jsherloc - 9:05 pm on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)
Reno, I 100% agree with everything you just said.
It is not about the relative "best" website anymore IMO. It is all about what the Panda algo classifies your website as (what type of website is this and how much/what type of traffic should I ultimately be sending this website), and then trying to work within the increasingly tighter "phrase framework" that Google is "generously" allowing your website to appear in their SERPs for. Also you might get lucky in various 3-6 month intervals and notice slight percentage increases and a slightly larger "phrase framework" you are allowed to compete within. So much for "best" and "quality" emphasis when you already now know "out the gate" that it is MORE important to spread your time/money investment around, rather than "accidentally" pigeonhole yourself by building a large website that may want to target other topics in the future. Again, they have basically "stolen" your own intent out from under you and replaced it with THEIR intent, REGARDLESS of "quality" signals all things considered.
Another interesting and likely highly-related tidbit I've been picking up on lately...A lot of these smaller 5-10 pager sites I am seeing are going extremely content-heavy on their homepages (specifically the EMDs). I'm talking like 7,000 words average here, where normally I'd be seeing something like 1,500 average words on the homepages for the ten SERP results in such niches/niche search queries.
The kicker I am noticing MORE AND MORE the past few months is that these homepages also seem to be targeting around 5-7 keywords, where normal/pre-Panda SEO best practices would suggest that you not target more than 1-3 primary keywords per page. IMO Google's got some "page-count dilution" factor at play with Panda that makes it very hard to rank internal pages on sites that are not formally recognized/deserving of the "Brand/Authority/Can rank in longtail SERPs outside of our strict search-phrase classifications for unknown reasons" by Google. This would be in line with the whole content-farm detection/intention thing we're discussing here.
This makes sense to me as a year ago it was ridiculously simple to choose an EMD, rank the homepage, and within a few months have related longtail/LSI/inner pages ranking well as well. Well, with content costs being so cheap, this encouraged people to go a bit "crazy" targeting every relevant term all willy nilly in their niche....so PANDA comes along to help Google clear-out a lot of this general rehashed stuff.
IMO, that little rankings "boost" from EMDs is still available from EMDs, but NOW it seems to only apply to the homepage/homepage content, rather than helping folks rank better for their inner pages. So, people apparently are reconsidering "normal SEO" best practices in some of the terms I am following by loading up all of their obviously targetet KWs right on the homepage. So, instead of having a page for each keyword, they just throw everything onto an EMD.
The interesting thing is that these types of site homepages are ranking REALLY well for those 5-7 KWs from what I have seen. Pre-panda most people would certainly frown at this approach, but I don't know what to think anymore. So, if you have 8 keywords you want to rank for, these days in some niche classifications maybe you are better off throwing ALL of your content (text and optimized media that you "intend" to rank) on the homepage of an EMD. Folks are taking advantage of an apparent boost with the EMD here, and not just the typical boost for that exact-match term, but an entire keyword "grouping". Google is clearly trying to give more weight to the homepage with Panda/brand signals at play here to avoid their expanded definition of content-farms that was popular a year ago. What I am describing seems to be a "side-effect" of this domain/folder power redistribution/dilution. Again, just my opinion. Who knows how long this type of thing will have any ranking power though.
I am thinking more and more that Panda changed SEO as we know it, but not in the ways we are typically reading about. All the stuff people say that Panda targets and the stuff that you should do to get "out" of Panda is still pretty much stuff most of us have been doing all along...there are obviously other things going on that are more important, but maybe Google doesn't want to fill us lowly webmasters in with the details because it would be admitting that the SERPs (for worthwhile queries) are not about what is BEST for users any longer, but what is BEST for the CURRENT algo. What is BEST for your users will not expose you to new users and allow you to grow as a person/business/ THROUGH Google any longer. So why would webmasters be writing JUST for their users again? Do they enjoy talking to brick walls as much as I do?
Is this not EXACTLY the type of thing Google wants to avoid in the future? "Don't write for search engines..." REALLY?