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:
Google is rolling out our Panda 4.0 update starting today.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) Mayo 20, 2014
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.
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:
— Alan Bleiweiss (@AlanBleiweiss) Mayo 21, 2014
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.
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.
These sites experienced major traffic drops after Panda 4.0.
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:
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.
You can check the PanguinTool by Barracuda to see an overlay of algo updates with your site traffic.
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