Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yet another big shakeup in Google land is affecting how websites rank in the search engine’s results. Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam team at Google, recently confirmed via Twitter that the search engine giant has started rolling out the Panda 4.0 update.

This fourth generation of Panda will impact 7.5% of English search queries and other languages may also be affected, according to projections from Searchengineland.com. So, there’s a good chance you’ll notice some changes on your site or read about someone being affected this week.

But what is this update all about and how it is affecting business websites?

What is Panda 4.0?

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Google Panda is a series of search engine algorithm updates created to identify and weed up low-quality websites with duplicate content. The purpose is to find and penalise websites with poor content and, as a result, bring higher quality websites at the top of search results.

Panda 4.0 is made more interesting because it was released back-to-back with Google’s Payday Loan 2.0 update which targets “very spammy queries”.

While it’s still too early to tell how exactly these two updates are impacting sites, one thing is clear – websites everywhere are suffering.

Ask.com, Examiner.com, Health.com are just a few of the biggest losers of the Panda 4.0 update. Not to mention eBay which is at the top of the list, losing 80% of its organic rankings!

But that doesn’t mean that only big, hugely popular sites are or will be affected. Big or small, Panda 4.0 can ruin your business. However, since Panda 4.0 is still in its rollout stand, it’s too early to tell how websites will be affected. Some small site business owners have already reported a drop in their rankings.

What should small businesses do?

The best thing you can do is to keep a close eye on your web analytics and see if you notice any changes like major dips and spikes in organic traffic. Even if in the following weeks you will notice no change, you should still do your best to prevent your site from being affected by future Google updates.

Here’s four important things to focus on:

  1. High quality content. If you’re duplicating content throughout your site, now’s the time to stop if you don’t want to be penalised. Clean up your site and make creating unique and useful content your no. 1 goal.
  2. Readability. Stuffing your content with keywords is soooo two years ago. Adding a keyword to every sentence, title tag, header tag and description isn’t going to cut it these days. Instead, start focusing on quality content and readability.
  3. Usability. Make sure that your site loads quickly and is easy to navigate through, and that there are no broken links or errors as these things can affect your rankings.
  4. Engagement. Build a site that people want to visit, link to, return to, share etc. In other words, build a site that people love.

No matter what webmasters uncover in the next few days while they’re evaluating and analysing what exactly has caused some sites to rise and others to fall in Google’s search results, one thing is clear: quality content has never been as important as it is now.

Short overview of previous confirmed Panda updates

Google launched the Panda update on February 24, 2011. The first one, Panda 1.0, was designed to improve the quality of search results by identifying and lowering the rankings of thin content sites that were either using duplicate or low-quality content with the sole purpose of earning money via ads. This first update targeted English sites in the US only and it affected 11.8% of search queries.

A few weeks later, on April 11, 2011, Panda 2.0 was released, this time targeting international websites in English. As a result, 2% of search queries were affected.

Months passed and in the last week of September Matt Cutts tweeted about Panda related flux to be experienced. A week later site owners started noticing changes in organic traffic. This was later confirmed as Panda 3.0 and it was aimed at all international sites except Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Panda 3.0 ended up affecting 2% of search queries.

At the end of September 2012, Google released Panda update #20 which impacted 2.4% of English queries. This was just a week before the EMD update rolled out.

The above updates are the one which affected more than 1.5% of search queries.

Here is a breakdown of all Panda updates and their release dates. So, if your site’s traffic took a significant hit around one of these dates, there’s a good chance it was hit by Panda.

  • Panda #25 on March 15, 2013
  • Panda #24 on January 22, 2013
  • Panda #23 on December 21, 2012
  • Panda #22 on November 21st
  • Panda #22 on November 21st
  • Panda #21 on November 5th
  • Panda #20 on September 27th
  • Panda 3.9.2 on September 18th
  • Panda 3.9.1 on August 20th
  • Panda 3.9 on July 24th
  • Panda 3.8 on June 25th
  • Panda 3.7 on June 9th
  • Panda 3.6 on April 27th
  • Panda 3.5 on April 19th
  • Panda 3.4 on March 23rd
  • Panda 3.3 on about February 26th
  • Panda 3.2 on about January 15th
  • Panda 3.1 on November 18th
  • Panda 2.5.3 on October 19/20th
  • Panda 2.5.2 on October 13th
  • Panda 2.5.1 on October 9th
  • Panda 2.5 on September 28th
  • Panda 2.4 in August
  • Panda 2.3 on around July 22nd.
  • Panda 2.2 on June 18th or so.
  • Panda 2.1 on May 9th or so.
  • Panda 2.0 on April 11th or so.
  • Panda 1.0 on February 24th

So, what do all these updates have in common? What is Google’s Panda targeting?

  • Duplicate content, whether blog posts, product descriptions or About pages.
  • Thin content. If you have many pages with just a line of text, you’re not providing much value to your visitors, are you?
  • Too many ads can be a sign of a low-quality site that’s only focused on earning cash.
  • Too many blocks. If too many users have chosen to block your site (feature available in Chrome), this can trigger a Panda penalty.

Have you noticed any changes in rankings for your website? Looking forward to your comments.

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5 Responses

  • Louise

    I think the authorised affiliate text on our site really reduced our ranking in Google searches after one of the Panda updates so we’ve had to remove all information that was an affiliate feed by deleting it or rewriting it. We also have to be careful that we are not penalised for duplicate content on our own site as the data on our site can be ordered in different ways to help the user. Now we are focusing more on social media and our own unique website content our ranking is increasing.

    June 26, 2014 at 10:50 pm
  • Daniela

    I still find many websites where certain keywords are repeated two or more times in a sentence. It makes for terrible reading. I hope those sites drop in searches. I am sick and tired of finding the same old sites in any search on the top and first page of Google. That is why I started looking in earnest on page two or three results to find what I am looking for.

    June 28, 2014 at 12:52 pm
  • Nigel

    This is a very useful article, thank you. However, I remain cynical about just how “ruthless” Panda is – for example, I have a client’s website that is, in Panda-terms, a nightmare or rather, it should be! Content is thin, relevance is low, there are a lot of images and content which Google really shouldn’t like such as iframes,JS embedded content we’ve witnessed no discernible downturn in rankings, in fact it’s improving month-on-month and that’s because it’s popular, simple as that. This client has over 8,000 Facebook followers and each time they announce something on Facebook, it drives a huge amount of traffic to their website. I still maintain that popularity is the number one factor in achieving good rankings and driving traffic to a site (legitimately) should feature way above anything else in SEO terms. Of course, you have to get popular in the first place but that’s a different topic entirely!

    June 30, 2014 at 8:02 am
  • Will Stevens

    Thanks, Nigel. Interesting comment. I suppose Google does want to direct people towards useful content so if people do engage with your client’s website, then that’s a good sign.

    Have you considered addressing the content issue just in case a future update has a negative impact on the site or are you happy enough with things as they are?

    July 1, 2014 at 12:44 pm
  • Will Stevens

    Google certainly isn’t perfect, although it’s a lot better than it was in the past. Have you tried any other search engines to see how they compare?

    July 1, 2014 at 12:45 pm