Google’s Panda 4.0 Changes the Face of Content – Again


Google regularly updates its algorithms to keep ahead of spam sites and black-hatters. The company’s spam guru, Matt Cutts, estimated that the search engine giant performs somewhere between 400 and 500 updates a year. Why is Panda 4.0, the most recent update, such a big deal?

For one thing, Panda 4.0 is considerably larger than the little daily tweaks the search engine undergoes. Like software, Google algorithm sets are numbered, and they only get a new number if they make sweeping changes. Google keeps the specifics of its updates to itself, but the company did confirm the update went live on May 20. Data analysts already knew some major changes were in the works from the changes in traffic patterns, but with Cutts’ confirmation, they now know the source of the upheaval.

The original Panda changes launched in 2011 and targeted sites with superficial content, duplicate information and link-heavy but meaningless copy. It crushed some content mills and drastically curtailed others, leaving sites with custom-written content and insightful information on top of results pages. This is only the fourth full-scale update to Panda, and sites with low-quality content are once again feeling the pinch.

Another reason for the uproar over Panda is its almost concurrent launch with the Payday Loans 2.0 update, a new set of algorithms meant to attack the high percentage of spam in certain high-traffic verticals. Named for the industry most notorious for its bad web habits, Payday Loans 2.0 obfuscated the data returned from Panda 4.0, making it a challenge for website analysts to sort out which peaks and valleys could be attributed to Panda and which to Payday Loans. In some industries, site traffic see-sawed wildly throughout the week and is still settling down, but the news is good for many small and mid-sized companies’ sites – and bad for at least one gigantic one.

Smaller Companies Prospering under New Content Rules

It’s still early in Panda 4.0’s lifespan, but smaller companies that have taken Google’s messages about providing insightful, custom-created content – or responsibly curating and attributing content from other sources – seem to be thriving. Even some sites that took a hit during the last Panda update are seeing an upward bounce, especially if they’ve made changes to and upgraded their content. As with any major update, some companies have seen some alarming dips to temper their enthusiasm at soaring page rank and traffic numbers, but the overall trend for independents seems to be positive.

Meanwhile, eBay, a titan of online commerce, took a nosedive across multiple sectors. Recently, the company’s strategy included publishing numerous link-heavy “gateway” guides. The influx of fresh content put those how-tos and the pages to which they linked on the first page of Google results for thousands of keywords. As the Moz Blog shows, eBay lost a huge amount of ground on those listings. The change doesn’t affect individual listings or eBay’s main category pages, but it appears to suppress the gateway pages severely, restricting them to a trickle of their previous traffic.

It’s unclear now whether Google, long on friendly terms with eBay, will refine Panda 4.0 to restore those pages to prominence, but for now, the vacuum left as eBay moved out of certain verticals is being enthusiastically filled by other companies in similar industries. As a whole, eBay won’t feel too much of a pinch because its category pages and listings still have their ratings. Goliath isn’t seriously injured, but after Panda 4.0, he may have a bit of a headache.

What Panda 4.0 Means for Your Content

This Panda update asks content creators and publishers to do exactly what the prior Pandas did: Give readers meaningful content, make it attractive and keep it fresh with regular updates. If you’re already on that path, you should start to see your traffic numbers climb. If you’re still sticking to old-school SEO with duplicate content or the thin stuff that comes from content mills, make the change now or risk the wrath of the Panda.

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