If one thing is certain in SEO (and there probably is only one thing), it’s that Google likes to keep things interesting. Even if you’re only vaguely familiar with how search engine optimization works, you’ve no doubt heard about the dreaded Google algorithm update. Until recently, the last major update to Google’s algorithm was Hummingbird, which was confirmed back in August. That all changed when the search giant confirmed Panda 4.0.
Before we jump into specifics on Panda 4.0, let’s do a bit of a review for all you SEO newbies out there, shall we?
What Is Google Panda?
One of the most famous (or, depending on how you feel, infamous) Google algorithm updates, Panda originally rolled out in February 2011. Designed (as most updates are) to improve the quality of Google’s search results, Panda was Google’s response to complaints that spammy, low-quality websites were outranking authoritative sites in their SERPs. The update aimed to address the problem of content that fell between traditional, nonsensical spam and the high-quality content that Google is constantly looking for. This is content that Senior Google VP Amit Singhal referred to as “shallow” around the time of the update’s initial launch. Generally speaking, this content lacks additional value, may be duplicated or “scraped” from another site and repurposed, or may be outsourced and produced by a content farm, hence the algorithm’s other name, Farmer.
In terms of impact, Panda affected about 12% of search results, and in algorithm world, that is huge. It caused a lot of damage, leaving many sites struggling to recover. Google continued to perfect and modify the update, rolling out changes and refreshes regularly, and eventually falling into a pattern of monthly updates that rolled out over a period of roughly 10 days. Things were so regular and predictable that Google even stopped sending notifications about when the updates were launched.
Then… BOOM. Enter Panda 4.0.
This update was confirmed on Twitter on May 20th by Google’s head of webspam himself, Matt Cutts. Things were buzzing in SEO forums and blogs for several weeks leading up to this announcement, with lots of chatter about major ranking and traffic fluctuations, and some industry leaders, including the folks at Moz, believe it may have rolled out even earlier than Cutts indicated.
Initially, it was believed by many to be the “softer Panda” that Cutts hinted at during SMX West back in early March. This iteration of the update will supposedly lessen the negative impact of the original algorithm on certain types of small business websites and help them perform better in the search results.
As it turns out, Panda 4.0 was probably not the softer update itself. Instead, as Cutts indicated (again, on Twitter) on May 23:
“Think of it like P4 is a new architecture. Brings in some of the softer side, but also lays groundwork for future iteration.”
So, it sounds like the aforementioned update is yet to be released, but Google is definitely moving in that direction. But, if this wasn’t the biggie, what was Panda 4.0’s impact? The answer – pretty big.
The update affected some 7.5% of English language queries. That, coupled with the fact that Google named it and confirmed it when they had all but stopped passing along Panda news, means it’s a biggie. And, as these things tend to go, some sites have been reporting considerable losses, while some have been reporting gains, even without attempting to clean up from the effects of the original update. Some of the losers this go-around appear to be eBay and RetailMeNot, with the latter’s stock even plummeting in the algo’s wake.
What Do We Do?
If you’re wondering what you should do given the news of Panda 4.0, my answer would be keep your eyes out. Watch your analytics for any big drops or spikes in traffic and keep up with updates through blogs. A simple Google search will give you plenty to choose from, trust me. You can find everything from rundowns of the algorithms launch and initial impact to in-depth analysis of the fallout from experts.
The good news is, though, that if you’re a small business and you’ve been doing things by the book, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But, SEO is like the Wild West, and anything can happen, so it’s best to be on the lookout.