With Google changing its ranking algorithms up to 600 times a year, it seems that SEO experts are in an ever-changing game of cat and mouse. These changes to the algorithms are usually small and inconsequential and thus don’t receive a lot of public attention. However, once every couple of years, Google actually releases an updated algorithm that changes the game and causes websites around the world to sit up and take notice. One such update appears in the form of ‘Panda 4.1’.
How has it changed?
The original Panda algorithm, released in 2011, forever changed the way SEO was conducted. The Panda algorithm is and always has been about isolating sites which use poorly written content to improve their Google ranking. All in all, the Panda algorithm has been updated 27 times since its conception, however, many of these updates seemed to have no discernible impact on website traffic, and thus, only ‘significant’ updates seem to warrant an actual name. This brings us to Panda 4.1, which began its ‘slow roll out’ on September 23, 2014 and has since resulted in quite a furore in the SEO world. But let’s start with the key question of just how Panda 4.1 differs from Panda 4.0?
Panda 4.0 was a significant update which saw the actual Panda algorithm erased and rewritten. It is thus a widely agreed upon fact that Panda 4.1 is just a continuation of Panda 4.0. Google guards its ranking algorithms like Fort Knox but some information about Panda 4.1 has been gleaned through the studying of trends:
1. Panda 4.1 has the increased ability to recognise quality content.
2. It has significantly increased traffic to small sites which produce high quality content.
3. It has the increased ability to recognise unoriginal and ‘thin’ content.
4. It has severely punished sites engaging in excessive affiliate marketing.
5. It is now better at pin-pointing where content was copied from.
6. It especially targets sites that use pop-ups and try to aggressively force downloads.
In the past, many sites would produce content which contained SEO keywords to the extent that the articles made very little sense or would write articles littered with affiliate marketing links. Panda 4.1 has made this increasingly ineffective by being better able to pick up on such strategies.
Who has been affected?
As seen previously, unoriginal or badly written content has been rejected like rotten bamboo by the Panda algorithm. This has had ramifications on certain Internet markets. Both medical sites and music lyric sites have been particularly hard hit because much of their content, out of its very nature, has duplicates elsewhere on the web. Gaming sites have also been negatively impacted mainly because they just don’t feature as much in depth content as other sectors. However, Panda 4.1 has resulted in some very clear winners too. Sites which specialise in high quality up-to-the-minute news have especially benefited from the new update.
To be fair, Panda 4.1 hasn’t had particularly harsh consequences on the majority of the Internet, with it only affecting between 3%-5% of search queries. However, it really is no exaggeration to say that Panda 4.1 has come in like a wrecking ball on the sites that it has affected. UK based sites such as ‘OK’ magazine have experienced an organic SEO visibility decline of up to 70% since the implementation of the Panda 4.1 update. In fact, a generalisation can be made that any site that posts primarily public information has been hammered. For example, ‘Yellow.com’, which posts phone numbers and street addresses of various businesses, has been taken to the slaughter by Panda 4.1 just because the nature of its content can be found elsewhere on the web.
The Road to Recovery
You might currently be picking through the wreckage of the Panda 4.1 update wondering just how you can get your site back up Google’s rankings. Well fear not, it may be a long journey but it is very possible. To escape Google’s ranking abyss, you should first understand why your site was put there: namely due to unoriginal or ‘thin’ content. Once this has been understood several recovery plans become clear:
1. Remove articles with high advert to content ratio.
2. Update past articles that Panda would have recognised as out of date.
3. Remove excessive key words from past articles.
4. Start writing original content!
5. Remove articles that were copied from another site.
6. Make your site more user friendly through the removal of things such as pop-ups.
7. Make sure the grammar of your articles is of an acceptable standard.
8. Perform a ‘site audit’ using the Google Webmaster Tool to diagnose the problem articles.
The thought of ‘gutting’ your site through the removal of so many articles may seem painful, however, this pain shouldn’t compare to the prospect of absolute Google anonymity. It is important to understand that having a ‘thin’ content article on your site actually does more harm than good in terms of Google’s search rankings and thus it will actually benefit your site in the long run by removing it.
Once all these steps have been taken, you can then send an email to Google stating that you felt your site was harshly judged. It will then take between one and two weeks before Google will again review your site and decide on your new ranking. If the above steps have been taken then there is no reason why your site shouldn’t shoot straight back up the rankings!