Frank Vitovitch

Frank Vitovitch

SEO Practice Director, GroupM

Google’s Panda 4.0 and Payday Loan Algorithm Update

On Tuesday, May 20 Google head of webspam, Matt Cutts, announced that Google had begun rolling out a major Panda update which he referred to as Panda 4.0.

Originally released into in February 2011, “Panda” has been targeting low quality content websites such as content scrappers and spammers for over three years now while Google continually releases updates to Panda in its quest to rid the SERPs of spam.

Panda has been continually updated since its initial launch. Google confirmed in July 2013 that Panda was actually being updated on a monthly basis with the updates being rolled out over a 10 day period each month. While these minor changes have been rolled out monthly, larger updates such as Panda 4.0 have been released along the way as well.

The initial Panda update impacted 12% of all US search queries while subsequent updates have all affected a much smaller percentage of searches. Panda 4.0 is believed to affect roughly 7.5% of English queries, and perhaps higher for other languages, such as Turkish, where spam results are generally much higher.

In addition to this Panda update, Google has also recently released an update to the “Payday Loan” algorithm.   This update has also been targeted towards removing low quality spam websites from the search engine results pages. Unlike the Panda, this update has been specifically aimed at the industry of payday loans – a historically spammy niche. The first rollout of the Payday Loan algorithm was released in June 2013 and impacted just 0.3% of US search queries. This latest update is believed to be targeted more specifically at international queries.

The biggest Panda Update in Years?

While Google confirmed the monthly updates to Panda last summer, there has not been a confirmed Panda update from Google that has had a number attached to it in almost three years suggesting that this latest iteration of Panda has made changes to how it classifies what is high and low quality content.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement from Cutts, the last numbered Panda update came in November of 2011.

  • Panda 1.0 – February 2011
  • Panda 2.0 – April 2011
  • Panda 3.0 – November 2011

Potential Impact

Because the goal of the Panda algorithm update is to remove low quality content from the Google SERP’s, many large brands with well-established authority and high quality content have historically seen minimal effects and, in some cases, have seen incremental gains over low quality websites that are impacted. Websites that lack original content, syndicate their content from other sources, or scrap content without permission on the other hand have historically been impacted negatively from this update.

There is some speculation, that this latest update to Panda is to reverse negative impacts from previous updates to websites with high quality content that were caught in the crossfire by previous updates to Panda.

Matt Cutts announced in March at the Search Marketing Expo that the next generation of Panda would be aimed at helping small businesses compete. If this is the case with Panda 4.0, websites that otherwise would not be impacted by similar updates targeted at removing spam could see some losses in organic traffic due to gains from other websites.

As for the Payday Loan update, only websites in the payday loan industry, or similar high spam industries, will be impacted.

Were you impacted by Panda 4.0?

As with any major search update, there are some key performance metrics that you will want to be actively monitoring over the next days and weeks – even if it does mean doing some spot checking in between Memorial Day weekend bbqs.

Here are the key metrics we’ll be checking for our clients.

  • Overall traffic Data – The first area we check is the overall organic search traffic coming in to your website to see how traffic compares to recent and historic traffic as an initial assessment of potential impact.
  • Landing Page Data – Should we see any potential impact from this update, we will investigate the page level data for your website to see what areas of the website have been impacted.
  • Keyword Level Data – While secure search has removed much of the keyword level data from analytics platform, we take a look at how core keywords are ranking in addition to monitoring search query impression and clicks data from Google Webmaster Tools. (Note: Google Webmaster Tools data is generally delayed 2-3 days meaning it will not be a viable source of data to measure impact for a few days)

At this time there are no Panda 4.0 specific recommendations that would differ from or alter previous Panda related recommendations.  If you were negatively impacted by Panda, you should re-examine your content strategy and make sure that you are focused on creating high quality content that benefits for your end user.

Are More Algorithm Updates Coming?

There has been some speculation in the industry that other major updates are on the horizon as well with an expected update coming to the Penguin update.  This update is related specifically to external links and how Google determines the value of the links pointing to a website.  The last major update to Penguin came in May 2013.  Should there be an additional update to Penguin in the coming days and weeks, we will be following up with a separate POV.

If you have been positively impacted by Panda 4.0, kudos to you for having a content strategy focused on building quality that has been rewarded by Google. You can enjoy a long weekend free from worrying about recovering from the latest algorithm update from Google. Any questions about the latest Panda 4.0 update, leave a comments below.

Photo Credit: Business 2 Community

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  • Frank, great coverage of Panda 4.0 – Cant wait to see how it plays out.