Google’s Panda Algorithm Update 4.0

It is May 2014 and Google updated their Panda algorithm with what has been dubbed Panda 4.0.  Here is some information about Google’s Panda 4.0 algorithm update.  As with the previous incarnations of Panda, this algorithm is looking to improve the quality of search results by removing or devaluing low quality (or what Google perceives as low quality) pages from their Web results.

It was 2011 when Google Panda first appeared causing havoc for many site owners, webmasters and online marketers.  At the early stages of the initial Panda update, former Googler Vanessa Fox was quick to chime in with some thoughts that provided some great insight into how to best handle or prepare for Panda:

  • Substantial low quality on a site can cause the rankings for the entire site to decline (even for the high quality pages)
  • Evaluate your web site for poor quality pages (not useful, poorly written, non-unique, or thin) and remove them
  • Overall user experience is likely important: design and usability, ad-to-content ratio, brand perception
  • Look at both content and page templates (do the templates overwhelm the pages with ads? Provide a poor user interface?)
  • After ensuring all content on the site is high quality, focus on engagement and awareness (through social media and other channels)
  • Diversify into other channels and even within search, look beyond web search at Google News and “one box” style results such as blogs, images, and videos

Fast forward a few years later and here we go with Panda 4.0.

So what is Google Panda 4.0? On Tuesday, May 20th, Google Spam expert Matt Cutts announced via Twitter that Google was rolling out their Panda 4.0 Update.

Panda 4.0 is simply the next variation of an algorithm that is directed at preventing sites with poor (low) quality content from rising up within Google’s organic (algorithmic) search results.  The Panda algorithm is meant to clean up the search results with the end goal of ensuring that the more relevant results appear higher in Google’s rankings.  While Google states that they perform monthly refreshes of Panda and other algorithms, Panda 4.0 appears to be a little larger in nature.  It is more than a simple data refresh and appears to be an actual update to the Panda algorithm.  Many suggest that this new update is based on new ways that Google is leveraging to identify low quality content in their web results.

According to the folks over at Search Engine Land Google told them that Panda 4.0 affects different languages to different degrees and that in English the impact is on 7.5% of queries that users might see.  This again implies that Panda 4.0 appears to be larger than a simple refresh.

So which type of sites have been the most impacted by Panda 4.0?  SearchMetrics release data that shows which sites experienced the greatest organic search visibility and which sites experienced notable declines.  Here is a sample of some of the “winners” and “losers” from early Panda 4.0.

Sites That Have Increased in Visibility


Sites that Saw a Decline


It was interesting to note that large directory type sites and indirect competitors to Google such as also experienced declines in visibility.  For a more detailed list of the sites that were impacted by Panda 4.0 visit the SearchMetrics blog. Overall as the Panda algorithm focuses on content, it looks like aggregator sites or sites that feature information from external sites were negatively impacted.  Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and there are some aggregator type sites that have “better control” of their content and as a result may have not been impacted by Panda 4.0 at all.  Some product comparison sites and health pages appear to be amongst some of the winners in the early stages of Panda 4.0.  (As a side note, the folks at MOZ attempted to see why eBay dropped so much  around the Panda 4.0 launch.

3 Tips For Avoiding Being Devalued by Google’s Panda Algorithm

1. Produce unique and high quality content – this is really what it comes down to.  Sites that feature little content, stale content or duplicate content will continue to be devalued by Google.

2. Produce timely content– still do not have a blog in this day and age?  Well understand that sites with relevant content and sites that produce fresh content on a regular basis will continue to perform better in algorithmic search.  Just because you had the greatest article on five years ago does not mean that you may still be the most relevant result in the eyes of Google today.

3. Be smart with your markup – things like schema and author tag markup help communicate what your page copy is about and can go a long way in letting the search engines know that you were the original creator of the content.  Use of items such as the canonical tag element can also let Google know that you have pages that you feel should be an authority and that while you may have similar content you have specific pieces on content that you want the engines to treat as authoritative.

If your web properties produce highly relevant content that is unique and somewhat fresh, you should have nothing to worry about with this latest Panda update from Google.  If you’ve scraped content, are an aggregator or just have really dated content you just might want to pay attention to your analytics over the past week.  Here are a couple of reports to look at to see if you have been impacted by Panda.

3 Tips for Determining if Google Panda Impacted Your Website

1. Check your overall traffic and organic traffic totals for the week of May 18-24th.  Did your site experience a significant traffic loss on May 20th or May 21st?  If so this could be Panda related.

2. Review the traffic to your landing pages.  Using the same data range mentioned above review your page level data for your website’s pages to identify if there were any pages that experienced major traffic declines.  Review these pages, is there sufficient content on these pages?  Is the content dated?  Is the content unique to your website?

3. Over the next week or two, go into Google Webmaster Tools and review the “Search Queries” report to see if there were any specific terms that Google is indicating saw a large decline in position.  This could be an indication that some pages have been devalued in Google’s search results for a certain key phrase.

At the end of the day it is really not about chasing the algorithms, however when updates such as Panda 4.0 occur it is always a good idea to take a quick peek at the performance of your site to see if there has been any impact (positive or negative) and to wait and see how the algorithm update fully rolls out.

Search Engine Land has a nice library of articles about Panda and Panda 4.0 updates which can be found here .  They have also attempted to keep track of some of the previous Panda updates which can be found here.

We should also mention that right around the launch of Panda 4.0, Google also released their “Payday Loan Algorithm 2.0” which targets spammy queries.  This update is totally unrelated to Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates.