Panda Updates Strategically Created Demand for Google’s Social Network

Thursday, February 16, 2012

By: Weston Bonnelle

The Panda updates even to this day has been shrouded in mystery and controversy. Many webmasters were left perplexed as Panda spiraled through like a tornado leaving websites demolished and dreams of passive income crushed. Google gave a brief “Panda Warning” but many still weren’t prepared for its aggressive arrival. Despite the devastating effects it has had on thousands, the sweeping changes have also been quite positive for the internet. There’s much less incentive to scrape content, SEO experts are now recommending in masse to publish quality content and large online publishers are no longer dominating the web by gaming  search engines with trite, shallow and keyword ridden drivel – and on a personal note it actually encouraged me to start my social science blog.

However the mysteriousness of the event still causes me to wonder about the true intent of Panda. I’ve mulled over several questions, such as why now? Google could have had a series of algorithms that continuously cleaned up the web so that scrapers and content producers like Demand Studios would have never succeeded. Why did the Panda updates have to be so dramatic? Honestly, Panda could have never been announced. It instead could have been a series of incremental yet noticeable changes over time instead of websites losing 50% of their traffic in one day. Why kill the very publishers that they profit from? I thought to myself that the user experience has got to be important in order for Google to punish sites that had too many their own ads. I’ve read many debates and “conspiracy theories” from Google trying to wipe out the competition since they are interested in becoming publishers and/or content producers to the argument that Google is trying to wipe out affiliates. However once their social network fully developed into the potentially powerful entity that is now, it all made sense to me. Google may have wanted to strategically drive their target demographic – active web users- to their social network.

I was going to name this post "Google calls you ugly and then recommends their makeup line" but decided that would be too obscure. Generally cosmetic companies exploit insecurities (feelings of low self-esteem due to not matching up with stringent beauty standards) and use deception (Photoshop, etc) to create demand for their products. In the same manner, innocent webmasters are being told that their websites are not meeting Google’s high standards or even good enough for the internet. Google's ultimate goal is to create need for stronger and more secure SEO tactics. Google’s social network combines the social aspects of Facebook and Twitter, etc with the SEO power that is directly tied to their search engine.  For example I’ve noticed that when someone +1s my article, Statcounter shows a hit from Google meaning that it’s helping my article get crawled. So  using social features from Google on my blog results in an obvious benefit to my search result rankings. Interesting…the only assumption I can make is that this is manipulating publishers to fully embrace Google’s social network even if they are deeply embedded in Facebook, Twitter and/or other social networking platforms.  Others somewhat see how calculating this tactic thus the resistance that the general public don’t truly understand. I could be reaching but some evidence does prove that they are aggressively marketing their social network. 

Let’s look at the time line of events.
Feb 24, 2011Google announces Panda in a seemingly harmless manner. Google just does a short blog post announcing algorithmic changes. These changes are unprecedented therefore no one truly knows what to expect.

Feb 26, 2011- Panda becomes a PR spectacle with articles like Google Farmer Update: Quest for Quality  and Number Cruncher: Who Lost in Google’s Panda Algorithm. The web becomes flooded with articles from SEO blogs, new outlets and even YouTube videos about Panda, giving Google free PR and sending a powerful yet clear message, if you don’t play by our unspoken rules you’ll pay the price.  Google continues to announce a series of Panda updates so that we won’t forget whose boss. The takedown of large even seemingly credible sites is public and somewhat humiliating as publishers such as Demand Media at first refuse to acknowledge the impact.

March 8, 2011Small publishers that are affected feel helpless. Websites losing traffic sends a wave of panic across the internet, increasing the anxiety of webmasters. We continue to see the take down of billion dollar companies, sites with millions of articles and publishers with strong brands. Webmasters are frantically trying to regain traffic. Bystanders are nervous and small websites that feel ignored are consoling one another. Even though Panda didn't affect me I read just about every article about Panda and even published a blog post about it.

May 6, 2011Google attempts to appear more transparent and wield their influence by publishing guidelines.  They waited until they were sure the attention of SEOs and publishers were captured worldwide. The focus is mostly on quality, however they manage to slip in a significant remark, Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? An important landmark in publisher history - the growing importance of social activity to demonstrate the quality of your blog slides through hardly noticed by most, since the main focus of the blog post was about content. I guess this is their poker face. However articles such as Search Engine Land, Your Site’s Traffic Has Plummeted Since Google’s Panda Update. Now What?  somehow realized the significance of social indicators but even though just mentioned a short blip about social networking compared to the rest of the article. "How about engagement? If the site allows comments, is your audience actively discussing the topics on your site? Are they sharing the content on social media sites?”

June 2011 – SEO experts start making recommendations. Publishers absorb their every word. Commandments from all sides become overwhelming. Quality content! Low bounce rates! Remove Duplicate Content! Lessen the Amount of Ads on Your Site! - and of course don’t just solely depend on search engines. The Google +1 button and social network was introduced around this time also. It didn’t make a major entrance into the tech community because it was overshadowed by Panda and I believe they wanted it remain low key. Due to the choice of invite distribution, the social network was concentrated with the tech demographic. Publishers that want to avoid being affected by Panda in the future, slowly begin to embrace the +1 button hoping to harness its SEO power. Top publishers and SEO Experts begin to wonder about the pervasiveness of Google +1 and question its affect on search engine results.  “All like minded SEO experts have quoted their thoughts about Google + . There are supportive as well as contradictory statements as to Google + will contribute towards organic search results. There is a perception, as being a Google's product, it might assist in better search engine rankings on google itself, " states a commenter sharing the sentiment of smaller publishers like myself about Google + and SEO. 

August 2011- As the attempts to regain traffic remain futile, SEO experts grow distrustful of search engines since we now know that at any time just one algorithm can wipe out years of work. Hubpages CEO famously declares that SEO doesn’t work in huff. Even I’m a bit upset at the power search engines and begin to look for more way to gain traffic by building up a genuine community without depending on search engines. I start my twitter page for The Entrepreneur's Hub (now Analyst District) in late in September and in October I was writing posts about Panda and the +1 Button. I must have been lonely because I almost immediately found a close knit community the lovely Kickin' With Klout Triberr Group that Knikkolette Church thankfully let me join even though I had a sparse following at that time. 

November 2011 – The more insightful SEO experts suggest the importance of having a social presence, such as in the well-received article The Ugly Truth Google Panda Exposed about Your Business, Lise Irby makes a couple of eye-opening suggestions about social media. "Work the Social Media Space - Social media is another avenue you can use to build more traffic and loyalty." Publishers start taking Facebook, Twitter, backlinks, etc more seriously. We learn that it’s better to have direct access to your audience as opposed to passively hoping to be found on search engines. This approach to recovering from and avoiding Panda spreads rapidly among publishers and webmasters. Other SEO experts begin to catch up with this advice, such as in the article Top 5 Google Panda Update SEO Survival Tips.  “If you invest time into building a community, your business isn’t as likely to be as hard hit by changes to search algorithms such as Google Panda."

Feb 2012– Google is now choosing February once again to upset publishers and make more waves in the tech community by allowing their social network to openly affect search results. Now that many are stricken with fear, desperate or distrusting of search engines, this seems like the perfect combination of SEO juice and social networking. Google conveniently gives us the solution to all of our dilemmas. Google's aggressive marketing of their social network is upsetting competitors . The same author lamenting Google's recent move to social results in No Longer Loving Google, Inc, acknowledged in a previous blog post that "Google seems to be leveraging their market dominance of search and ads to compete in social media."
Articles attached to their social network are ranked higher, the search engine results are cluttered with profile pics of influential publishers and now being included in numerous circles proves your legitimacy. Google mainly pulled in power users that are propping up the social network’s page views as opposed to the more authentic growth of Pinterest. These power users such as publishers are being used to create an active avenue to encourage avid Facebook users to switch over. Without Panda I don’t believe there would had been such a high usage of the network because even Facebook took time.

In conclusion, sometimes Google behaves too calculating which makes them intimidating and me (including many others) suspicious. For example, I know that Panda had to been planned at least 1-2 years before release which is worrisome because they waited until Demand Media's IPO. Once again this is still a theory.
I don’t think that Google is all evil, they just have so many people depending on them that that the pressure the stay number one must be intense. Could you image what would happened if Google just suddenly failed?  They are literally fighting for themselves. That’s something I can admire, I’ve learned over time that you have fight for yourself because no one else will. Plus they are probably really proud of their social network and they sincerely are trying to push people to check it out. Just like when I used to share my blog post  over and over again on Twitter even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I just wanted someone to read it. I’m still loyal yet somewhat critical. I have to be loyal to have this blog hosted on Blogger which has no qualms about randomly deleting blogs…lol. Well on that note do you have any theories about Google’s Panda updates or their true intent.

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