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, Searchmetrics.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—Ask.com 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 Findlaw.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 zimbio.com and goodhousekeeping.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.