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Too Many Pandas & Not Enough ZooKeepers

While "Panda" is only a code name for Google's recent algorithmic re-engineering of search results, one has to wonder if too many Pandas are spoiling the soup? I'm sure software engineer Navneet Panda never imagined that his name would become associated with striking fear in the hearts and minds of publishing sites - when he first began the process of targeting so-called "content farms."

But unfortunately it did just that. What started with Mr. Panda soon spread, by Google's own admission to a series of changes that prompted many publishing sites to go out of business or at best cripple them to the extent they had to lay off the majority of their staff of writers.

Google's official statement from their Webmaster Central Blog notes that "some publishers have fixated on our prior Panda algorithm change, but Panda was just one of roughly 500 search improvements we expect to roll out to search this year." More so, the notice goes on to say: "since we launched Panda, we've rolled out over a dozen additional tweaks to our ranking algorithms, and some have incorrectly assumed that changes in their rankings were related to Panda."

But whether they label them "additional tweaks" or generalize them as adjuncts to the original "Panda" amendments, Google's 500 new "search improvements" appear to hinge on 'automation' taking the superior role over human intervention.

This position is not just supposition. It is substantiated by Google themselves: ""Our recent changes to help people find high-quality sites are entirely algorithmic and we have not taken manual action, nor will we take manual action to address particular sites. Instead, we will consider feedback from publishers and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms to improve our search quality at scale." This was their initial statement on these changes back in February.

As a result, many quality sites were lumped together under the same "content farm" umbrella and traffic to some Web sites have decreased by 40 percent. Others like TheTeacherscorner.net, a 13-year old site indicates their ad revenues have dropped by 50 percent even though the publishers of the site assert they receive "several million monthly pageviews and thousands of pages of original content for K-12 educators."

So-called Content FarmsSo-called Content FarmsThat one site was followed by hundreds of others that have either closed shop or reduced their workforce to skeleton crews. Google in a formal response to justify their heavy-handed "Panda" and "tweaking" tactics issued an extensive and detailed listing to provide what they call "guidance" pointers to those that don't quite understand the difference between high and low-quality sites.

The criteria is listed in its entirety here (please note the subjectivity of these guidelines - begging the question - how can opinionated questions be converted into a mathematical equation for Google's algorithm?) :
  • 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, I would like to hear from publishing sites that exemplify some of the positive characteristics noted here, but were still affected by Google's recent Algo shake-up?  Please let us know if you attempted or tried to appeal your case to Google and whether or not you were successful or ignored?

It's odd when you think about it. Pandas are an endangered species in the real-world and are dying out mainly due to 'habitat loss.' Ironically, the Internet appears to be one ecosystem where they continue to thrive, no matter what name Google chooses to call them.

For more on Google's Algorithm evolution over the years, check out my previous posts on this topic:
Comments
May 8, 2011
by Anonymous

Google Perfects Artificial Intelligence Millions Unemployed.

I appreciated this article. I find it interesting that a several of the criteria listed are quite entirely subjective. Issues of trust, fairness, and stylistic integrity. These are simply matters of opinion. And those opinions belong to the readership, not the index.

Readers make their opinions known. A poorly produced site will not be profitable no matter how many readers they trick into coming. In the end the problem of poor content takes care of itself. And while Google should remain vigilant in the combat of plagiarism and copyright infringements they need to be less active in what is being construed by many as journalistic censorship.

Is it fair that a company that thrived because of the fact that the little guys were allowed to compete with the big guys on the internet now put themselves in a position to deny small private publishers the same opportunity?

May 9, 2011
by Ron Callari
Ron Callari's picture

Google Perfects Artificial Intelligence Millions Unemployed.

Excellent insight - and while I know we're on the cusp of Web 2.0 transitioning into Web 3.0 and semantic technology - I think Google's current move in this direction is a cautionary tale for all other Internet entities who are weighing the perceived benefits of machines over human intervention.