The buzz about the Google algorthm updates continues this week as many speculate that Panda 2.2 (or Farmer 2.2) was released over the last week. Google has been extremely quiet about these follow-on releases to their earth-shaking change-up back in February. Nonetheless, the SEO community is full of reports of crashing traffic graphs and disappearing search engine leads. In some cases the feelings of ill-will run very deep as total visits from Google have been cut in half, or worse. I don't mean to be dismissive as this type of tectonic shift in organic traffic patterns can decimate a small business.

What exactly did Panda do to people?

Here is a great image from Search Engine Watch that shows several patterns that have been reported by people hurt by the Farmer update. I blogged a few weeks ago about how Semify had been helped by Panda / Farmer update. Few, if any, websites have come back after being hit with SERP reductions.

Why an update to the update?

Many believe that Google is further refining the new algorithm due to the number of complaints that have come in from legitimate websites. This article at Search Engine Watch specifically claims that Panda 2.2 is specifically focused on scraper sites. If you have been following my posts along this entire Farmer Update saga (see here, here and here), you know that my hunch was that scraper sites were the primary target all along. If you follow the timeline of the dialog closely, you see that the shift in focus to content mills, Demand Media and content farms came not from Google - but from the blogs and media.

The BIG Interview with Matt Cutts at Google

If you have not read the BIG INTERVIEW with Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal, you should. Here are several highlights I took away from the interview.

  • Google was confident in 2009 that they could remove machine-generated gibberish, but they very, very, shallow content was still a big problem for them.

  • Question: "How do you recognize shallow content....?" Google's Answer: "That's a very very hard problem that we haven't solved"

  • For Panda, Google used human-reviewers and a highly structured questionnaire to idenitfy bad / untrustworthy websites (sites you wouldn't give your credit card to) and then found signals (i.e., correlated predictors) that distinguished low-quality sites from trustworthy websites.

  • Google has not really invented a technology that can determine low-quality content in isolation (such as a language analyzer). Rather, they have found signals (i.e., predictors) that do a reasonably good job of correlating with low-quality. I believe most people don't understand this distinction, but it's critical for understanding what this update was and wasn't.

  • Due to the correlational nature of their underlying science, they have actually applied these new filters rather softly. "It [Our low quality classifier] was more cautious with mixed-quality sites, because caution is important."
  • Conclusions

    This is all fascinating stuff. 2011 is turning out to be as fun as 2007 for SEO. Google is once again making big changes. This is, in part, due to high-profile media coverage and new approaches to the age-old cat-and-mouse game that IS SEO. But just how big are these Google search engine changes? In my opinion, each major release shows me that Google is about 2 years behind where all the leading SEO bloggers say they are. In this recent interview Matt Cutts tells us that machine-generated garbage was finally solved in 2009. Wait! What? Seriously? In remember 2009. We were talking about social signals already in 2009. But in reality Google was just getting their linguistic analysis good enough to identify total garbage. Now in 2011, Matt Cutts is telling us that that low quality content is NOT something that Google can identify based on linguistic queues alone. They are just not there. They have found some good correlates, but that's second-best (and still totally game-able). Perhaps social will solve this - but based on the track-record, and lack of any serious market share challengers - it's gonna be a while ;-)

    P.S. - And the overall search engine optimization industry?

    Lest you think search engine optimization is fading with the gaining popularity of social media and group-based coupons, check the statistics. The search engine optimization industry is as healthy as ever with impressive growth, even in the middle of a very bad recession. I see this trend continuing for many many years, even as social media grows. In other words, there is room for several online marketing niches. After all, the yellow pages were around for almost 100 years!