Panda 4.0 – the latest major update to the Google algorithm – rolled out last month. As with previous versions of the update, Google continues to focus on weeding out ‘thin content’ pages from the top of its search results. Simply, Google’s goal with the series of Panda updates is to stop showing people low quality results, and Panda 4.0 continues that theme.
Giant sites like eBay and Ask.com fell victim to the update, as did plenty of smaller businesses. Here’s what happened—and how to recover if your rankings dropped.
What Changed With Panda 4.0?
The theme of the Panda update is to encourage websites to publish higher quality content. Makes sense – when someone uncovers your website with a Google search, they should be satisfied with the information they find.
So how does Google set the standard for ‘satisfying’ content? Razvan Gavrilas at Cognitive SEO wrote a brilliant case study in reaction to the Panda 4.0 update, examining how Google differentiates between good and bad content.
If you have the time, I highly recommend reading that entire post. Especially if you’re facing a Panda recovery problem right now, it may help you figure out where your site went astray.
Here are the key takeaways:
1. Cover your topic with authority. Be a completionist.
Google likes content that delivers above-and-beyond value to visitors: it completely solves their problem, pre-empts any future questions and directs them to the next step in their journey.
Some websites get too big for their britches – they address topics that are too broad, with minimally acceptable content rushed out to meet deadlines. Sites with rampant thin content issues took a huge blow with the Panda 4.0 update.
If your site tries to cover a lot of ground but doesn’t provide great value on every page, you likely got knocked by the latest Google algorithm change.
The winners: websites that provide value to real visitors by thoroughly addressing the topic at hand.
Takeaway: If you don’t have the resources to cover your topic, narrow your focus. Better to target a smaller niche, but deliver thoroughly valuable information.
2. Sites with Healthy User Interaction Win
How many comments do your website pages get? Social shares? Do you ever get referenced or quoted by other people in your industry?
If people are talking about you, it stands to reason that you’re generating real value and goodwill in your space. Google is taking a hint and rewarding sites that already generate interest in other communities.
This goes hand-in-hand with the theme of publishing better content. Great content is irresistible – your reader says “I have to show this to (so and so).” When you start inspiring that kind of reaction, you generate a great positive feedback loop between your website and your social media presence.
Takeaway: Encourage your visitors to interact with you online – wherever they feel most comfortable doing so. If you haven’t already, I would suggest adding social sharing icons with a free tool like AddThis to generate more shares around your content. The visitor often makes the decision to share when they read a compelling point in the middle of an article. The floating share bar enables visitors to share your content whenever the inspiration strikes.
3. Auto-generated Content Loses
Yellowpages.com got hit hard by Panda 4.0. Why? They were auto-generating business listings based on information that had been scraped from other sites.
Their business strategy here is to rank for business names, then entice business owners to claim their listings and fill in the blanks (because who wants their business represented with an incomplete listing on Google’s front page?). Once businesses are onboard, YP can then upsell them on advertising and other services.
Morality of that business plan notwithstanding, the Yellow Pages site got penalized because it was serving business listings which were pieced together from other directories, and often flagrantly incomplete, out of date or otherwise incorrect. Yellowpages.com was eclipsed by directories that do a better job of organizing and curating manually generated content (like reviews and unique business descriptions).
Takeaway: Scraped and duplicated content doesn’t offer the visitor any value they can’t find elsewhere. Pages must be uniquely valuable and tailored to the topic they cover.
What Panda 4.0 Means For Business Websites
Panda 4.0 affected about 7.5% of all English web searches, according to a Search Engine Land post tracking the update.
Sites of all sizes were affected, and many companies who are dependent on their website as a way to generate revenue have been scrambling to recover from the update. In many cases, business owners who outsourced their website creation to an outside firm are asking themselves “Why me?” right now, struggling to figure out what on Earth caused all their traffic to disappear.
The good news is, there is a path to recovery. The not-so-good news: as Google tightens their standards, you can’t take shortcuts anymore. You need unique and valuable content on your site, and if you can’t do that you need to either narrow the scope of your website or ask for help bridging the content gap.
Focus on seeking out and fixing these problems immediately:
- Remove duplicate content around the same topic. Merge it on to one authoritative page.
- Take steps to engage with your community online – sites without engagement seem unhealthy.
- Look out for pages with thin, auto-generated content. Add value to these pages with complete, relevant information.
- Above all, make your visitors happy. Search engines don’t spend money on your business, people do. If visitors don’t like your content, they’ll never come back.
How to Tell If You Were Penalized
Open your website analytics dashboard and look for a drop in traffic on or directly after May 19th, 2014. Data from Moz shows a massive shakeup in the rankings on that day, which is the Panda 4.0 update. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, actually announced the changes the next day.
As Razvan pointed out in his case study, sometimes the penalty is glaringly obvious – it looks like your traffic fell off a cliff. In other cases, rankings that started to sag right after 5/19/14 may be indicative of a generally strong site with a handful of offending pages here and there. If you’re not sure, but your revenue seems suspiciously low for the past month, it may be worth further investigation.
- MyTrafficDropped explains how to diagnose and recover from Panda penalty
- Stay vigilant with Moz’s Google Algorithm Change Tracker (goes back to 2000!)
- Read the Panda Recovery Guide written by our very own President, John McDougall
Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)