Is Google Panda Really About Content or More About Authority?

A recent study published by New Scientist indicates that both Bing and Google are succeeding against content farms.

Sites like Demand Media’s eHow and had been able to reach high rankings for many informational terms in recent years. That prompted Google’s “Panda” updates this year to counter those sites with ways to weed out poorer content, especially scraped/republished content.

While the article published on it didn’t give full details of the study, it provided a summary:

To test how successful Google and Microsoft’s Bing have been at fending off content-farmed results, McCreadie ran 50 search queries known to be a target of content farmers, such as “how to train for a marathon”, in March and August this year. Then he paid people to examine the results for links to low-quality sites, where “low quality” was defined as uninformative sites whose primary function appears to be displaying adverts.

The results are striking. In the case of the marathon query “how to train for a marathon”, sites that contained lists of generic tips, such as “invest in a good pair of running shoes”, were present in the top 10 in March but had disappeared by August, while high-quality sources, such as Runner’s World magazine, now appear near the top. Similar trends were found throughout the 50 queries.

Some have taken the Panda updates and the results of them to mean that the “new” SEO is all about good content, not the domain, backlinks, on-page SEO, etc. I don’t think that’s true.

Google has been the main search engine focused on combating content farms and has also been making a shift towards highlighting authors of content vs. merely content itself. Between that and what this study has indicated about the sites now ranking highly, I think the focus isn’t really on content at all – at least not directly.

I believe Google’s intent is to get higher authority sources of content to the top of searches. For the marathon query, they ideally want highly authoritative sites devoted to running. Authors on those sites would more likely be experts on running, thus their content would more likely be better content.

In the end, their content may NOT be better content. After all, what is better content? How can better content really be defined? Is it simply more elaborate and detailed content? Is it more correct or effective? Does it have backing of more knowledge and experience behind it? How can better content be measured?

Look at Wikipedia for example. Anyone can add content to Wikipedia, and while it is reviewed, many times incorrect content makes its way onto there. But many people blindly follow Wikipedia as the biggest source of information on the web.

Why do people trust Wikipedia so easily if their content can be incorrect? People directly trust Wikipedia because it’s a non-profit, has information on just about everything and has now been around for quite some time.

That said, their authority in people’s eyes has grown massively over the last 5 years because they are highly ranked for millions of terms on Google. Many people subconsciously place some authority and trust on what ranks consistently highly, figuring that site’s there for a reason. Chances are it began to achieve those high rankings due to its size and people starting to naturally link to it for information.

That’s why Google wants to weed out poor quality sites. If they were to highly rank only sites that actually have high authority and expertise pertaining to the search term, then it helps continue their reign as the authoritative search engine. It would be less likely that content would be bad on authoritative sites, so indirectly content on their top rankings gets improved as well.

Ultimately, Google wants people to find what they need but now more importantly trust what they find, hence looking at higher authority sites. So building up authority, which has always been a key to achieving rankings via SEO (building a robust site, building backlinks and PR, etc.), is maybe even more of a key now.

The problem is that people have taken all the Google Panda updates to mean that the best content will win the day above all else. In reality, good content on a low-authority poorly SEO’d site will not rank well.

The best marathon runner in the world could write the best article ever about running a marathon, but if it’s on a new site on a poor quality domain with no authority built up, it won’t reach the top.

So keep that in mind as you build your content-driven sites. Do make sure to put up good content, but don’t forget the rest of the SEO/authority picture – a strong domain, good on-page SEO and link building.


4 Comments on “Is Google Panda Really About Content or More About Authority?”

  1. Webstatsart says:

    One thing I have noticed. A lot of sites have lost page rank over Panda. Surely this means something

  2. I think Panda has more to do with “Authority” than anything else.

    While there is a lot of talk about “Quality” I do not think it is the basis as:
    “Quality” is subjective.
    Quality content for a newbie would probably be garbage for a thesis writer.
    Quality would also have to include reading levels.
    Is the suggested median (Grade 8 level), “quality” for a university graduate?
    Quality should be judged only after the user visits the page and Path and Time on site (bounce rate) be used to determine the metric.

    “Authority” = PageRank.
    The concept of PageRank was* that it would allow other sites to vote on the authority of the linked page, giving it a value according to it’s own “authority” and modified by the amount of votes being cast. (Links on page).

    * I say *was* because Google has made major changes in it’s PageRank algos and it is probably the application of this (Panda) which is causing the indexing problems for a lot of the article/information portals.

    It used to be that Authority was judged on several factors with link ‘quality’ (Higher PR pages scored better), and composition (Anchor Text), modifying the assigned value. (Link Juice).

    Some quick research into the sites that have been hit the hardest will show that they are building links at a huge rate, with hundreds of thousands of new links being built each month and a history in the millions or 10s of millions.

    To give a bit of insight into the PR algo changes, it happened in the Mayday update. Google confirmed this was a major PageRank algo modification and did not apply to indexing or crawling. Matt Cutts said this was permanent and not going to change.

    The PR calculation was changed from one of a numerical basis, (A PR9 page has more “link juice” than a PR0 page.), to one based on relevance. (More link juice assigned to the linked page when the content on linking and linked pages match.)

    Now imagine that the scraper site has a history of 1,000,000 links.
    What would happen to the site’s authority if the non relevant links were suddenly discounted, regardless of page or site PR?

    If the site had been engaging in building links on high PR sites, regardless of relevance and the new rules favored relevance as a baseline, a decline in PageRank would be seen.

    Now, Google has told us that PR does not apply to SERPs anymore, so the newly computed link profile would have to be applied manually.

    IMHO This is the basis of Panda.


  3. […] Google Means Business About Penalizing for Paid Do-Follow Links Is Google Panda Really About Content or More About Authority? 15 Places You See or Hear Domains on a Regular […]

  4. Sharon Hayes says:

    Reblogged this on Sharon Hayes Dot Com and commented:

    A recent study published by New Scientist indicates that both Bing and Google are succeeding against content farms.

    Sites like Demand Media’s eHow and had been able to reach high rankings for many informational terms in recent years. That prompted Google’s “Panda” updates this year to counter those sites with ways to weed out poorer content, especially scraped/republished content.

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