Recently, Google started lifting the veil on its Panda Update. Besides being the ire of SEOs everywhere, the update is meant to be a stern shove from Google to content providers to offer higher quality content to web users. This is a noble mission and if it can force entitles like Demand Media to pay their writers more to supply the internet with more interesting features, it’s not entirely bad.

However, a closer look at these updates does beg the question when the search engine giant had assumed the role of the content police. And if a user is simply looking for a service to get free quotes on window repairs, for example, does it matter if the accompanying content errs on the side of shallow? After all, window renovations, unlike politics or celebrity culture, aren’t exactly the stuff of thrilling blog dissertations.

SEOmoz has a great breakdown of the types of questions Google is asking website owners to consider when optimizing for its Panda update. The entire list of questions is here, but some of the more critical questions follow below:

– Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
– Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
– Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
– Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
– Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
– Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
– Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
– Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
– Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

The intentions are good, but ultimately, they’re punitive towards SMBs. Most SMBs obviously lack the resources of big brands which, by virtue of age, may have had time to establish themselves as an authority and the manpower to implement systems to address these changes the search engine giant is suddenly focusing on.

But more problematic are the metrics that Google might be using to address content relevance: Credit cards? The identity of content creators? Ad placements? While stringent metrics might be necessarily to prioritize websites as the internet continues expanding, it seems like Google is playing a lot of weight on questions that attempt to legitimize the web. But in doing so, are they asking users and SEOs to consider almost arbitrary standards?

If a user wants to learn how to grow a particular houseplant and they happen upon sound advice from a content farm, should that advice be penalized because it isn’t packaged as well as similar advice from a branded destination? What the Panda update’s well-meaning guidelines might be overestimating is the necessity for a user to connect with a website; not every website is the New York Times and it may defeat the point of trying to rank on SERPs if everyone with a website is held up to such an unreasonable standard.

Perhaps then, this is where website owners can start looking at alternate search traffic sources: Namely Yahoo, Bing, and Blekko, which literally assembles its SERPs by hand.

And if you’re looking for a complete breakdown of how Google Panda has hit content farms, Search Engine Roundtable has an excellent recap.

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