By now, you know about Google’s Panda 4 update that rolled out May 20, but are you up to date on how it’s working?

Since the release, there’s been a lot of dis­cus­sion as to what P4 is really tar­get­ing and what it means for SEO. Now is a good time to tally up what we’ve learned and what we’re still sort­ing out.

What We Know about Panda 4

What is it? Panda 4 is an exten­sion of the Panda series of Google updates, all aimed at con­tent qual­ity. Like Pen­guin, which focuses on link qual­ity, Panda can be envi­sioned as a fil­ter on the Google algo­rithm to iden­tify gunk in the con­tent stream and pre­vent it from clog­ging up the SERPs.

Is Panda 4 a big deal? Prob­a­bly, but maybe not as big as we thought. The ini­tial spec­u­la­tion was that Panda 4 would be huge. A month later, the effect now appears “softer” than antic­i­pated. However—and this is important—it’s expected to lay the ground­work for more adjust­ments in the future, and those could have big­ger impacts. Stay tuned.

How many sites are affected by Panda 4? Accord­ing to Google, Panda 4.0 affects about 7.5 per­cent of Eng­lish queries. The num­bers vary for other languages.

What does P4 fil­ter out? As part of the Panda branch of Google updates, P4 aims to iden­tify low-quality, “thin” content.

In gen­eral, thin con­tent is stuff that doesn’t pro­vide new or unique value to the reader. Some of this is so obvi­ous I shouldn’t need to say it, but I will: con­tent that’s auto­gen­er­ated by a machine clearly doesn’t offer any value, nor does mate­r­ial that’s copied from another site with noth­ing unique added.

Obvi­ously, there’s those that will con­tinue to use short-term, quick-fix efforts in an aim to win the day (brief vis­i­bil­ity). But for those inter­ested in best prac­tices, ever­green con­tent, and adding real value over the long term, sim­ply apply some com­mon sense. In fact, for any­thing that seems remotely gray or black hat, just run away. You should also avoid door­way pages and be care­ful with affil­i­ate pages if you have them—Google has spe­cific advice for these. In my next post, I’ll say more about these and other ways to “fat­ten up” your content.

Who’s being stung by Panda 4? Right after the P4 roll­out, Search​metrics​.com put out num­bers show­ing sites that had big drops in organic SEO vis­i­bil­ity. (Ebay was on the list and was ini­tially assumed to be a Panda vic­tim. In fact, we don’t know for sure how much of it was directly related to Panda.)

These Search­metrics “losers” mostly pub­lish syn­di­cated or dupli­cate con­tent from exter­nal sources— is one. We’re now see­ing that press release sites like PRWeb​.com and PR Wire are also tar­geted, and there are reports that some industry-specific sites like Find​law​.com (a legal site that many claim thrives on cre­at­ing thin, junky con­tent) are tak­ing a big hit.

All these reports sup­port the idea that con­tent aggre­ga­tors are cen­tral in the P4 crosshairs.

Who is Panda 4 help­ing? In March, Google’s spam­lord and mas­ter of search qual­ity Matt Cutts announced that an upcom­ing Panda update would help smaller busi­nesses. It’s too early to tell if Panda 4 is ful­fill­ing this prophecy, but we’ll learn more in the days ahead. Because it’s assumed that P4 is lay­ing the foun­da­tion for more tweaks in the future, the ben­e­fit to small busi­nesses may be rolled into those updates.

Not sur­pris­ingly, there’s strong evi­dence that P4 is help­ing sites with lots of orig­i­nal con­tent. The same Search­metrics report found that med­ical infor­ma­tion sites were among the “win­ners” fol­low­ing the P4 release, as were content-rich sites like zim​bio​.com and good​house​keep​ing​.com.

Here’s an inter­est­ing thing though.  In addi­tion to lots of orig­i­nal con­tent, some of these “win­ners” also have syn­di­cated or aggre­gated mate­r­ial. I’m not sure what this means yet. Either Panda is going to allow some nono­rig­i­nal con­tent when it’s bal­anced by a lot of orig­i­nal mate­r­ial. Or maybe fur­ther tweaks to P4 will elim­i­nate these pages, too. We’ll see.

What We Don’t Know about Panda 4

Beyond not hav­ing a lot of impact analy­sis yet, the biggest unre­solved issue around P4 is whether the update is actu­ally to blame if you noticed a drop in traf­fic around May 20 (as was the case with the eBay traf­fic dive).

This is com­pli­cated by two fac­tors. One is that algo­rith­mic actions don’t come with explanations—unlike man­ual actions, which are sup­posed to give you some idea of what went wrong. If you get an algo­rith­mic “adjust­ment” in the wake of P4, you aren’t nec­es­sar­ily going to know why, and you aren’t even going to know for sure that Panda doesn’t like you. Maybe some other piece of the Google algo doesn’t like you.

The sec­ond com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is that Panda 4 came out very close to another, unre­lated update—this one to the so-called pay­day loans algo update. Panda 4 came out May 20 and the pay­day loans refine­ment was released a day or two ear­lier. It’s hard to fathom why Google released them so close together, espe­cially because this could make it hard for Google itself to ana­lyze how well the updates are per­form­ing. In any case, the dou­ble whammy is mak­ing it hard for web­mas­ters to fig­ure out what to change if their rank­ings took a hit.

What Should You Do?

In the absence of a clear pic­ture of P4’s long-term effects, think strate­gi­cally. You’ve heard it before and you’re going to hear it again: it’s all about the user and the con­tent. Even the pre­lim­i­nary reports about Panda 4 make this clear.

  • Focus on valu­able, usable con­tent and onsite user experience.
  • Build high-quality links and a robust social strategy.
  • Weed out black– or gray-hat tac­tics, because if Google hasn’t tar­geted them yet, it will some day.
  • Finally, stay up to date. Because every­one is busy, pick a sin­gle reli­able source of SEO news and reli­giously fol­low it.

There are many great sources, and one is Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Round­table. He posts insight­ful, timely SEO news daily as well as a weekly video roundup.


I think this cements the fact that websites should have rich content and not focusing on how you rank. Just make great content and Google will reward you. Thanks.