Frank Vitovitch

Frank Vitovitch

SEO Practice Director, GroupM

Panda 4.0 Analysis

The latest update to Google’s Panda algorithm was rolled out two weeks ago. In the case with all major algorithm updates, there have been a few studies released on both the winners and losers from various sources. I won’t name companies  from the lists but I did take a look at the lists to see if there are any common traits amongst the winners and losers from Panda 4.0.

What stands out the most is that reports of this being a kinder, gentler Panda appear to be very true. Matt Cutts even admitted as such on Twitter at the end of last week.

Cutts told us back in March that the future of Panda updates would be aimed at helping small business compete with the big boys creating a lot of speculation at the time that the next Panda update would aid in the recovery of some sites that were caught in the crossfire of past updates. That certainly seems to be the case with this update.

Early analysis of the winners has shown that some names that appeared on previous lists of losers from past updates have indeed been rewarded with the last update. Further reports have confirmed that some websites that were hit with Panda updates in the past which have not undergone any major changes since have seen noticeable gains following the rollout of 4.0.

What types of websites were impacted?

The first thing I looked at when assessing the supposed winners and losers was what types of websites have been impacted the most from Panda 4.0. From there,  I figured I could take similar websites from the losers and winners columns and compare what the two sites do differently. In making this assessment, five different types of websites stand out – none of which were overly surprising.

  • Local Directories – There are so many local directories these days that this is a niche where it is very hard to stand out and be truly unique. All of these sites have access to the same local businesses and end up with similar pages since the names, locations, phone numbers, etc . of all of these business are (when properly maintained by the local business) the same across all networks.
  • Recipe Websites – This is a niche that has exploded over the last five years with new mega recipe sites popping up all the time. These sites have a little bit of an easier time being unique than local directories since every recipe has the potential to be distinct to the housing website, but at the same time, how many ways are there really to grill chicken?  Almost 50,000,000 according to Google.
  • User Generated Content (UGC) – Another niche that wasn’t surprising to see as some sites that rely on UGC have little to no editorial guidelines and will allow almost anything to be posted. This latest Panda update, seems to have done a better job at sorting through “good” vs. “bad” USG.
  • Coupon/Deals Websites – Like recipe websites, there was a flood of deals/coupon sites a few years ago. Like local directories, these sites all rely on the same deals from the same merchants to power their sites, making it difficult to stand out from the pack.
  • Press Release Websites – While not listed amongst the initial losers in most publications, many press release websites were reported to have been hit hard a week later fueling speculation that it was Panda related.

What we’ve seen from the winners and losers

Once I grouped the winners and losers into some thematic buckets, it was pretty easy to see what made the winners win and the losers lose. A lot of the common characteristics some of the losers share are the same culprits that have become staples of past Panda updates.

  • Syndicated Content – Websites that are using syndicated content for a large percentage of the content on their website – specifically review content that is not unique to their websites – saw losses. Additionally, some websites that are syndicating their content without requiring the proper use of canonical tags appear to have been hit as well.Syndicated review content can be great way to get more content in front of your users and gain repeat visitors, but if it is the only content on your website it is not going to help you gain organic success.
  • Duplicated Content – In reviewing a couple sites within the same niche, one had much of its content duplicated numerous times without any link backs or canonical tags. The other did not. Not surprisingly, the site that did not have its content duplicated was a winner while the other was a loser. This goes hand in hand with syndicated content.
  • Thin Content – Websites that simply post excerpts from other news sources or merely feature short content snippets all aimed at targeted search terms seem to have been hit again.
  • User Generated Content – Panda 4.0 looks to have rewarded some websites that curate helpful user generated content while continuing to target sites that simply post anything submitted to them. By “good” user generated content, I am referring to things like user submitted reviews that provide value to the end user. “Bad” USG on the other hand would be sites that end up having 10 different authors all write a story about the same exact event/topic because they lack editorial guidelines.

What if you’ve been hit?

If you have been hit by the Panda 4.0 update, below are my recommendations to help  you figure out the best  ways to  tweak your strategy or rip it down and start over.

  • Assess the damage – Examine your analytics and see where you have been hit. Is there a particular section of your website that was hit more so than others or was your entire site nailed. What keywords were impacted?  Did you lose on head terms or long tail terms?  Use Google Webmaster Tools to see which terms were generating clicks and impressions for you before vs. now.
  • Improve content that is salvageable – Fix what is worth saving at this point and clean out the junk. If you are a recipe site and are contributing 20 different grilled chicken recipes to the nearly 50,000,000 indexed right now, consolidate those and keep only your best ones ensuring that each one is providing a unique take for the user. Do you have 10 articles all talking about the same event?  Find the one with the highest authority and consolidate into one.
  • Implement best practices for syndicated content – If you were hit because you syndicated content on other websites or because you housed a lot of syndicated content, implement best practices around source attribution, canonical tags, and all of the other things Google has told us to do in the past.

If your entire site was impacted and you don’t see any quick fixes at this point, it’s time to start to seriously consider rethinking your content strategy.

Preventing future Panda hits

Panda, and Penguin for that matter, are not going away. Matt Cutts said that Panda 4.0 is about laying the groundwork for future updates so if you’ve been hit it’s time to be proactive and make sure you don’t find yourself in the same situation when Panda 4.1 or Panda 5.0 rolls around.

It might sound cliché, but to make sure you aren’t negatively impacted by future Pandas, you need to make sure that you are providing a unique value to the end user. As we’ve seen, there are millions of ways to make grilled chicken, but think about what twist or angle you are delivering to the end user to make your site worthy of being one of the top 10 on the internet to tell them exactly how to do it.

Providing that unique angle alone is not enough to win in the SEO game either. I’ve talked almost exclusively in this post about content since Panda updates are targeted specifically at low content websites, but just having the content you need to succeed is only half the battle. My colleague Dan Cristo had a great post last week discussing why a content only SEO strategy is not going to help you win in organic search that is definitely worth a read.

If you have been hit by Panda you have some bigger issues to deal with, but if you are playing nicely with Panda right now and still not finding success in the SERPs read what Dan had to say.

In closing, even if you haven’t been hit at this point but are utilizing any of the tactics that we have outlined above, now would be a good time to start cleaning them up so that you don’t find yourself scrambling to do so when the next update hits. We know that Panda has historically been updated on a monthly basis so while you may not have been impacted today, it could only be a matter of time when you will be affected in future Panda updates.

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