Comment by Bill

  • Yes, there is. You can remove the duplicate content from your site! Keep in mind that Panda is something that Google runs periodically (not constantly) so it could take a month or so for your rankings to return, but it’s imperative that you remove or noindex your duplicated content if you want to rank.

    Comment by Brian

  • very good article, my four e-commerce store sites has been effected by Panda, i m very creazy, as you said, i copied products info from other site, so bad….

    Comment by joe

  • Thanks for the info. Specifically the part about duplicate content with product variations. I hadn’t even considered this.

    Comment by Eric

  • Hello mate,

    Thanks for your good information, it is better if you can also include the keywords density and title and description for each page.

    Comment by Savita

  • Hello Sir,

    You have gave some worthy information here. I just wanted to ask you whether the copied Product description affect the SEO rankings?
    I am starting to do SEO for 1 of my client’s site. Its an ecommerce site. but all the prodduct descriptions are copied. What should I do?

    Comment by Bhushan

  • Yes, copied product descriptions from other sites creates duplicate content, which can trigger a Panda penalty. If your client has just copied the manufacturers descriptions, they should all be re-written to be unique to their site.

    Comment by Brian

  • What about duplicate content when it is your own content that is copied? I write my own product description, for better or worse for the products that our store sells and I also take most of my own photos. However, I have found that my product descriptions and photos are being copied by others on their competing websites. I have written letters complaining but to no avail. I usually end up then rewriting my product description again.

    Comment by George W

  • Yes, it is possible that a bunch of people can steal your content and you can get penalized as a result. It shouldn’t work that way, and Google doesn’t want it to work that way, but it happens sometimes. In fact, just in November Google made another algorithm adjustment to make them better at identifying the original author.

    I wouldn’t change all of your content every time a few people copy you. But if their copying is substantial (ie they have a page whose text is identical to yours) you should fill out a DMCA complaint with Google, which you can do here: (select Web Search, and then “I hav ea legal issue that is not mentioned above” and then “I have found content that may violate my copyright”)

    Google is pretty good about acting on these, but it’s typically only an issue if their entire page is almost identical in text to your page. In fact, I should really write a post about this.

    Comment by Brian

  • I think that this new panda update brings both good and bad things with it. Of course it makes the life of every seo practitioner out there a little harder, but at the same time, it makes like a little easier for everyone else. It will be harder to get high rankings if you don’t want to put in the required effort, meaning that the websites that will be ranked the highest will most likely be ranked high because they have had more effort put into them. Possibly leading to better quality of the content as well, meaning that the average joe who feels the need to google how seedless fruit reproduce, e.g. will find a more accurate answer in a shorter amount of time. Therefore, I do believe that panda is doing us good in the long run, even if we’re hurting a bit in the short run. But like they say, there are no shortcuts to success!

    Comment by SEO

  • Hey brian, great article. I’ve been following a number of other blogs and know about Panda, duplicate content etc. but you’ve put it in very good perspective. I’m going mad as my client has a site with approx 200 products and about a 100 of them are nearly identical apart from some dimensions which I think are dragging the rest of the site down. Thanks again for this brill post.

    Comment by david

  • I have a E-commerce store and was ranking pretty well for several keywords. After the panda my serps went down.
    Always thought that Google loved E-commerce stores, but I think I am wrong.
    It is hard to write content for you products, because that is what you use in you backlinking strategy.
    articles etc
    We will see where this will lead us to.
    Liked your post and will read some more of them.

    Comment by home defense products

  • What this means for e-commerce sites is that they can no loneger get away with copying and pasting content from distributors, manufacturers, or competitors. It’s that simple.

    Comment by James O'Hara

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