Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Google Panda Update Is a Change I Can Bear

Maybe my incompetence in search-engine optimization is paying off. Or maybe Google really has figured out how to make Web searches more relevant.

The Internet world has been all aflutter the past month because of changes Google made to its top-secret search algorithms that it says affected 11.8% of queries. Some publishers are indicating their Google traffic is up a bit, while other sites some with seemingly good content have seen Google traffic drop by 40% or more.

Officially called the Panda update but sometimes referred to as the Farmer update, the changes were meant, in Google’s words, to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

For Dead Tree Edition, the changes seem to have increased Google traffic by about 18%. I say “seem” because search traffic to this little blog fluctuates greatly – and generally constitutes less than 10% of total visitors.

Dead Tree Edition is on the first page of results for some really long-tail search terms like “son of black liquor”, “NewPage bankruptcy”, and – everyone’s favorite -- “cardboard porn”. But the most common search terms are variants of “dead tree”, such as “dead tree blog”, which suggest that people heard or read about an article but didn’t have a link to follow. Or maybe my regular readers haven’t figured out how to use bookmarks, Twitter, RSS, or LinkedIn.

Anyway, I figured the best way to assess Panda was to compare the traffic from Google searches to that for Yahoo! searches, under the assumption that Yahoo! has made no significant changes to its search methods.

During the month leading up to the change, which Google says it started rolling out on Feb. 23, there was an average of 5.61 visitors coming to this blog from Google for every one coming from Yahoo. So far this month, the average daily ratio is 6.61, an increase of 17.8%.

I ignored the Feb. 23-28 period because of reports that it took Google a few days to implement Panda completely. With slightly different assumptions about what periods to study, the increase in the Google-to-Yahoo ratio was never below 12% and was sometimes as high as 21%.

Of course I’m biased, but it makes sense to me that Google’s update would favor a site that publishes only original content and – because of my own ignorance and Blogger’s limitations -- doesn’t play any SEO games. I just hope Panda also punishes those sites that republish my articles without permission or attribution.

Other examples of the hopelessly out-of-date D. Eadward Tree, Dead Tree Edition's Chief Arborist, trying to explain the Internet include:

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