Seasoned Google-watchers will know that their ranking results are in constant flux, and that every little change can spark off rumours in the SEO community of a Google update. Most of these whispers turn out to be false alarms, usually caused by the effects of personalisation or simply the real time algorithm at work, but it seems that over the last week or so a major core update has indeed occurred. And, never ones to miss a chance to set the cat among the online marketing pigeons, Google have apparently sneaked in a rather dramatic change at the same time, by finally integrating their Panda quality filter into the core algorithm. This was seemingly confirmed by Google’s Gary Illyes, who in the midst of all the update chat and speculation tweeted “…to be clear, panda IS part of the core algorithm, but we haven’t updated the panda part”. Although this is a little ambiguous, most industry commentators are taking it to mean that although the actual Panda process hasn’t been changed, and will still use the same criteria and methods when assessing sites, it has now been fully integrated into Google’s main ranking algorithm. Previously, Panda was an offline process that was run periodically, with the pre-computed result overlaid onto the serps which were generated on the fly. If this change is correct, the Panda filter is now running in real time, or close to it, hand in hand with the core algorithm.
But what does this mean for SEOs and online marketers?
Under the classic Panda system, when it was run only occasionally, if a site was caught in the filter then any changes made in an attempt to rectify the problem could take months to have any effect. This made diagnosis of problems frustratingly difficult. If Panda is now part of the core algorithm, it’s fair to surmise that changes will produce results much more quickly, which is potentially good news for those struggling with Panda woes. It’s also fair to say that attention to the requirements of Panda has just been pushed up yet another notch in importance. No longer can a site hope to slide under the radar and survive until the next update – if Panda is being run in real time, then potential problems will likely come to the fore very quickly. Worse, if a site is suffering seemingly unjustly from Panda, with no obvious cause, then the fact that the filter is now ‘baked in’ to the algorithm means that Google are apparently perfectly happy with the effects, and from now on no major overhaul is likely beyond the standard tweaks. Whatever the long term effects of this change, whether it’s a game changer or a storm in the Twitter teacup, now is probably a good time to get reacquainted with the 160 pages of quality guidelines that Google released last year. After all, it’s now clearer than ever that Panda is here to stay.