Google Panda About To Eat SEO Professionals?

Google has rolled out Panda update 2.2, and webmasters around the world are staring in awe as their sites dance around the rankings like uncontrollable drunks. The sense of confusion is growing, and incredibly mixed results are being reported.

I’ve had affiliates telling me their sites have surged to the top of Google for ultra competitive terms. Others seem to be drowning their sorrows at the prospect of a long-term stay in the dreaded Sandbox.

It’s rare that I post about SEO. There are two reasons for this:

  • SEO requires more management than my paid traffic campaigns (which earn a lot more money)
  • I believe SEO to be rapidly heading towards extinction.

For those who, like me, rarely stick their heads out of the rabbit hole to see what’s new with the world of SEO, let’s take a look at the disputed intentions of the Panda update.

  • Google wants to reward websites that offer engaging content and a rewarding user experience.
  • Google wants to punish websites that scrape content and leverage thousands of weak backlinks.
  • Google wants to place the responsibility in the user’s hands to determine whether a website deserves to rank well.

Google has always publicly encouraged engaging content, but the algorithm has struggled to match the stated objectives. Panda seems to be changing the game, or at the very least, taking a sincere hack at it.

Naturally this is going to rip a new one for many affiliates, especially those who use SEO as their primary means of driving traffic.

SEOMoz has an excellent article explaining the likely repercussions of Panda. The overwhelming message is that SEO…isn’t really SEO anymore. The easiest way to game the system is to actually play along with the system.

If ranking well becomes a question of designing engaging websites where the user is left with a positive feeling, a sense that he hasn’t been shafted by Johnny Rogue Affiliate on a commission crusade, then surely the SEO professionals of the future will be forced to prioritise their work around the shit that truly matters – satisfaction in the eye of the end user, rather than an algorithm and it’s thousand loopholes.

I have long seen SEO as an inefficient middleman between excellent content and the interested readers who would want to find it. My own sites have generally responded well to the Panda updates, which is encouraging given that I spend about 2.4% of my working day giving a damn about SEO.

If the most important factors for high rankings finally shift towards user-engagement measurements, then isn’t it time SEOs changed their job titles? Wouldn’t it be ironic if after optimising for local SEO terms, they had to rebuild from scratch as UEOs? I can see a growing demand for User Engagement Optimisers…get the domains ordered, guys!

Likewise, if Google wants to reward brand-driven websites where little thought is given to keyword phrase density and second tier backlinks, then I’d happily invite the Panda in to my home for tea and biscuits. Fuck it, I’d even scrub up nice for the occasion.

I am as clueless on the next move as everybody else, but I would guess that Google will be using engagement metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, return visits and a whole host of social sharing monitors to weigh up relevance. It wouldn’t surprise me in the future if Google took one look at your Analytics, smelt the bullshit, and didn’t even bother to count the backlinks.

Ultimately, nobody can say for sure what the true scale of the Panda changes are. It’s too early to measure the ranking fluctuations with any conviction. But what matters is the intention. Google is clearly taking a stand against the webmasters who blast thousands of blog comments and 500 word articles in their attempt to fake relevance.

It would be very rich of an anti-SEO blogger such as myself to hand out SEO advice to those who have based their professional careers around the craft, but I’m going to do it anyway.


Assume that Google had a blackout and no longer existed, how would you get customers to your site? If the answer is “By shifting my focus towards Bing and Yahoo”, you’re doing it wrong!

Recommended This Week

  • If you’re not already registered on PPV Playbook, you are missing a beat sunshine. Easily the BEST place to learn from marketers who are actually making money. It has some awesome case studies. The catch is that you will need to pay some of your hard earned pesos to access it. I swear from the bottom of my black heart, joining is worth every penny

  • If you’re working in the dating market, check out Adsimilis. Definitely one of the better networks with a wide range of dating offers, all on high payouts, including lots of stuff in Europe and South America. I think you’ll like them.

  • If you’re a new reader, please add me to your RSS. Feel free to add Finch to your Facebook. Yes, this is the right link. My real name is not actually Finch. Also follow me on Twitter Love you long time. Thanks for reading.

About the author


A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.


Leave a comment
  • Diversification is absolutely critical! There are just too many stories about somebody’s entire online business collapsing overnight because they relied on one thing which became a single point of failure.

    As for Panda and SEO itself, I welcome less SEO. SEO has been a symptom/solution of a problem since Internet search engines were born. The problem is that computers have no idea what we want, and we have a very hard time “telling” them (through programming).

  • @Dino – No, the organic search results will still be there. But if the way that they’re ranked has everything to do with usability, great content and user sharing – why is there a need for the modern day SEO professional?

    You’d actually need great copywriters, marketers with an understanding of the social web, and excellent web designers to create user-friendly designs.

    These are skills that the modern day SEO professional can’t clump together and give away as one. Personally, I see no future for the SEO professional as we know it.

    Of course, some will adapt. But if these new factors determine the top ranking sites, why would you want to hire somebody who knows where to put suitable keywords, and where to get suitable backlinks? That role is losing it’s relevance, while the other skills are becoming much more important.

    5 years ago, it would be more effective to outsource 10 shitty articles with the right keyword density than it would be to hire a skilled writer to create 1 article worth reading.

    5 years from now, I see those roles completely reversed.

  • Panda is basically SEOMOZ / Google propaganda. Google will always be a link based algorithm, the links from one source may be devalued but there are always new link building methods which for most keywords is the lions share of what SEO is.

  • Enjoy your posts Finch, both here and at ‘blogs – another one that hit some nails on the head today.

    The concept of a ‘SEO professional as we know it’ stands out for me… this has morphed over just a few years… SEO changed from optimizing quality content and getting a few trusted links into a mass numbers game of largely spammy backlinks. I welcome Google’s updates and focus on brands and quality content, and hope that they continue along this line (and with human reviewers).

    IMO Real SEO pros like Aaron Wall and Rand Fishkin et al are not out of business, far from it.

    The people who are out of business are the outsourced setups who do the Mechanical-Turk jobs and *call* themselves ‘SEO professionals’… I’m not blaming these people, their SEO arms-race was a rational business decision based on demand from the West… wonder if they can still compete in a web based on value, trust and quality?

    Anyway, keep up the great posts!


  • If google were to leave it up to the users to determine people’s rankings based on how helpful it was, then I completely see how the +1 tool comes into the game.

    But what happens if I have a million people from all over the world who -1 their site, they’re fucked, eh?

    And I do see BigG rewarding people for putting the +1 tool on their site so more people would want to do it.

  • Hey Finch,

    I think that search is going to wind up being a personal event on down the road, where social indicators and search tendencies ultimately decides what someone sees….

    …and if that happens, then SEO, at least as we define it today, is truly dead…..

  • I like your comments on “User Engagement Optimization.” Although they do have such a thing. It’s just called direct response.

    Getting well written copy and knowing the right graphics and colors to use is exactly what a direct response agency would do for a site.

  • Thanks for articulating it well. We have been educating our clients on these coming changes for awhile. SEO techniques are old school and SEO specialist better start adding more value than op-page optimization and link building. These traditional techniques are a thing of the past. Our advice, build a good SEO foundation and BE SOCIAL. – Gregg WSI Quality Solutions

  • Hmmmmmm… Yeah the whole Panda thing baffles me. I know some of our sites that are heavily SEO’d aren’t budging. But I guess we’ll see what happens.

  • Any SEO pro that hasn’t already evolved to the new game is going to be out of work in the very near future. Good news IMO.

  • Unless Google can crack the social space, or somehow get its paws on major social data, then their search engine will be as fucked as Altavista. And SEO should be renamed SSEO for Social Search Engine Optimization. Why would you search for anything on Google and get a billion well-SEO’d sites, when you could do it on Facebook and get what your friends of friends used successfully and didn’t get rebilled till eternity?

  • It doesn’t make SEO extinct, it makes it even more important. I think your understanding of SEO is jaded: the term search engine optimization is just that…optimizing for search engines. This by definition encompasses all aspects of that process. Copywriting, now a solid social media strategy, along side linkbuilding, and on-page too.

    What Panda did is make a single strategy obsolete (content farming). Nothing more, nothing less.

    P.S. About paid traffic needing less management than SEO, well, lol.

  • @Andrew – How does it make SEO more important?

    I’m not arguing what Panda did, because nobody has the full evidence yet. But the intention from Google is clear. It’s obvious what type of content they’re looking to reward, and sooner or later, they’ll roll out an update that takes a significant step towards it.

    When that update arrives, it will be much more important to hire excellent copywriters and web designers, than SEO consultants to oversee a transparent process. After all, most SEO consultants make their bread as long as the current algorithms for ranking well are so convoluted that most clients can’t see the logic in them!

  • We all know what Panda did and who was impacted, the traffic charts from the 20 most affected brands can attest to that. A couple of my content farm style sites were also negatively impacted in a major way.

    If Google goes where I think its going, which is making it more difficult for small guys to compete with major brands, then yes it will be more important.

    SEO will never go away but it could transform into more than it is now which is 90% content + links. When that happens its adapt or die for SEO consultanting.

  • Well I’ve been banging on about it for years to anyone who will listen (not that many people actually!). Google (etc) have never made a secret of their goal to rank the best most relevant sites for users at the top of the results.

    Sure, the algorithms haven’t always done that, and they probably still don’t, but in time they’ll suss it out. If you are playing the long game I would always champion trying to build something you (and Google) can be proud of.

    I also believe that “SEO” isn’t something you need to actively do. My community blog gets around 100k hits a month and I certainly don’t “work” at SEO. Of course I try to set my pages up properly, but using headers and titles etc is as much to do with conforming to web standards as SEO. I let my users build links for me naturally. The 1000s of links they’ve made far out weight the 10s of links I could have artificially built.

    Just build a good site, that’s all you need to do. It’s as simple and as hard as that!

  • LOL @ good copywriting helping you rank better. Just as many people will be turned off by the longform sales bullshit as will stick around to read it, negating any positive user interaction metrics, IMO.

    I welcome the alleged changes personally. Raises the barrier of entry for morons, of which the SEO “profession” has multitudes. But go check the “buy viagra” and “viagra” SERPs before you tell me the game has really changed.

  • It seems as if Google is heading in the direction of knocking the crap out of anyone who uses common SEO practices.

    That’s why when I see everyone going one direction, I try to go the other…

    Not that it’s really paid off.

    What I think Google is becoming is more like a news source.

    Older content gets pushed back in the search results.

    I think it’ll get to the point where you can’t even effectively use an SEO strategy.

    You just have to focus on keeping people on your page longer and longer with engaging stuff.

  • @grind – What makes you assume good copywriting can only take the form of a long sales pitch?

    The Internet is plagued with bad writing. Publishing content in a charismatic user-friendly tone inspires other people to link to it. So yes, good copywriting is absolutely fundamental to the vision of website that Google is publicly looking to reward. I don’t see how you can question that.

    As for the game changing, no single update is ever going to remove every last bad apple from the basket. Panda means very little in real terms. But what IS a game changer, is the fact that Google is actively looking to stamp out what it, and it’s users, deem to be poor content. That isn’t going to happen overnight. But if Google puts the wheels in to motion, it’s sensible to assume that they’ll get there eventually.

    @Jason – I agree, particularly with your point about it no longer being possible to effectively use SEO. I think this is the heart of the matter for me. SEO will exist as a practice, but the methods behind it will no longer play in to the hands of today’s modern SEO professional.

  • I was wondering why my sites were jumping around so much…

    I’m still not sure how most SEO professionals work and always kind of believed (or maybe it was hoped) that the majority of real SEO guys weren’t charging clients to Xrumer spam for the equivalent of a $1 per crappy link. The real guys that legitimately utilize syndication networks and article marketing and blog commenting shouldn’t be affected at all.

    One of the more interesting things about SEO updates and Google that I’m surprised is never really brought up in these times is that Google really CAN’T do major changes to the search algorithm. At least not all at once.
    While their users are in the forefront of their mind, their business plan also hinges substantially on satisfying publishers, of which I’m sure some 90% would be pissed off if their website lost search traffic. There’s no question Google could get by without 90% of publishers actively working with them and publishing content, because they probably pull in a substantial amount from the big name corporations alone, but it would cut their profit margin by a great deal I suspect. If they made a monumental step towards eradicating current search practices they’d alienate a large majority of publishers, and without publishers, there’s no content, which in turn means there’s no place to put advertisements, so there’s no advertisers, and thus no money from a lot of niches (or very particular sub niches).

    I know, slippery slope argument, but it’s less specious than it seems considering most people would probably stop SEO altogether instead of adhering to more stringent guidelines.

    (Un)fortunately, search is only partially dependent on users. Content has to actually exist to be interacted with, after all. But I digress, point being SEO isn’t headed towards extinction any time soon. Maybe in 20 years when Google buys Facebook and Twitter (or vice-versa) and whatever you publish on your wall or tweet is literally immediately ranked based on likes, your friend’s list and how hot you are (all guys and fat chicks are permanently unranked) things will be way different. But even then you’d just be trading one form of spam for another.

    Automatically determining whether a website is of “high quality” with the levels of AI we’ve had for the past decade (and will have long into the future) is impossible. Maybe links won’t always be the voting medium, but if anything this “game changer” is just what happened to meta keywords 4-5 years ago- you used to be able to plug in the meta keyword “hairy midget thongs” 500 times and rank overnight (okay, so maybe you can still easily rank for that keyword considering the topic, but you get my point), now those are important but not enough to get you a high rank on their own.

    But I do think Google’s going to learn to be even more mysterious with their ranking algo so it’ll take longer for SEOers to learn how to game the system.

  • The fundamentals of SEO haven’t changed a single bit after “Panda”. Powerful, high authority sites will continue to rank well because Google cannot make drastic algo changes without fundamentally affecting the quality of their rankings.

    The bottom line is that as long as there are search engines, there will be search engine optimization. The rules might change, but the process will always remain.

  • @ Finch, good call regarding my assumption that copywriting = long form sales copy. I get it, you’re publishing useful information in an engaging manner and your readers respond well to it, thereby pushing your analytics metrics through the roof and panda proofing your site.

    I think basically it’s gone full circle back to “build good sites that people can derive value from” and you’ll rank well…as long as your off site SEO factors measure up. The google algo has never handled links well, still doesn’t post panda, it’s just harder to find the cracks to exploit. And the holes get patched quicker now as well.

  • Unless Google suddenly becomes a god, I don’t see how they can keep up with billions of websites. It’s literally impossible, Google will always be a step behind.

    That’s why they have to rule with confusion and mind tricks; because in all honesty, there’s no algorithm that can stop SEO’ers, and this is coming from a guy who does both SeO and PPC; so if SEO fails i still have paid traffic

  • So it means the new google update that backlinks strategy is not effective anymore?, recently i rank numerous site in backlinking. but now i noticed it’s been a week that i optimize my site but there is no result. can anyone give me idea about this? thanks.

  • I agree that SEO is a changing field, but I doubt it will be extinct, especially not for those less searched long tail phrases that will likely still work with low level links.

  • Fascinating article. It describes exactly what’s been sitting in the back of my mind for the last little while. I actually LOVE the changes, because all it means (in the long-term) is better SERPs.

  • A very good analysis which make me nervous. I think most of my link building methods are described here and they are going to die!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2009-.