Panda to the Core: Google’s Quality Filter is Merged Into the Main Algorithm
The online marketing world has been abuzz recently with rumors of a significant Google update after many people noticed large changes in ranking across many verticals. This is, of course, nothing new. Google’s results pages are pored over obsessively by traffic-hungry SEOs the world over, and every minor change can spark major rumors. However, it certainly seems as though the talk is well founded in this instance, with a confirmation straight from the Google horse’s mouth that something major has occurred: their (in)famous Panda quality filter has now, apparently, been fully integrated into the main algorithm.
The Historical Panda
Google introduced Panda in February 2011 as part of their ongoing refinement of their search results. Variously described as a quality filter or a selective penalty, in essence, the aim of Panda was to weed out low-quality sites that failed to meet Google’s expectations in various ways. Although the exact details of what Panda takes into account when analyzing a site remain secret, the consensus among industry gurus is that it focuses on sites that carry a large amount of low quality or duplicated content, pushing them further down in the results pages, while rewarding sites that offer useful, higher quality content.
Since it was introduced, the Panda algorithm has undergone various updates (it is now in its fourth major iteration), but has always been an offline process; it was run periodically, and overlaid on top of the general search results, shifting sites up or down. If your site was hit by Panda, you had to wait until the next refresh to see if your efforts to escape the filter were successful, which could take months.
This has now apparently changed, with the filter being merged into the main algorithm used to rank results, and now run in near-real time.
The Implications for SEOs and Marketers
Panda being part of the core algorithm means that abiding by Google’s definition of quality is more important than ever, but it also has several intriguing implications.
Firstly and most obviously, if periodic updates are a thing of the past it would seem that there’s an opportunity to escape any detrimental Panda effects much more quickly. Whereas in the past any possible Panda considerations had to be identified and fixed before waiting several months or more to see any effect, in theory, tweaks and fixes should show results much more quickly from now on.
Taking this a bit further, there is now a greater opportunity for analyzing exactly what Panda is and what it does. The time lag between tweak and result previously made analysis a slow job, and as things change so quickly in the search engine world, solid results were difficult to isolate from the myriad other changes during the waiting period. By compressing the time frame, Google may have made reverse engineering their algorithm more feasible.
Conversely, the change could be bad news for those who make their living by playing on the edge of search engine guidelines. When Panda was updating only every few months, there was a window of opportunity to profit using easily built, low-quality sites to generate traffic and cash before the filter caught up and consigned the site to its rightful place in the trash can. It would appear this loophole has now been closed.
As with all things Google, certainties are hard to come by, and even the seeming confirmation that Panda is now part of the core algorithm was somewhat ambiguous – the search giant likes to keep marketers guessing if nothing else. Nonetheless, if Panda is truly now a real time part of Google’s core ranking system, then the SEO and marketing game has changed — once again