Everything You Need to Know about Panda 4.0
SEO

Everything You Need to Know about Panda 4.0

When Google’s algorithm changes, it creates huge waves in the search community. These updates shape search engine strategy, and impact what you and I do on a daily basis.

Recently, Google updated their algorithm with the well-known Panda update. This is known as Panda 4.0. This algorithm update fulfills the prophecies of some, and is the realization of nightmares for others. For good or ill, Panda 4.0 is the biggest algorithm upset in 2014.

This update matters. Even if your site remains unchanged, the update conveys important information on the future of SEO and content marketing.

Here is what you need to know about Panda 4.0:

1.  Panda 4.0 Began Rolling Out on May 20, 2014.

May 20, 2014 is when Matt Cutts announced:

According to Google-independent algorithm flux trackers, thermometers, and predictions, the update followed on the heels of the Payday Loan 2.0 update. Some, however, concluded that the May 19 spike preceding the Cutts announcement was actually the launch of Panda 4.0, a day earlier than the announcement from Matt Cutts. Screenshot of the Mozcast, which displays changes in the Google algorithm.

0610 NeilPatel01 Everything You Need to Know about Panda 4.0

Screenshot of the Mozcast, which displays changes in the Google algorithm.

2.  What is The Panda Update All About?

In general, the Panda algorithm updates are designed to improve the rankings of sites with high-quality content, and to reduce the ranking of sites with thin or low-quality content. Sites traditionally targeted by Panda updates have been content farms, scraped sites, and the familiar list of sites employing overoptimized content or spammy techniques. Interestingly enough the Panda updates have also increased the traffic of some sites. This happened again with 4.0 as Alan Bleiwiss demonstrated:

The important thing to keep in mind is Panda is a content-focused algorithm feature. Give it lots of great content, and it will be happy. Give it thin, spammy, or scraped content, and it will not be happy.

Google Panda Updates Happen on a Regular Basis.

The original Google Panda took effect on February 24, 2011, and was one of the biggest shakeups in the SEO industry. Since then, however, Panda has been updating regularly. Cutts explained that Panda updates monthly, and these updates roll out gradually over ten days of the month. It’s called the Panda Everflux, and it’s something that every SEO and content marketer should be aware of.

Because it is a rolling update, Google will no longer be announcing their Panda updates. The Panda updates will be one more feature in the Google dance. In fact, because Panda plays so significantly into the algorithm fluctuations, some people have taken to calling it the “Panda Dance.”

Panda Has Had a Significant Update at Least 26 Times.

Although the Panda feature is now part of the monthly algorithm update, it is still being updated apart from the monthly cycle.

Since its inception, there have more than two dozen cataloged Panda updates. The current counter from Search Engine Land indicates that it is now in its twenty-sixth iteration.

Google calls this update “4.0” because it is presumably the fourth update that has such major changes with far-reaching effects. “Major” updates are mostly likely changes in the algorithm itself, rather than the data that serves the algorithm.

What is The Impact of Panda 4.0?

Based on research and analysis, Panda 4.0 shares some commonalities with other Panda updates. Here are some points of observation:

1.  Panda 4.0 Penalized Aggregated Content.

Many of the losers from Panda depended on compiling content from other sites. Known as “aggregating,” this is a popular technique that has given rise to some of the Internet’s most popular sites (e.g., BuzzFeed). If the impact of Panda 4.0 is positively correlated with traffic losses for these sites, such aggregation could be a risky technique. Incidentally, while some aggregators lost traffic, other aggregators gained traffic (buzzfeed.com). Apparently, there are other aspects of aggregator sites that factor into the Panda 4.0 algorithm change other than simply the fact that they are aggregating content.

2.  Panda 4.0 Penalized Thin Content.

Some of the sites that experienced traffic drops had skinny content on many of their pages. Often, such thin content is a symptom of poor URL structure or lack of a content-driven strategy.

Sometimes, sites feature a URL structure that is tightly hierarchical (a good thing), but the site lacks substantial content on some of the category pages (not a good thing). Sites on the Panda 4.0 loser list had severe content shortcomings on many of their pages.

3.  Panda 4.0 Rewarded High Quality Content.

Check out the following list of Panda 4.0 “winners” — those sites whose rankings rose in the aftermath of the update. It’s obvious that Google favors solid, reputable, longform, user-friendly content. We’re not surprised by this. This is just a reminder that content marketing wins for long-term search success.

What Sites Were Most Affected?

Shortly after the Panda 4.0 update, Searchmetrics released lists of winners and losers.

Losers

These sites experienced major traffic drops after Panda 4.0.

Winners

Here are the sites that gained substantially from the update.

(These survey results are only as accurate as the search sampling terms used to create the data.)

The eBay Issue

The biggest discussion in the wake of Panda 4.0 is eBay.com. Around the time of the update, they lost a huge amount of organic traffic.  Here are the numbers as graphed out by Dr. Pete from Moz.com:

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Image via Moz Blog

eBay’s losses were in the area of product-specific terms and category pages. Others have pointed out that they had thin content, especially on a lot of category pages. There is some conjecture, though no confirmation, that eBay received a manual penalty. If this is true then the manual penalty coincidentally happened at the same general time as the Panda update.

The Press Release Issue

It seems that several press release sites also lost ranking when Panda rolled out. A survey of PRWeb.com, PR Newswire, BusinessWire, and PRLog indicated significant search traffic loss after the update.

Analyzing Panda 4.0’s Impact on Your Site.

Was your site impacted by Panda 4.0? Follow this simple discovery method:

1.  Wait and Research.

The most important thing to do after a major algo update is to wait and read about it. Keep a pulse on industry chatter to see what people are predicting and experience. It’s obviously too early to take any action.

2.  Analyze Your Metrics.

Since algo updates often take several days to roll out, your site may or may not be affected immediately. When your site is affected, if at all, it may not be until a week or so after the official release. At this point, keep a close eye on your Google Analytics traffic rankings. A simple traffic analysis is enough to find out whether or not your site was affected.

3.  Determine Whether Your Traffic Went Up or Down.

Look at your site traffic graph on a daily display. Starting at May 19, find out if your traffic went up or down, on average, over the next five to ten days after the update. If your traffic increased more than 5% on average, you probably benefited from Panda 4.0. Congratulations.

If your traffic declined more than 5% over that span of time, your site is likely negatively affected.

This is the analytics display (generated by Barracuda) of a site that got hit by Panda 4.0.

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Image via SitePoint

You can check the PanguinTool by Barracuda to see an overlay of algo updates with your site traffic.

Conclusion

As with every algorithm update, some sites lose rank. As some sites lose rank, other sites gain rank to take their places. What sites will take their place?

Every algorithm update gives businesses, especially small ones, an opportunity to hone their content marketing game to improve their search engine results for longtail keywords and organic traffic. Algorithm updates aren’t major upsets, but rather strategic opportunities.

Panda 4.0 hasn’t shown us anything new. It has simply proven we’ve got to keep doing content marketing, and keep doing it really well.

What was your experience with Panda 4.0?

 

Featured Image: Gang Liu via Shutterstock

 Everything You Need to Know about Panda 4.0
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at Quick Sprout.

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7 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know about Panda 4.0

  1. Hi Neil,

    I have doubt? Can you fix me? I do seo for eCommerce website,

    doubt regarding duplication,

    Normally i have http://www.example.com ..when user clicked the shopping page, the complete website url format are changed. Like It goes to https://www.example.com but i don’t put any redirection.

    Is it considered from Duplication? If you said yes,

    can you tell me that what i fix that problem.?

  2. Hey Neil,

    Great write-up! Been a fan of your writing for ages.

    Your article timing’s perfect since we’ve also just released our own 4,000+ word guide on Panda 4.0 titled “Google Panda 4.0: Everything the Non-SEO Needs to Know”. Won’t leave a link here, but should be google-able.

    After reading yours, I realized that we could do a better job of structuring our articles to make it easier to skim. Also, missed your point about content aggregation sites being penalized (will definitely find out more about that).

    And I agree with your conclusion about content marketing. I know it’s taking off in a big way in the West, but here in SEA, it’s still an alien concept especially among the SMEs. It’s the best way going forward with SEO though.

    Fairuze

  3. Hi Neil Patel!
    Great article.Google update Panda 4.0 is the biggest algorithm upset in 2014.Its provides best quality contents to the users .
    Thanks,

  4. One of my site lost around 70% traffic after this panda update and we removed around 1400 posts. Remaining all posts re-writes now. i can see a small increase. Panda perfectly cached some major websites.

  5. I am curious how this might affect sites where only certain pages are data feeds or aggregated content. On some of the sites I consult, they use tesimonial aggregators to showcase reviews about their business from several review sites across the web. The pages themselves are indexed and are rich in keywords that help people discover the business and bring them to the site. The reviews on the page are a hybrid of both visitor submitted testimonial directly on the page as well as aggregated reviews from popular review sites.

    Looking at the traffic data, it is not obvious if there is/was an impact by Panda 4.0 due to seasonality that naturally occurs at this time of year.

    Does anyone have a strong idea one way or the other if syndicated testimonials would be affected by Panda, and if so, would they be strong enough to drive down the entire site for rank, or just that testimonials page?