Key Interview Points
I really enjoy speaking with Vanessa about search because of her perspective about how to do things. As readers of mine know, I am a fan of the trite old way of doing it – producing a great web site, making it search friendly, and then promoting it well. Vanessa is truly an industry leader in promoting this type of thinking.
This is a great interview for you to read if you want to get a strong feeling for the philosophy that drove the Panda algorithm, and the implications of that philosophy going forward. Here are some of the major elements that I extracted (and paraphrased except in those situations which are quoted) from the discussion we had:
- Like any business, Google seeks to maximize its profitability. However, Google believes that this is best done by providing maximum value to end users, as this helps them maintain and grow market share. They make more money this way than trying to squeeze extra CPM out of their web pages at the cost of user experience.
- The AdWords team does not have access to the organic search team, and as a result the engineers working on organic search are free to focus on delivering the best quality results possible.
- (Vanessa) “Panda isn’t simply an algorithm update. It’s a platform for new ways to understand the web and understand user experience”.
- Panda is updated on a periodic basis, as opposed to in real time. This is similar to updates to the PageRank displayed on the Google Toolbar, except it is a whole lot more important!
- It is easier to reliably detect social spam than link spam.
- (Eric) “If you’ve got twelve different signals and someone games two of them and the other ten don’t agree, that’s a flag.”
- Don't focus on artifical aspects of SEO. If it seems like a hokey reason for a web page to rank higher, it probably isn't true. If by some chance it is true, first it is most likely a coincidence, and second and more importantly, you can't count on it staying that way.
- (Vanessa) “I suggest you get an objective observer to provide you feedback and determine if there are any blind spots you're not seeing.”
- (Vanessa) “The question then becomes if someone lands on your site and they like that page, but they want to engage with your site further and click around your site, does the experience become degraded or does it continue to be a good experience?”
- Added value is key. Search engines are looking more and more for the best possible answer to user's questions. Even if your article is original, if it covers the exact same points as hundreds of other articles (or even 5 other articles) there is no added value to it.
- Reviews can be a great way to improve web page content provided that they are contextually relevant and useful.
- Crowd sourced content is also potentially useful, but must also be relevant and valuable.
- One of the challenges facing both UGC and Crowd Sourcing is the editorial challenge of making sure it is useful and relevant.
- Branding can be very helpful too, as it helps people trust the content more. Search engines recognize this as a differentiator as well.
- (Vanessa) “I think social media levels that playing field a bit. In the past, you had to hire a publicist, do press releases, have relationships with reporters, and get on Good Morning America, or something on that order, to get your name recognized.”
- SEO is still important! Making sites that are easily understood by search engines is still something you need to do. Effective promotion of your web site remains critical too.
- Unfortunately, for many sites that have been hit by Panda, there is no quick fix. There are exceptions, of course, but they will be relatively rare.
Motivations of Google
Eric Enge: Let's talk about what Panda was from a Google perspective and what they were trying to accomplish rather than the mechanics of what they did.
Vanessa Fox: I like that you addressed it that way because many people simply want to know mechanically what they did.
This update took many people by surprise and, certainly, there are things to be worked out. However, Google has never been secretive about what it's trying to accomplish and, specifically, what it's trying to accomplish with Panda.
Ever since Google launched, its primary goal has been to figure out what searchers want and give them that. This encompasses a lot of things. It encompasses answering their question as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. It involves all the things you think about in terms of making the searcher happy and providing a good user experience.
In the early days of the web, the only way Google knew if people found something valuable was if there was a link to it. Today, the web is more sophisticated and Google has much more information available to it. The bottom line is that Google is trying to provide the best results for searchers and, for them, Panda was a major step forward in accomplishing this.
Eric Enge: Yes, some people believe that Google made these changes because it favors their advertisers and their objective is to make more money in the short term. I don't believe this. To me, the value of market share far outweighs the impact you could get by jacking up your effective CPM by a few percent on your pages.
It is short term and shortsighted to think Google is now focused on improving CPMs or trying to drive people … to advertise via AdWords.
Vanessa Fox: That's absolutely right. It is short term and shortsighted to think Google is focused on improving CPMs or is trying to drive people, who lost ranking in the organic results, to advertise via AdWords. Google is looking for long term market share which is the best way for them to maximize profitability.
The root of their market share is the fact that they get so many people searching all the time. The best monetary decision for the company is to ensure that searchers experience excellent search results. That's the core that's going to help Google maintain their market share which, in turn, is what will help them grow.
Eric Enge: I'll paraphrase it simply and say they are totally selfish and they are being selfish by working on their market share.
Vanessa Fox: That is exactly right. Many people don't believe that there is a wall between the organic search people and everything else at Google. If they didn't have such a wall you would have a situation where someone on the AdWords team would be approached by a large advertiser saying “I am having problems with the organic results, can you help me?”
Of course, that person would want to help the advertiser. By having that wall, the AdWords person doesn't have access to the organic search people. There is this protectiveness around organic search, which enables those engineers to focus on the search experience. They don't have to think about AdWords, they don't have to think about how Google is making money, or what the CPMs are. They don't have to think about any of those things and are able to concentrate on making the best search experience.
The whole environment was built that way which is unlike many other companies. In other companies, no matter what part of the organization you work in, you have to always think about how does this impact our revenue. At Google this is not part of the search engineers' focus, which is great. Another reason is that many of the search engineers have been at Google since the beginning. They don't have to work there anymore.
Eric Enge: At this point they could easily retire and buy an island.
Vanessa Fox: They continue to work there because they love data and love working with large amounts of data and improving things. I think if someone said to them,”I know you work on organic search, but we've decided it's really important to either give advertisers preference or hold advertisers down. Could you tweak the algorithms?” They would probably say, “I am going to buy my island now, see you later.”
That's not why they are at Google. They are there because they get to do cool things with large pieces of data. I think these two big factors make it basically impossible for anything other than a search experience to infiltrate what's going on there.