Content is King, but Quality is the Kingslayer

Update: 29 February 2016

Google Panda is now part of the core algorithm of Google's search engine. It's therefore likely to be even harder to pick apart when it's updated. However, it's an interesting journey for Panda, from 'filter' to completely integrated.

Original post:

No, I'm not talking about Jaime Lannister, I'm talking about filling the blank spaces on your website. Everyone who researches what generates more traffic/views/likes/shares learns that content is king, but is this all that matters?

 Photo courtesy of  Animals Australia

Photo courtesy of Animals Australia

 

Old McContent Had a Farm

A vast amount of online content is free. This has been great for readers, viewers, and listeners, but it's created two big problems:

  1. A shortage of new content
  2. The shortage being met with low quality 'filler'

The desperate need to have countless pages of blank space filled led to the rise of 'content farms'. These are site that can make content creation assignments available to registered users on a first-served basis. These sites began to attract a shaky reputation for

  • offering low quality writing to visitors
  • paying very little to writers

You might think that this is a case of just desserts: why should people who produce low quality work be paid well? This is putting the cart before the horse though. Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I've written for a 'content farm'. Like many others, I'm sure, I went into the farm bright eyed and bushy tailed. I soon learned that this wasn't an environment in which high quality work paid. Yes, you can maintain your standards and maybe get good reviews but

  1. you're paid per assignment, so earning means churning the words out, not crafting them, and
  2. assignments need to be available

This last point is essential, because if you get a fallow period, then not only are you not earning, there's more pressure to work quickly when contracts become available. With all writers or creators feeling that pressure, what's going to happen to the quality of work?

The solution hasn't come from the animals on the farm taking up pitchforks and storming the farmhouse, it's come from a very different animal...

 Let's meet Google's Panda (image courtesy of Dump a Day)

Let's meet Google's Panda (image courtesy of Dump a Day)

Rise of the Panda!

Search engines aren't static, they're constantly evolving, as this history of Google updates reveals. While many of these updates are minor, the updates code named 'Panda' are significant. The original Panda update of 23 February 2011 gave low quality websites a massive kicking by ensuring that Google's search engine was less likely to display them in searches. The sites that got hit hardest were

  • poorly written
  • had low levels of unique content
  • advert heavy
  • unattractive and poorly designed.

You might think that Google is just one search engine, that what Google does has an effect, but that surely it can't be that big. On 16 August 2013 every Google service went dark. Everything was available again after just over 4 minutes. However, during that time worldwide web traffic collapsed by 40%. Everything that Google does, especially with its search engine, has the potential to be serious for websites. Demand found this out the hard way. A well-known 'content farm' site, they'd been highly successful and widely touted as a success story. When they became a public company, they were on a high, but less than 3 months later the first 'Panda' update was released. Traffic to Demand sites fell by up to 40%, and the value of Demand's shares collapsed by 38% in just 2 weeks. Google has been releasing 'Panda' updates ever since.

 Multiple Panda updates from Google

Multiple Panda updates from Google

The latest update, #27, was released 23 September 2014. This affected 3 - 5% of search queries, much less than the original update which affected 11%. However, Google's search engine now process over 40,000 searches every second, or 3.5 billion every day! So if just 3% of search queries are affected, that equates to 105 million being affected every day.

Whether you consider it good or bad that Google is enacting these changes, whether you consider it good or bad that Google is so embedded in the 'mechanics' of the internet, the fact remains that they are. We need to deal with that reality, especially when so many of us make such heavy use of their search engine.

 

Leftovers

So how can we respond to the ongoing 'Panda' updates? The obvious answer is by doing the opposite of what it penalises by

  • writing to a high standard
  • writing unique content
  • minimising the number of adverts and their intrusiveness
  • creating websites with modern, high quality designs

This could be a blog topic itself, but for now I'd like you to take away the knowledge that not only is content evolving, the way in which it's discovered is evolving too.

Finally, if you haven't had enough of pandas today, here's something just for you!

What are your experiences of Google's Panda? For all the complaints, do you think it's an important addition to ensuring that high quality content is as discoverable as possible? You can tell me in the comments.