Post-Panda News Results & Search Quality Assessment

 
 

After Panda consumed much of the ‘bamboo‘ on the web, MuffinTop algorithm update was supposed to mop up the rest. There are still a few ‘evil unicorns’ frolicking around in the flowery meadows of Google’s search results. In this article I describe two of them – one from standard search results, the other from the news.

Case I:

Believe it or not, it all started with people laughing at my old Samsung CRT TV. Under peer pressure I go and buy the biggest and best smart TV I could find. This left me with an old box that I could not get rid of so I decided to sell it on eBay. This is where my search starts. In hope to find the manufacturer specifications I type in the model number in Google: Samsung TV CS29K30MG and click on the third result. The website I get is filled with ads, has no content and asks me to join to get my information. Naturally I’m furious.

I hop on Google+ and ask the question: “I want to know why is this piece of rubbish website ranking in Google after Panda and Page Layout Algorithm. Anyone? Enlighten me!”

A good debate starts (thanks to Sach Mayer and Lyndon NA) on why this website slipped through the recent algorithm upgrades. And the initial thought is that there were simply not enough search results and Google had to show something, no matter how useless.

Matt CuttsLater on John Mueller starts up a Google Wembasters Hangout and Matt Cutts joins in from India, so I asked them to clarify and explain what happened.

Matt calls this type of search result “an evil unicorn” and confirms our suspicion that there simply wasn’t enough to show and Google had to display something.

One good point Matt Cutts makes in the hangout is that Google should perhaps display a message that says something like this:

“We have found an unusually small number of results for your search query. In order to improve the quality of the information you find try refining your search using different combination of keywords.”

I think that’s a great idea, as not all users are comfortable at power-tweaking their results to refine the quality of search.

The debate continues on Sach Mayer’s Google+ post in which Pe lagic, Lyndon NA and John Mueller analyse another “in between” case where quality content with plenty of links exhibits characteristics of ad-loaded low quality sites but gets away with it even in a moderate search result number type query (Rabbie Burns). One element this page does have is the exact match domain, relevant to the search query which would have additionally boosted the result.

SEO Takeaways

1) Panda & MuffinTop page layout algorithm don’t really remove or filter out any search results. They are still there, buried somewhere at the bottom of the sorted list of results.

2) You can still get away with ads if you are authoritative enough or if you have a domain that is seen as a good match to the search query or a brand search.

3) Very specific terms will with minuscule search volumes and low number of results have a chance at ranking even on thin content pages full of ads. Keep in mind that although these may rank they can still affect the rankings of your better quality content so this is overall not a good strategy.

Amit Singhal writes:

“One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.”

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html

Did you know?

Until recently you could not find Google+ by searching for it in Google. This was due to the fact that symbols and punctuation would normally be ignored and omitted. In the above mentioned Google Hangout Matt Cutts states that the update only coincides with the release of Google+ and was not introduced to help their social media platform be found in their results.

Case II:

This morning my phone alerted me to a ranking change for “SEO” so I went to investigate and found an unusually poor news result merged with the standard search:

Google News Result

Search snippet was bad enough but when I clicked on the link it looked like this was only a verification test to see if the Toronto Star would render well into Google News Search. OK, fair enough – bloopers happen.

Have a look at the layout of this page though:

thestar.com page layout

OK, the content is missing – but what else?

How about I colour code this layout for better visualisation:

The Star Layout BlocksSo first you get the ads, then you see internal partnership promotions followed by logo, search box and fluff useless to user looking for content, this could have in my opinion been reduced to a shorter block. After that a standard layout element (navigation) is visible which is common enough – nothing wrong with that. But what bothers me here is that instead of actual content we see more internal promotion (other articles) followed by some more ads on the right.

Content? Nowhere to be found.

Check the [cached version of this page] (update: the page is no longer cached) and you will see it’s in (It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 25 Jan 2012 21:02:29 GMT.)

Something is definitely wrong with this picture, considering many great pages have been accidentally filtered out with the recent algo changes while high authority sites get away with thinner than thin content (read: zero) and plenty of ads.

Google has done a great job at removing the rubbish from its bloated index but the next step should be to fine tune towards a universally fair algorithm.

Update: Update: John Mueller from Google has informed Google News Team about this result.

We would like to hear your comments and opinions on the Google+ post here:
https://plus.google.com/114074532743058808065/posts/EjyCZd1Xj5c

Dan Petrovic is a well-known Australian SEO and a managing director of Dejan SEO. He has published numerous research articles in the field of search engine optimisation and online marketing. Dan's work is highly regarded by the world-wide SEO community and featured on some of the most reputable websites in the industry. Questions? Here's Dan's contact email.

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2 Responses to “Post-Panda News Results & Search Quality Assessment”

  1. Yeah, I’m seeing some quite strange results lately  as well.

    I’m hoping they are able to release some on-going tweaks shortly.

     
    • Marc
  2. As Matt says “google had to display something” and display rubbish.

     
    • Pano Kondoyiannis

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