Unless you’re a search marketing expert, you probably don’t pay too much attention to any of the new algorithms released by Google. But if you’re working with an SEO firm or are heavily invested in any kind of search marketing, you should know a little bit about Google Panda—the company’s latest algorithm released specifically to target sites that are gaming the system through unnatural and artificial link building tactics.

During a panel at SXSW in early March, Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, did more than hint at the intention of Google’s Panda rollout:

“We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO—versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on a page, or whether they exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect in a particular area. It is an active area where we have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

On March 23, Google released Panda 3.4., announcing the update via Twitter:
So what’s the big deal? Well, if you’re not an SEO cheater, Panda 3.4 won’t do you any harm—it may even improve your rank since overly optimized sites will be taking a hit. But there are plenty of cheaters in the search marketing world who employ blackhat link building schemes such as creating paid backlinks from blogs without genuine content. In fact, there are entire blog networks that allow users to distribute their keyword stuffed “articles” to hundreds of different blogs to quickly (and unethically) generate hundreds of backlinks. If you need some help determining the legitimacy of your SEO efforts, Douglas Karr, CEO of DK New Media offers some great tips on how to discover an SEO cheater in your midst.

Essentially, GoogleBots used to scan website content to determine its relevance. So if you had a website about underwater basket weaving, Google would be looking for repeated use of the phrase “underwater basket weaving.” Sites with the most relevant keywords would then get ranked highly. But there wasn’t much Google could do to determine the quality of the content aside from counting the number of backlinks to those sites. As a result, link building schemes became all the rage.

With Panda, GoogleBots don’t just “scan” website content, they can practically read content. It’s no longer useful to have hundreds of backlinks from overly optimized sites; Google’s looking for the best—and only the best—to put on page one. Simply put, if your website isn’t up to that standard, it’s going to get removed.

This is really bad news for SEO cheaters and great news for PR pros. Focusing solely on the benefits of PR as they relate to SEO, the purpose of PR is to facilitate link building by creating genuine backlinks from sites that create high-quality content—national and local media outlets, trade publications, and blogs and other news outlets of considerable repute. When our clients are featured on CNN or Mashable, there’s no risk that an algorithm update from Google is going to render those backlinks worthless. It’s a simple matter of quality vs. quantity that will make the difference between page No.1 of Google’s search results, and being buried in the double digits.