Since Google Panda rolled out in February, it has been the major topic of discussion in various online forums and SEO professionals. In the rare case you have happened to miss all the buzz surrounding this update, here we tell you in detail what exactly is Google Panda, and why is it so important.

The very first Google Panda update, dubbed as the Farmer update, was released on February 24, 2011. This update marked the biggest change Google had ever made in its search algorithm, and this update decreased the traffic of websites by as much as 80 percent. According to Matt Cutts, the Panda update was designed to affect nearly 12 percent of all searches. He further stated that around 500 of search improvements were slated for release this year. The key areas where Google has struck hardest with its new update are listed below:

Content Farms – Websites that act like content farms have been devalued by Panda. This is mainly because they stuff low quality and outdated content into their web pages for the sole purpose of gaining traffic and raising their search engine ratings. Oftentimes, they provide content of zero value, and yet are ranked higher than sites that offer genuine information.

Quality Content – Quality content is more important now than ever. Google does not like affiliate sites, and having longer articles really helps. Articles and pages on your website should contain 700 words or more. Google loves quality content and proving it to Google's spiders is going to boost you in the rankings quickly.

Spammy Links – Google has always had trouble separating pure spam from genuine links. Google Panda has hit profile links and blog comments, and they no longer pass much quality onto your site, according to Google.

The following has gained importance after the Panda update:

Social Sites – Facebook and Twitter are among the top websites now, and so Google understands the power behind these social platforms. Google now recognizes that people hold in high regard what their friends tell them; lending credence to these sites as pertains to SEO practices after the Panda update.

The algorithm update did not stop at the 1.0 version. Whereas the first Panda update was for the United States only, Panda 2.0 rolled out for all English searches worldwide on April 11, 2011. Even in non-English speaking countries, the update affected all searches made in English. The third and fourth updates were released on May 10 and June 16 respectively. The current version is 2.2.

But before we discuss the technical aspects of the various versions of Google Panda, you should familiarize yourself with the technical aspects of the Google’s search algorithm. Since Panda is essentially a ranking update, a basic knowledge of Google’s ranking mechanism can come in handy.

Google's PageRank

Larry Page and Sergey Brin published two papers to describe their innovative and patented PageRank algorithm. The PageRank of a web page is essentially its importance (or rank) with respect to the other pages on the internet. The rank is a numerical value, calculated by a mathematical formula which takes into account the number of links that lead to that webpage, and the number of links that lead from that webpage. The principle is, if a lot of links lead to a single page the importance of that page automatically becomes high. Now this means that your website should be really well connected. Pages which are likely to be useful to the searcher should be made easy to be reached. Just to satisfy your curiosity, there are not a lot of pages which have a PR of 10. Apart from Google itself, Facebook.com has also reached a PR of 10. Google uses the PageRank algorithm to assign each webpage a numerical rank, and then uses that rank to determine the rating of that page on its results page.

Site Authority

Unlike PageRank, site authority is not a numerical value. Google decides the authority of a site in its own way. A good PageRank does not mean that a site has authority, but many of the factors that make up page rank give a site authority status. To give an idea to its users and SEOs, Google has laid out some guidelines to tell you which sites are given a high authority status. These guidelines are available on Google’s blog and are quoted here word for word.

Just ask yourself these questions:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Now this is how Google thinks your site should be. And if you are able to please Google by following these guidelines religiously, you shall be rewarded. One question arises here; do you need to do anything apart from following the above points? There are various tried and tested techniques which complement the Google guidelines. They are meant to give you that extra edge. The fundamentals, however, have to be first strong. Therefore, the above guidelines are to be followed by everyone.In the due course of this text, you will come to know how your site footprint, link count, PageRank, and Speed of Indexing are all factors in defining your site authority.