As Panda 4.1 rolls out, we’re now able to see who’s getting the ranking recognition they hoped for, and who may be taking an algorithmic hit.
As always, Google is aiming for quality over quantity, and this round of Panda may be giving extra recognition to those that may not be able to produce a lot of great content, but own what they already have.
Observation #1: Meeting Guidelines Does Not Mean Success
“I’m not doing anything wrong – why am I not ranking well?”
According to Panda, doing nothing wrong means no penalty, but you won’t be a winner either. Based on the observations by Moz, categories like “no errors” or “low ads” have a low correlation with how the pages rank on Google. Even categories like “I consider this page an authority” has only a moderate correlation.
An observation like “This page could be in print”, however, has a high correlation. Just like Google is always trying to refine its algorithm, they want webmasters to refine their own content processes to make them as high-quality as possible.
They also don’t want a simple rehash – it’s so easy to find information, but what does that information mean? There seems to be a high correlation with insightful sites ranking higher, as they may be providing something more than just an answer.
Observation #2: Big Sites Don’t Always Win
Searchmetrics released a list of the winners and losers of Panda 4.1, and there are some big indicators that having tons of content, even good content, doesn’t always mean a higher rank.
With the new update, Google is trying to give more clout to sites that may not necessarily have the resources to produce a lot of content, but still provide an engaging, innovative experience for the visitor.
This tilt towards mini(er)-sites could give some webmasters the motivation to scale back instead of generating the “next new thing” in an attempt to draw in a higher rank in the search results and more visitors.
Hubpages.com may have a lot of content, and it’s by no means bad content, but it seems to have taken a big hit from Panda 4.1. This could be part of Google focusing towards sites that are focused specifically and innovate on just one of Hubpages’ topics, rather than having a site to aggregate it all.
Observation #3: User-generated Content Is Still Great Content
Google is also trying to show that user engagement is a big factor in the quality of a site. One of the biggest winners on Searchmetrics’ list was tvtropes.com, a site strongly dedicated towards user submissions. If you haven’t visited the site, watch out – it can be a very addicting read.
The site has a very tight, Wikipedia-esque community of submitters who explain and provide examples of tropes found throughout media, including TV, movies, and video games. This is a formula that could become overwhelming, but the submitters are so dedicated that it provides for a very engaging experience.
As a side note – thepiratebay.se was also a big winner with the update, showing that government pressure doesn’t mean Google will listen.
Observation #4: It’s About the Visitors Just As Much As the Content
This observation goes back to how rehashing information is not always going to work, even though it’s high quality. Visitor behavior is becoming even more integrated into how pages rank, and if your site is a one -and-done, it may not be what Google’s looking for on the first page of the search results.
Returning to the search results after having click on a link (essentially, a bounce) is an increasingly important factor with Panda 4.1. Also, if a visitor spends more time on the site, it usually means they found what they were looking for, and may even want more from that site.
Either way, having 300 or 1,000 words in this case won’t matter – a lot of words can still make for “thin” content if those words hold little meaning to the visitor.