Over the past week, Google began rolling out the 27th major iteration of its Panda Update. The change, which should be fully live by the end of this week, affects 3-5% of all U.S. search queries. This is a fairly significant percentage compared to most previous Panda Updates, although the last official update (Panda 4.0, in May 2014) influenced around 7% of search results.
What is Panda anyway?
Google makes one or two minor Panda tweaks on a monthly basis, almost all of which are not confirmed and often go unnoticed outside of the SEO industry (because we’re obsessive about algorithm changes). However, this most recent update (also referred to as Panda 4.1) was large enough to warrant an announcement from Google.
Each alteration to Panda, a filter within Google’s algorithm, improves the search engine’s ability to identify and weed out thin, duplicate, or poorly-written content. Ultimately, this rewards sites that provide valuable, relevant content to their core users and customers. If your site was previously hit by a Panda Update, and you’ve taken the necessary steps to improve the offending low quality pages, the refresh should also bring your site’s rankings back to normal. You’ve “served your time” in Google jail, so to speak.
So what’s new?
In the case of Panda 4.1, Google relied on user and webmaster input to help craft additional signals that identify and reward small and medium-sized sites with compelling, useful content. This does not necessarily mean larger sites are punished as collateral damage, but it does level the content quality playing field for many industries. The update is not complete, but early indications are content aggregation sites (gaming, lyric, medical Q&As) experienced the largest drops in visibility and traffic.
Overall, it’s too early to declare “official” winners and losers from this update, as it has yet to be fully integrated, but the main takeaway with Panda 4.1 is the same as any other Panda Update: Simply placing a keyword on a page, and doing nothing else, no longer has the ranking impact it once did.
Google’s core algorithm is continually getting better at understanding how humans read and interpret “high quality” content. Large, medium or small, websites need to write in their customers’ and readers’ language, and provide value as a resource capable of meeting needs and answering questions with useful information written in a clear, articulate voice.