Google rolled out their latest version of Panda that has been named version 4.0 on 20th May 2014. As this update has had a number increase (from 3.xx to 4.0) which means it’s likely there have been some major changes. It is also likely that there has been a data refresh. If your website was affected by previous versions of panda but you have “cleaned up” any previous issues you should see your sites rankings return to “normal” after a data refresh.
What changed in panda 4.0?
Googles Matt Cutts reported that panda 4.0 will impact around 7.5% of all English search queries. As you can see this update has been one of the bigger panda updates. There has been little information regarding actual changes. We have heard chatter from Matt Cutts that the update includes a “softer” version of panda and the algorithm might “go easier” on local businesses and certain search queries.
As more data comes to light we will have a better idea about what has actually changed for better or worse.
What is panda?
Panda is Google’s quality algorithm and looks at the things on your websites such as the content, links and technical issues. It can give your website an “algorithmic penalty” that is automatically applied due to certain poor quality signals. Some of the main factors that have been confirmed or are strongly correlated with panda include:
Duplicate content – 2 or more different pages with identical content.
Keywords Stuffing – excessive use of the same keyword within content, titles, alt tags and links.
Near duplicate content – pages that have essentially the same content but reworded or with slight differences.
User metrics – how users interact with your website including the amount of time spent on site, amount of pages they looked at and if they return to the search results to find another website.
Click through rates in the search results –You may be negatively affected if you website is ranking highly for a certain query but users are not clicking through. Conversely if you have lower rankings but higher click through rates this might be seen as a positive quality signal.
Structured data like schema mark-up – Sites that utilise schema mark-up correctly have shown a high correlation in higher rankings than those that don’t. It would appear sites that use the mark-up are given a higher quality rating.
For more information on panda and penguin go here.
Google have told us they have rolling updates of panda every month now and many changes happen without any announcements or confirmation. Below is a list of panda updates that have been confirmed and their impact on English search queries:
Panda Update 1, Feb. 24, 2011 (11.8%)
Panda Update 2, April 11, 2011 (2%)
Panda Update 6, Aug. 12, 2011 (6-9%)
Panda Update 8, Oct. 19, 2011 (2%)
Panda Update 9, Nov. 18, 2011: (1%)
Panda Update 12, March 23, 2012 (1.6%)
Panda Update 15, June 9, 2012: (1%)
Panda Update 16, June 25, 2012: (1%)
Panda Update 17, July 24, 2012: (1%)
Panda Update 18, Aug. 20, 2012: (1%)
Panda Update 19, Sept. 18, 2012: (0.7%)
Panda Update 20 , Sept. 27, 2012 (2.4%)
Panda Update 21, Nov. 5, 2012 (1.1%)
Panda Update 22, Nov. 21, 2012 (0.8%)
Panda Update 23, Dec. 21, 2012 (1.3%)
Panda Update 24, Jan. 22, 2013 (1.2%)
What you can do to increase quality signals
As Google’s algorithms change so frequently instead of reacting to each new update it is best to think ahead and try to “future proof” your website as much as possible. Over the years google has been more and more aggressive over a websites quality or lack of. Forget any of the poor tactics SEOs used in 2008, they are almost all bad quality signals.
Quality signals google use:
Structured data mark-up such as schema has shown a high correlation with highly ranking websites. Although it is important not to abuse schema. Previously SEOs have used fake schema user ratings to increase a sites click through rate in the search results. Google are now very strict about showing the data in the search results and will only show it if they think the site is good enough.
Content and keywords
Do not keyword stuff in the title tag, alt tags and internal links. This is keyword stuffing and will count as a poor quality signal that can trigger a panda penalty. Instead use natural language, with the hummingbird update google has become a lot better at understanding natural language and what your content is about.
A site that had been hit by panda changed its product prices and shortly after gained rankings. Changing the price on your site is unlikely to affect your rankings. What may have happened here is when users visited the site and saw high prices they may have browsed a few pages and left back to google to find a site with more competitive prices. John Mueller has confirmed; if visitors from google look at your site then goes back to the search results and visit another site this is a poor quality signal and will result in ranking decreases / panda quality issues.
A good way to avoid issues like this is to not include any pricing information on your site. This is an old marketing tactic that forces customers to inquire about your pricing via email or phone.
Use a good website structure
John Mueller also confirmed that they prefer shorter urls. Traditionally google have stated that shorter urls help users to find and remember web addresses on your site and share them. For example it is a lot easier for someone to remember “examplesite.com/google-update” than “examplesite.com/article/category/marketing-and-google-updates-2014/10098437/”. Longer urls can also be correlated with spammy websites. Because Google uses ranking signals from keywords in your urls most “made for seo” spammy websites will try to stuff all their keywords in their pages urls. This also relates to near duplicate content. This can occur when an ecommerce website uses too many pages for variations of the same product. For example a site that sells aviator sunglasses could have a page for each colour.
Not only are these urls longer than necessary but often the content of each page will be extremely similar (what value can you really add to the content of each colour variation).
Although panda is an “on-page” algorithm there has been a confirmed connection between anchor text in links from external sites and the number of people that search for that anchor text in google. For example if your sites brand name is “example brand” and you have 100 links with the same anchor text pointing to that site, google will expect a certain number of people to be searching for “example brand”. If nobody is searching for that query but you have 100 links with the same anchor text this looks extremely suspicious and google will think these are links you have built and not naturally earned.