Panda 4.1- How it could affect your site

Google has been up to its old tricks of algorithm updates, and this time it has emphasized the importance of quality content on your website – again! The search engine has potentially penalised well-known brands such as Hallmark and Microsoft Office 365, as well as popular gaming sites, that it deemed to have duplicate or thin content, suggesting no site is safe when algorithms are enforced.

The Panda 4.1, as it’s being referred to, is the latest algorithm change to be rolled out by the search engine giants aiming to improve the experiences of users online. Panda updates have always been content and query-based algorithm changes, unlike the Penguin algorithm which targets spammy links. Panda is all about ensuring websites have rich and relevant content. In short, the Panda algorithm attempts to filter out out poorly-written sites with low-quality content, leaving behind only those that provide users with additional value.

So, why does Google roll out algorithm changes?

Put simply, it’s to ensure online user experience is the best it can be. Starting in 2000 with the Google Toolbar, Google allowed webmasters to monitor how well their site was performing with a page ranking. After the Google Toolbar, came the first major change in 2002, which took most webmasters completely by surprise as the update wiped strong-performing sites off the search results pages. Intended to target all aspects of a website’s performance and credibility, this update was just the first of many documented, the algorithm roll-outs quickly became less than quarterly, with each update having a greater impact and targeting more specific behaviors.

Google had started to crack down on websites that were contravening the way they perceived sites should behave, by simply decreasing their visibility. Since the first algorithm change rolled out in 2002, Google have made major alterations to influence search results, targeting everything from backlink profiles, advert placement to keyword stuffing and all content in between, penalizing sites that behave in a manipulative or unnatural manner.

With the first Panda update hitting websites back in 2011, Google have finely tuned their algorithm to fight against any manipulative or unnatural content being produced, solely to drive traffic to a website. Content farms were the first to be targeted with Panda, in 2011, hitting sites such as Ezine and Hubpages, causing them to lose nearly 90% of their visibility in search results.

How it could affect your site?

The Panda updates has been referred to in the SEO world as the ‘ranking’ algorithm, due to the impact they have on a site’s ability to rank for keywords or terms. In short, Panda has the ability to alter the visibility of your site on search engines, depending on whether it considers your site to have good content. If your site has bad content; keyword stuffing or no content at all, it will suffer in the aftermath of this algorithm update, your site will simply not rank for your chosen search terms. It will affect your organic traffic reports, conversion rates (if you’re tracking them) and even worse, if you rely on your ecommerce website to generate income, it will affect your site’s ability to generate sales and make you money.

How to identify if you’ve been hit by Panda 4.1

As this algorithm update has been rolling out for over two weeks, it will be fairly simple to identify a dip in your site’s traffic over recent weeks. A decrease in organic traffic is the first sign your site has been affected, that is of course if you haven’t received a penalty message in your webmaster tool account from Google themselves. There are other methods of ensuring your site complies to Google’s algorithm, by running SEO checks, or by keeping your website regularly refreshed with content via a blog or news section. There are specific tools available, some for free such as Copyscape and Moz toolbar, which will analyse your website content and tell you whether there is any duplicate text or simply not enough words on the page!

It’s not all bad news

Like everything, as well as the losers, there are also winners emerging from this update. News-related website and the internationally known woman’s magazine, to name a few, had a huge 45% increase in visibilty within search engine results.

In Google’s ever-present plight to rid the online world of the rubbish, the emphasis behind the latest Panda update is the biggest hint yet; if you haven’t addressed your website content recently, you really should. If your site is plagued with bad black-hat SEO techniques and poor website content, whether its keyword stuffing, or building poor links, it will eventually get caught out. Recovery from a penalty is reliant on how fast you are to act, once you have received a message from Google. The quicker you act, the more likely your site will recover, although the process will be a slow one. As always, prevention is the best cure for these algorithm updates so ensure you are regularly running SEO audits on your site as well as keeping up to date with Google and it’s changes.