March 22, 2013, 1:18 PM

A Google search update slips in through the side door

The search engine giant tweaks its Panda algorithm.

Lead Photo

Search engine giant Google Inc. has recently tweaked its Panda algorithm, which is designed to reward high-quality web sites with better rankings in search results, advertising experts say. The changes, which appeared within the last week, affect only 2% of search results, mainly web sites with poor content, says Kevin Lee, CEO of digital marketing technology and services provider Didit.

Poor-quality content generally consists of some form of spam, such as packing pages full of keywords or invisible text—keywords hidden in the background of a web site where search engines, but not visitors, can see them—techniques meant purely to boost a web site’s rankings in search results instead of making the site more relevant for shoppers and other searchers. “Unless a retailer was engaged in heavy use of duplicate, thin or user-generated content that was of low quality, they likely saw no impact at all,” Lee says. “However, some of their affiliates may have seen impacts from Panda over the last 18 months, so they may have seen an indirect impact.”  

With the implementation of Google Panda in February 2011 and Penguin in May 2012, Google changed its search engine algorithm to lower the rankings of web retailers whose sites featured static and generic content available on many other sites.

Since releasing Panda, Google has announced 24 further tweaks to the algorithm, with the last confirmed update in January. Now the search engine seems to have released another, but this time without the fanfare.

A Google spokeswoman would not confirm a 25th update this week, saying instead that the company doesn’t typically detail minor changes to its algorithms. In the past, it alerted the public to some of those updates on Twitter and in posts on its Official, Webmaster Central and Inside Search blogs.

Google has indicated elsewhere that it no longer plans to alert users of every Panda update, as it’s begun rolling out smaller changes in a more piecemeal way, says Jeff MacGurn, vice president, global earned media services at search marketing agency Covario. “It’s no surprise that Google is attempting to be more covert about its changes going forward,” he says. “The less marketers know about the algorithm, the harder it is for marketers to optimize their web sites and the more control Google has to make its own decisions.”

Without knowing the specifics of the most recent Panda update, MacGurn says the best recommendation he can give to e-retailers is to avoid using spam tactics or adding web content that doesn’t help users. “Ask yourself, would a user find value in this page or these pages? Or is this only for the search engines?” he says. Additionally, keeping content fresh and up-to-date helps protect a site’s ranking in Google searches, he says.

Two retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and one in the Second 500 Guide  report using Covario for their search engine marketing. Seven retailers in the Top 500 and four in the Second 500 report using Didit.

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