Improve it or remove it. With Google's Panda Update, low-quality content can impact an entire domain, but removing these pages -- or moving them to a different domain -- can help your rankings, says Google's Michael Wyszomierski.
In an update to a post created in Google Webmaster Central last week seeking feedback on Google's latest algorithmic change, he tried to offer some additional guidance to sites that have been impacted:
"Our recent update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites, so the key thing for webmasters to do is make sure their sites are the highest quality possible. We looked at a variety of signals to detect low quality sites. Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don't want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that's copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it's important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site's ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you've been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.
We've been reading this thread within the Googleplex and appreciate both the concrete feedback as well as the more general suggestions. This is an algorithmic change and it doesn't have any manual exceptions applied to it, but this feedback will be useful as we work on future iterations of the algorithm."
Once again, eHow is high-quality? While Google stands behind this update, they still aren't spilling many secrets or offering any advice -- even they admit their algorithm can be gamed.
SEOs and webmasters are still trying to figure it all out, but here are some issues many agree you should look at.
Check Your Analytics
It all comes down to math. As we look at why Google's Panda Update dropped sites, the most important thing we must remember is that this is likely all based on data -- search logs, click-throughs, analytics, toolbar data, traffic, etc.
You can't complain to an algorithm. All you can do is look at your math and see where you went wrong and how to solve the problem.
Check your bounce rates. Figure out which pages dropped in the SERPs and look at them with a critical eye. If your page has a 100 percent bounce rate and little traffic, do you think Google will view it as high quality?
See if you can improve underperforming pages. If not, or if it's outdated, seems Google is saying just remove it from the site (unless you think it can be salvaged or improved/updated with some work).
Original, Well-Written Content
When the Panda Update was announced, Google said this algorithm was designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites (not eliminate them, as there are plenty of scraper sites still populating the SERPs).
What does Google consider high-quality? Original content and information: research, in-depth reports, and thoughtful analysis.
Unfortunately, "quality" is vague and subjective. There will probably never be complete agreement on what constitutes a "quality" website.
Look at the sites that took were hardest hit. Look them over, see what they have in common, and try to learn with these working examples. Also:
- Make sure your pages are well-written (check for grammar, spelling, etc.).
- Don't copy directly from other sites.
- If you write about a topic that others have written about, add value or something unique or useful for your readers.
Ads vs. Content
Pages with thin content are another issue. It seems one thing Google is definitely targeting are sites plastered with ads "above-the-fold" (what visitors see without scrolling) or generally have a high ad to content ratio. If you visit sites where people are experiencing traffic drops, this is a recurring theme.
For example, the first thing you see on this site (http://highperformancehvac.com/) is Google AdSense, as well as plenty of other ads, over outdated content (looks like last update was Dec. 2008):
There there's this site (http://www.chipchick.com/), which features a one paragraph (extremely shallow) post littered with Kontera ads (also note the presence of Google AdSense):
Again, this is only one possible factor/signal. Plenty of others sites complaining of traffic drops of 35 percent or higher in the Google thread may not have this advertising issue, but it's one Google seems to be looking at.
Links: Quality Over Quantity
Just as Google's Panda Update is filtering out low-quality sites, Kristi Hines says its time to say goodbye to low-quality link building. If you think Google views a site as low-quality, you definitely don't want a high number of backlinks coming from low-quality sources.
If Google is indeed re-ranking or rescoring sites based on associations, now might not be the best time to associated with low quality.
Will Google Fill in the Gaps Left by Panda?
Patrick Altoft and Bill Slawski have both previously written about a Google patent application showing how a search engine can identify inadequate search content based on statistics associated with search queries and then share this information with content creators/providers.
"The patent basically covers a system for identifying search queries which have low quality content and then asking either publishers or the people searching for that topic to create some better content themselves," Altoft wrote. "The system takes into account the volume of searches when looking at the quality of the content so for bigger keywords the content would need to be better in order for Google to not need to suggest somebody else writes something."
Google long ago evolved from being a pure search engine. So will Google really take this next step and devise a method to fill in gaps for searches with low-quality results by actually producing content, which it will then no doubt give top rankings to?
As Frank Watson noted in "Really Google? Penalizing Good Sites To Get Some Bad Ones," the Panda update is further proof of the value of SEO. Indeed, many sites without knowledge of SEO have become collateral damage as Google has tried to get rid of a few bad apples.
Has it been worth it? What do you think?
Have you noticed any other possible factors that can harm or help websites rank in the post-Panda world? Let us know in the comments.