In February 2011, Google soft launched what has become known as the “Panda Update” to filter and improve the quality of results for their search engine users. Over the last few months, multiple releases of the Google panda update have resulted in a significant change-up to search engine results for those clamoring to obtain the top position within Google results.

The target of the Panda update was to weed out “low quality” websites such as autoblogs, content farms and sites that infringed upon copyright. Months after the initial roll-out of the Panda update, Google continues to tweak their Panda algorithm but has not publicly stated when the next major change will be happening other than “sometime in 2012”.

A Short Overview of the Panda Effect

The web, as we know it, is littered with millions of websites of varying quality. Unfortunately, within these last few years, many low-quality websites have obtained high search engine rankings due to the manipulation of search engine optimization tactics.

Google, in an effort to combat the rise of search engine spam, deployed the Panda update which utilizes a combination of artificial intelligence and human reviewed search results. In 2011, three major revisions to the Panda update were rolled out along with multiple “soft” updates; each affected search engine results in unique ways.

The hardest hit, from the Google panda update, were “scraper” websites which automatically pull content from reputable sources in an attempt to siphon website traffic. Likewise, low-quality websites that were bombarded with advertising and very little content saw much of their traffic dropping off. Lastly, “content mills”, such as Hubpages, EzineArticles and Ehow, saw significant hits to their overall traffic as a result of less-than-stellar content and repetition of subjects.

Preventing your Website ‘Extinction’ due to Panda

Search Engine Optimization is the target for the introduction of the Google panda updates. Crafty website owners have manipulated search engine results for years using SEO practices that are borderline black hat such as mass link building, publishing thousands of low-quality articles and overloading visitors with advertising.

In 2012, we will see a significant change to how to approach Search Engine Optimization due to the nearly constant Google panda updates.

The following are a few suggestions for entering the New Year without fear:

  1. Focus on quality content. Although a given, quality content should always be first-and-foremost for building a great website. Evergreen content that covers a variety of topics will forever be a major factor for trust and value on the web – do it.
  2. Ditch the Distraction. Focus on delivering a quality experience to website visitors by removing common distractions like advertising. A website can still tastefully include advertising but the Panda update has shown that too many can result in a hard slap to search rankings.
  3. Moderate Link Building. Skip the classic act of blasting thousands of backlinks on every available website; aim to obtain links from trusted sources based on relevant topics and keywords. The process of high quality link building, sure enough, is through a combination of great content, community interaction and resisting the urge to ‘spam’ a website link across the web.
  4. Add Variety. As content mills have experienced – overlapping content has been a major problem for their websites due to fact that much of the content is similar and redundant. In 2012, explore a variety of topics while focusing on in-depth subjects that go beyond a simple overview of the topic in question.
  5. Fix what’s broken. Take time to ‘audit’ a website for broken links, dead gateways and outdated information. Often, a revision of an older article will far outweigh the time, effort and energy working a completely new version with the intent to siphon additional keyword-specific traffic.

Truthfully, the strategies for combating the Google panda update has been a rhetoric discussion as these principles have always been the most valuable approach to building a sustainable online presence.

What to Expect in 2012

The year has just begun. Google has announced that there will be additional Panda updates throughout the year but has not formally revealed an expected date although many have whispered a possible change in January.

Knowing Google, they may have already begun to roll out updates to their algorithms as they have always done in secrecy.

Be prepared, the Panda is coming.