Does Google Panda Signal the End of SEO as We Know It?

July 12, 2011 by

It’s been a couple weeks since the release of Google’s latest Panda/Farmer update, and many folks are still trying to figure out what it means for SEO best practices going forward.

The answer? It changes things. A lot.

First, for those who are not familiar with Panda (and unless you’re an SEO enthusiast, you probably aren’t), it basically involves some major changes to the algorithm Google uses to return search results. Now there are a lot of technical bits to this, which I won’t get into here. If you’re interested, there’s been plenty written on those changes since the 1.0 version of Google Panda rolled out in February (SEOmoz has some great info on all-things Panda, for example).

Looking beyond the tech specs, however, the really important thing to understand is the purpose of Google Panda, which is – as with all Google updates – to return higher-quality content in search.

Traditional SEO practices focuse on areas like on-page techniques (keyword research, density and title optimization) and backlinking. Basically, if you created unique, quality content and did all this other stuff right, you had a great chance of being found in search and increasing your site’s visibility.Now with Panda? As SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin said recently, it’s just not enough.

What Google wants is to improve search results so that the top pages returned offer the highest quality of value and engagement for readers. In other words, they want to weed out the folks who are simply playing the SEO game – creating lots and lots of unique and super-optimized content to drive traffic – and reward sites that people truly like the most.

And by “like the most”, I mean just that. Google has a fleet of people who literally rate web pages and sites for quality, and those ratings are added to Google’s search metrics. This essentially takes SEO outside the world of keywords and links, and puts a bigger premium on things like “user experience” and “value of overall information” and “how likely people are to want to share this page with others because it’s so (bleep)-ing amazing.”

This is a major change, and a good one by Google, as it moves us closer to a world where the information people find is ruled less by strategically placed keywords and more on what’s truly valuable and engaging. (You know, kind of like how it was before the Internet.)

Site metrics are playing a larger role as well. For example, as Rand points out in the video below, Google will use analytic data for things like average time on page, average pages per visit, click-thru rate from search, how often pages are shared, etc. as a factor in figuring out which sites people like the best. The sites with the best numbers will (in theory) also end up with the best rankings. And once again, these are metrics entirely based on value, where the SEO tricks of old can’t help you.

Wistia

Rand’s video does a much better job of explaining what the current release of Google Panda means, but the biggest point (in my eyes) is really this:The job of SEO has been upgraded to web strategist.” In a nutshell, that’s how Rand describes what Google Panda does, and for company’s looking to improve their brands or beef up their content marketing strategies, this point is critical.

The other question, of course, is whether or not this is fair. Google essentially made the rules of SEO that so many web strategists abide by (and in some cases, have exploited) to improve their ranks. But the fact is, whether you like it or not, Google is changing, and SEO practices have to change with it.

You can find more information on content marketing and editorial practices at the OpenView Labs website. You can also follow Brendan on Twitter @BrenCournoyer and find more from the OpenView team @OpenViewVenture.

  • Scott Mcglon

    Panda is a significant paradigm shift towards website popularity. However, major brands get an automatic boost under Google’s Panda. Major brands benefit due to the many social signals they have the ability to drive vs. smaller brands. Facebook likes, Tweets, and Google +1 are not evenly gauged under Panda. Also, the shorter the searched keyword, the more major brands show up within the organic search results. There is still a lot to be shaken out to see how the general public accepts this shift within Google’s world.

    Scott McGlon
    CEO
    OCG, LLC

    • http://twitter.com/brencournoyer Brendan Cournoyer

      Thanks for sharing Scott. I’ve read a bit about how the big brands got a big advantage as far as page rank around their target phrases. Not surprising since Panda seems to place a lot of emphasis on popular content. Clearly there is still more to be shaken out as you said, tho it’s clear Google is pleased with the changes and the direction they are heading.

  • Drew Williams

    Great video above. 

    Question: Will google provide a submission tool/link where by you can submit your site to be judged on what its doing well, and what its not? 

    It could be hard explaining to a client why their site isn’t doing well when there’s nothing telling them specifically what its failing on under their new Panda ranking algorithm. 

    Many thanks,Drew Williams

  • Tgu310

    Great content!

  • Tod Hirsch


    Google has a fleet of people who literally rate web pages and sites for quality, and those ratings are added to Google’s search metrics.”

    Are you sure about that statement? It was my understanding that Google’s rankings are purely algorithmic and any data used to feed those algos is also taken from web statistics, Google Analytics etc. Bounce rate for example. Not sure though…

    • http://twitter.com/brencournoyer Brendan Cournoyer

      Hi Tod,

      Google is constantly trying to improve the quality of their search results, and while a lot of that IS algorithmic, they do employ actual people to help out as well (and apparently have for some time). They are called “Quality Raters”.

      Coincidentally, a great post went up this very week that does an excellent job explaining exactly what these folks do: http://www.potpiegirl.com/2011/11/google-raters-who-are-they/

  • http://www.webmiraclemarketing.com/ Mats Loefkvist

    Great content,

    I love the way of having a more holistic approach to websites and website interaction. We simply need to be more human and take feelings and emotional triggers into consideration. In my eyes it makes Google more human. I am saying this although I have spent 12 years optimizing websites for SEO for myself and my clients. Thanks again for sharing great content.