Back in 2011, when Google Panda hit, the search industry went berserk. Companies which ran entirely on search advertisement fell flat on revenue, freelance writers who worked 10 hours a day writing dozens of low-quality articles were laid off, hot startups that leveraged content farms downsized to half the size and lot of mayhem caused among all these things.
Google Panda was probably the biggest crackdown ever by Google so far on low quality sites.
There’s a lot of talk since then about how the search space has changed and how Google has redefined “quality” on the web. Experts talk about how content is king and why SEO is dead. There are seminars on best practices to get over Google Panda and Penguin updates.
But, why is it that only a small percentage of people are worried or crying over it?
How has Google Panda (or Penguin for that matter) improved search results for Google users?
Why are some websites that were thought to be content farms still ranking first page on Google?
These are some questions that’ll always intrigue a search guy like you and me.
If you are focused on your users, nothing really matters
Let’s assume that you have a website that has both search and social traffic. Your social traffic is higher than your search traffic. And you don’t really bother about people finding you via search engines, because for every good content you create, the social community takes it to places that its supposed to be and search traffic follows.
What would your attention be towards Google updates? Very little, isn’t it?
Well, today the trend is such that, people, especially on social networks are clever than Google or other search engines in finding “good content”. Now, what is good content is relative.
It could be something that emotionally appeals to your target audience, or something controversial, or just the best how-to guide on a topic that your fans and followers think you’re good at.
The point is that it only takes couple of minutes for the social folks to pick up such a story, while the search engines are really dumb about it. They need more data to validate what a good content is.
They need to see who’s been linking to that article, who’s been linked to, what the page rank is, what the page load time is, just to name a few things.
Social don’t need that. All that hard work of deciding what a good content is done by the people. They are faster than Google, and chances are that if there is someone who’s trying to fool the system, the wisdom of the crowd will take care of it and throw him out of the system (or not entertain it).
Why this frenzy over Google updates
As reality is, Google updates its algorithm (or the thinking patter with which it decides good and bad content) several times a year. So much so that we don’t get to see or are told of 95% of them. Its “told” that there are about 600 changes that can happen every year., that’s roughly about two changes a day.
We do not know, or will never know what the reality is, but truth is that Google is an ever evolving, self learning, clever robot, that can analyze patterns, predict events and judge websites pretty amazingly well than any other search engine out there.
So, chances are that, there have been an update today to Google nobody even knew about, except its engineers (some, which they don’t even have control over).
It is a part of the process, in making the web, a more reliable, better and good place.
What SEOs talk about are the other 5% major updates that are publicly shared from Google (or unofficially via employees). These updates, like Panda and Google are the ones that the search community “ought to” know.
Why would Google go public with some updates and not others?
Because, they want you to know. Because some of those updates will need your help, in changing the way you design your websites, in the way you write your articles. Others, may be you shouldn’t know.
Content is not king
I will always argue that content is not king – the user/visitor/reader is. He is the guy whom you have to make happy.
Content or no content, if he is happy staying on your site, coming back to it, engaging with it, trusting your brand then you’ve done a good job.
Content is only a means to make him happy. A medium.
Having great content is good, but not all great content gets the same love. I wouldn’t consider having great content as a must-have, standard pre-requisite for someone to like your brand or website.
There could be other factors like the person’s credibility, his expertise, the brand’s visibility and things like that, which sometimes Google or any other search engine can miss. People don’t.
Which is why, in the coming years, search engine robots will have a tough time competing with the crowd’s intelligence.
Search Engines can mimic, but not replace the intelligence of the crowd
Each are exclusive enough, they will not “compete” against each other but there will be glaring discrepancies in how each work.
We’ve seen already that social signals affect search engine performances to some extent. Are these going to be stand alone signals or layered metrics, we’ll have to watch and see,
But clearly, there is no swapping over. Most likely. Social cannot replace the amazing work done by search engines, documenting the entire web and search engines cannot replace the intelligence of the crowd.
The sweet spot is somewhere in between, that we all, are in pursuit of.