On September 25, Google rolled out Panda 4.1 -- the latest iteration of its algorithm targeting sites with “thin” and low-quality content. As we reported here at the BrightEdge blog, Panda 4.1 packed a punch for several industry verticals. According to our initial research gleaned from the Data Cube, 4.1 dished out an organic search loss of up to 90 percent for some brands. With any major algorithm update there are also winners. When announcing the Panda 4.1 rollout, Google’s Pierre Far noted that it meant “a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher.”
Google Panda 4.1 impact
Our early research (cited above) highlighted three types of sites that were negatively impacted by the update (however, there were more that our report didn't highlight beyond the following). In sum, they were:
- Infotainment and media sites that were image- and ad-heavy.
- General information sites with generic content offering little value for users (which we found to be among the sites most negatively affected).
- eCommerce sites with thin content.
We also reported on our research findings that identified the types of sites that benefited from Panda 4.1, including:
- Well-known media brands and targeted niche media (the latter likely representing some of the high-quality, small- to medium-sized sites that Google indicated would rank higher).
- Rich informational sites featuring fresh, compelling content.
- eCommerce sites with quality content that facilitates shopping and purchasing decisions.
You’ve likely spotted a pattern here, which is precisely what our research identified; when it comes to positive versus negative impact, the difference was original, quality content “above the fold” versus generic, “thin” content and top-heavy images and/or ads (Google’s page layout algorithm and mobile-minded page speed criteria are likely also at work). Our Data Cube research on Panda 4.1 has been confirmed by other professional sources within the SEO industry. Notably, Glenn Gabe discusses the risk of using aggressive or deceptive advertising in light of Panda 4.1 at Search Engine Watch.
Protecting your site from the Google Panda 4.1 update
So how do you go about “Panda proofing” your website? The short answer: provide users with a quality experience. As BrightEdge CEO Jim Yu advises in his recent Marketing Land column, consider referring to Google’s search quality evaluation guide to understand what Google defines as a quality user experience. Then analyze how your site measures up against the relevant criteria in the guide. Here are a couple steps you can take to assess the quality of your content and your site’s overall experience:
- Evaluate page quality: When evaluating your site, start with pages and prioritize based on the highest value pages to your business (if you’re a BrightEdge user, our “Page Reporting” features can help you identify this). Create a set of criteria that you use to assess your Web pages for quality. (Hint: It’s not a bad idea to start with Google’s guidelines).
- Optimize each page: Once you’ve evaluated the quality of your pages, including the quality of the text content and the layout, optimizing them from an SEO perspective can only help your content be found. It pays to cross your “t” and dot your “i” when it comes to doing every bit of White Hat optimization so you can help search engines better access and understand the content. For more information on basic optimization principles, check out this post and the other posts in its series.
We’ll keep our readers posted as we uncover new research on Panda 4.1. Until then, follow the basic steps outlined here to help Panda-proof your website.