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Snarling Panda (Google "Big Panda" update)

© March 2011 Anthony Lawrence

Surely you have read about Google's "Big Panda" algorithm update by now. Just after the new Chrome search block plugin, Google dropped an algorithm change focused on cracking down on content farms.

A few days later, Google asked for feedback, saying :

According to our metrics, this update improves overall search quality. However, we are interested in hearing feedback from site owners and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms. If you know of a high quality site that has been negatively affected by this change, please bring it to our attention in this thread.

Several hundred folks replied, mostly complaining that their site was indeed a high quality site that had disappeared from former early search engine results and was now buried so far down as to be invisible to searchers.

Certainly some of these folks belonged in the cellar. However, a common theme is that Internet pirates using black hat SEO have stolen content and now rank more highly than the legitimate website that produced the content. Obviously that doesn't feel like an "improvement" if you were the original author!

The effect on income is obvious when a site depends on Google Seearch for traffic: if you used to rank well and are now invisible, your income drops like a stone. A "mplett7" writes:

I am already going through divorce, bankruptcy, and foreclosure, and now I am going to be completely destitute because Google decided to put through this algorithm?

That probably sums up the feelings of many.

We are not unaffected here at APLawrence.com, though not in the way most people in that thread were hurt. Most of the important keyword phrases that lead here are still producing high SERP (Search Engine Results Position) and the few that are not are silly things that always confused me anyway: there was no sane reason for Google to be sending me that specific traffic, so "Big Panda" only took away some traffic I never really deserved.

Nor have I had much problem with piracy. Oh, people steal content, yes. But most of it doesn't seem to be with any intent of financial gain as the thefts almost never appear in SERP at all. I do file a DMCA threat now and then, but piracy has never been high on my worry list.

What has happened here is a sharp reduction in advertising earnings. I mean sharp: as much as 50% down on some days and at least 20% down overall. It's still early - we're only a little over two weeks away from the update as I write this, but the problem seems to be mostly from reduced bidding from advertisers.

Are nervous advertisers due to general economic issues or is it something related to Big Panda or is it nothing to do with either of those? I have been doing some site cleanup lately, getting rid of some really ancient junk that has no reason to be here, but you wouldn't think that could matter, right?

Oh, well: everything is what it is. SERP will rise and SERP will fall, as will advertising bid rates and overall traffic. Google will do what it will, the pirates and the black hat SEO folks will no doubt keep on at their game, and on we go. Winners, losers, whatever: stuff happens.

It does bring up one bit of advice, though: diversified income is always the best position to be in. That Google complaint thread has many people who may be facing economic ruin if Google traffic was their primary income source. The more income channels you have, even if they are small and unimportant individually, the more resistant you are to sudden disaster. It's the old "eggs in one basket" adage and Google search is the basket.

The real question is whether or not Google has improved search results. The folks at that complaint thread generally seem to think not, but they may be unfairly biased. I may be biased the other way because my results were generally untouched, but I have to say that I haven't noticed any degradation in my other searches. However, you don't know about the things you don't see, so the answer to that is still really unknown.

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-> 'Snarling Panda' causes confusion and outrage


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Tue Mar 15 14:59:04 2011: 9376   BigDumbDinosaur


I am already going through divorce, bankruptcy, and foreclosure, and now I am going to be completely destitute because Google decided to put through this algorithm?

Methinks the writer of this lament has a lot more to blame on himself (herself?) than on any optimization work done at Google. This smacks of the homeless guy who asks for money by saying he'll starve to death if I don't give him five dollars. Sorry your bad planning and over-reliance on a shaky income source has resulted in your spouse moving on to greener pastures, creditors everywhere demanding payment because you spent it faster than you made it and the bank taking your house because you didn't budget enough money for the mortgage, I don't see anything that is the fault of Google or anyone else.

Do I sound cruel? Maybe, but I am realistic. As Tony pointed out, one should diversify one's income sources to avoid significant financial damage in the event one of the sources dries up. No rocket science involved!

Fri Mar 25 02:43:23 2011: 9403   Matt



I am one of the webmaster that posted over at the "complaint" forum. Luckily I haven't quite the day and I don't depend on the money my website earns to pay the bills. But my site was it also. My traffic is down about 30 percent. And like you say, Adsense has taken a bigger hit.

All my content is original. No black hat stuff or any of that. I do think I was hit unfairly and I hope it reverses.

But there is a link that I found that has a very well researched history of how Google has not been so honest lately. I invite you to take a look and even leave a comment with your opinion on how honest or how much integrity Google has left.


Fri Mar 25 02:58:58 2011: 9404   TonyLawrence


I am reminded of Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, or in this case mostly technical limitations of algorithms. Google has not been bribed by EHow or anyone else - the suggestion is ludicrous.

Fri Mar 25 15:51:24 2011: 9406   BigDumbDinosaur


Hanlon's razor was probably a derivative from "Logic of Empire," a short story that was published by Robert A. Heinlein c. 1941. In it is the phrase "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

Fri Mar 25 16:01:00 2011: 9407   TonyLawrence


It might go back farther; see the Wikipedia entry at (link)


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