Why I Love Google Panda (and you should, too)

“Panda” has become kind of a dirty word among SEOs. Tweet about a trip to the zoo or a cuddly stuffed animal, and you’re bound to get a tweet back saying, “Ugh, don’t say panda, I’m still traumatized.” My response to this reaction is twofold:

Reaction 1: Whatever, you guys. I still love pandas.

I mean, look at this guy:


Reaction 2: Whatever, you guys. I love Google Panda.

The hell you say?

Yes, that’s right. I’m kind of a fan of Google Panda. Why? Because in addition to being an SEO, I’m also a Google user. I use Google multiple times every single day; everything from topics I’m researching for work, to the menu of the place I’m going for dinner (WHY PDF WHY?), to a variety of queries that start with “can dogs eat.” And back in 2010, Google started to suck.

An embarrassing anecdote

During the 2010 holiday season, I went out and got myself my very own, non-plastic, real live Christmas tree for the first time. Unbeknownst to me, that tree came with a very special Christmas gift just for me: fleas. My apartment got fleas like your great-aunt’s cat Mr. Mittens. It was bad, people. And it being the holiday season, I was pretty strapped for cash. What I wanted was a way to get rid of the little bastards myself, without calling an exterminator or spraying my apartment with poison. So what did I do? I turned to Google.

Here’s what I found: pages and pages of articles titled “How to Get Rid of Fleas” that were all meaningless, thin-content paragraphs riddled with links to exterminator services. Not just one or two, but multiple searches resulted in a SERP full of this garbage. It was only after a fair amount of digging that I was able to find the solution (vacuum alllllll of the things really thoroughly, seal your clothes/bedding in a plastic bag for a day or two and then wash them in super-hot water) I was looking for.

Lately, I’ve been speaking to some college classes on SEO and when I start to talk about Panda, I ask if they remember a time when it seemed like every search they did turned up shallow, worthless results that seemed to talk about what they wanted, but didn’t actually provide any answers. And you know what? They all remember, and they all agree that SERPs have improved significantly since then.

The Panda update was an upsetting, stressful time for SEOs and business owners alike. It was far from perfect; a lot of perfectly good content got knocked out with the bad, and a lot of innocent (i.e. non-black-hat) websites were affected. But it ultimately did make a lot of SERPs better, returning more trustworthy information that is more relevant to the query.

Take a look at the SERP for “How to Get Rid of Fleas” today. It still has a ton of results from sites like eHow and Instructables, which are sites that we might typically associate with having been hit by Panda. The difference is that now, those pages actually contain information on how to get rid of fleas. Additionally, there are results from highly reputable sources like the ASPCA, adding a measure of trust.

Panda was intended to make sure that when people Google something they can actually find it. On that measure, I’d say it succeeded more than it failed.

Bad panda

“But Ruth,” I hear you say. “You should know as well as anybody that innocent businesses were affected by Panda. People lost a lot of business.”

bad panda

I know, and I kind of blame Google for that. They told us that the best way to rank was to have content on every page. No matter how many times they told us “create content for users, not search engines,” by also telling us to have content on all the pages, they were effectively saying “create content for search engines.” Small businesses often don’t have the resources to create the kind of consistent, deep, relevant content that Google really wants. I can see why creating a bunch of keyword-rich but otherwise meaningless content might have seemed like the next best thing. I can only imagine how frustrating and scary it was for businesses to have their pages wiped from the SERPs in Panda’s wake, and I KNOW how frustrating it was for SEOs to try to help those once-burned, twice-shy businesses get back into Google’s good graces.

How Google makes money

Google makes money because Google has gigantic market share. They can charge advertisers more because they have the biggest pool of potential ad impressions and clicks to sell. This means Google has a complete interest in ensuring that when people search for things, they find exactly what they’re looking for. That’s it. Google does not care whether or not they foster small or local business growth in the U.S. and abroad. They only care about serving up the most relevant results they can to as many people as they can, so everyone keeps using Google.

Like I said, Panda wasn’t perfect, but it did make a big difference in SERP relevance to a lot of queries. The other side of Google’s gigantic market share, however, is that many businesses need some kind of presence on Google to succeed. We owe it to our clients – nay, we owe it to the Internet itself – to help them actually create relevant resources for users who search on their keywords. In addition to pleasing Google, you may convince some of those people to buy something.

It also means that we should make sure our clients invest in diverse sources of traffic. If a site has more than 50% of its traffic coming from Google, that leaves you pretty vulnerable to changes in Google’s algorithm.

Finally, it’s more important than ever to help businesses of all sizes – even those who can’t afford SEO – market themselves online, the right way. I’m so excited that SEOmoz is working with GetListed now. I’m hoping that with increased access to resources to market themselves online, small and local businesses can start knocking content farms out of the SERPs. I’m also hoping that future updates like Panda – designed to keep quality in the SERPs – will be less dangerous to small and local businesses,because they’ll know more about what to do and what not to do.

I’m also hoping we can go back to thinking “D’AWWWWWW” instead of “D’OH!” when we see a cuddly guy like this one:

cute panda

About SEO Updates
I'm an SEO :)

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