There had been murmurings in the SEO community for a while, and on May 20, 2014, Google confirmed a new update to their search algorithm. Matt Cutts, leader of Google’s team fighting web spam, tweeted that Google was indeed “rolling out their Panda 4.0 update.”
What is Panda?
A Panda is a cuddly-looking black and white bear, but that’s not important right now. Okay seriously, Panda is the name of a major algorithm update to Google’s search algorithm. The algorithm, which is Google’s most closely held secret, determines exactly how websites are ranked on Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
No one outside of the Google search team knows the exact details of the algorithm, but we do know that it takes into account some 200 different ranking factors. Ranking factors include keywords, anchor text used on links, changes in web page content, tags on pages, and keyword density. Even though no one outside Google knows the specifics, Google does give hints as to what they want sites to avoid, such as duplicate content, keyword stuffing, over-optimized pages, and low quality content, aka web spam.
What Does Panda Mean for Me?
According to Moz.com, Google tweaks its search algorithm some 500 to 600 times a year. Most of these changes are minor, and don’t have a huge impact on traffic and search results.
Panda, however, is a major change — the really big algorithm updates, which there have been many of since 2000, get their own names. Panda was originally launched in February 2011 to weed out “low quality” websites with poor or duplicate content. It’s been updated roughly 25 times since its initial launch. This most recent update is a biggie though, hence the “4.0.” Panda 4.0 is intended to target poor-quality sites and keep them from getting to the top of SERPs. This newest change is also meant to help users more easily find small businesses online.
In a nutshell, if you own a business website and use online marketing, Google’s rules for web content — including Panda 4.0 — directly affect your site’s rankings and visibility in search results.
What Kinds of Sites Were Affected?
It is estimated that Panda 4.0 affected roughly 7% of all search queries in the U.S. Major sites were not immune — eBay was one of the biggest losers, with approximately 80% of its most popular search listings losing their page-one rankings. This list shows some examples of sites that lost or gained visibility following the Panda 4.0 update:
Press release sites also seem to have been among those hardest hit by the update, with sites such as PRweb.com and BusinessWire.com losing 71% and 60%, respectively, in SEO visibility following the launch of Panda 4.0.
How Can You Prepare for an Update?
SEO professionals and webmasters work like seismologists, trying to read subtle signs of impending change to figure out when the next “big one” is likely to hit. Instead of seismometers and seismographs, analytics and other SEO ranking tools help us try to measure the “vibrations” of the search world. Every time Google tweaks their algorithm, SEO pros work to determine the reverberations on search rankings.
There was a great deal of speculation when — not if — Google was going to make major changes to its search algorithm this year. Webmasters were noticing large movements in SERP results (shakeups in search engine result pages, resulting in websites going up or down in ranking) even before Panda 4.0 was announced. At the Search Marketing Expo held in March of this year, Google did acknowledge that they were working on a new Panda update that they said was “softer,”aiming to help webmasters recover from previous losses.
It’s hard to know exactly what Google’s algorithms will choose to reward or penalize, but you can’t go wrong regularly adding high quality content to your website. You should never think of your business website as “finished.” This doesn’t mean constant, major overhauls; rather, simply blogging regularly on topics that are relevant to your key search terms is a great way to keep your site full of fresh, valuable content.
What Can I Do If My Rankings Have Changed?
If you’ve noticed that your site’s search rankings have dropped, or if you’re concerned that they may have moved in the wrong direction, click here or call Higher Power SEO today. We can analyze your rankings, review the SEO strategy on your site, and come up with a targeted action plan to improve your results.