(Retweet this Article!) With the anniversary of Panda’s birth in February of 2011, Google announced it would be rolling out its latest Panda update along with a brief explanation of its 40 search updates. Since its launch last year, Panda has been updated several times with the intention to filter out low quality or “thin” content from its search, with the ultimate goal of providing users with the most relevant and useful content. This affected the ranking of many sites and undoubtedly caused internet marketers to rethink the quality of content they were putting out there.
This month’s Panda update seems to be fairly minor and similar to the Panda 3.2 update in January. Google stated that, “it’s a data refresh that will make it more accurate and more sensitive to the recent changes on the web.” While Panda is just one of over 200 different factors Google uses to rank pages, I think the update has a lot to do with the 40 other search changes mentioned, of which one in particular is worth mentioning.
Google claimed to be changing the way they evaluate links in their algorithm:
“We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.”
Links have historically been a major factor for ranking sites in search results. Although the changes stated are somewhat vague, if I were to speculate, the “characteristics” that determine the topic of a linked page refers to the anchor text and title of the link. Are these factors going to be increasingly less relevant when it comes to ranking? If I were to look at this through Google’s eyes, that would make perfect sense. Anchor text and even the title of a link is frequently keyword stuffed in order to increase rankings, which can often be a purchased or an un-genuine form of link love.
While I don’t think the value of links will ever be eliminated altogether, they are going to be evaluated deeper. It is still important to create valuable, high quality content and generate natural links. However, one of the most powerful additions to Google’s algorithm has been the integration of social metrics. At the core of a social endorsement is a genuine link, which is exactly what Google looks for. If I were to speculate again, I would say that the change in Google’s link evaluation has a lot more to do with the influence of social linking factors, and less to do with the anchor text, titles, or even the number of links.
Other Google Updates:
There have been several other updates related to freshness, spam protections, sitelinks and a more accurate detection of official pages. The rest of the search quality highlights can be found on Google’s blog.