Once again, the SEO community is getting itself into a bit of a frenzy over another Google algorithm update. We’ve written this post to make sure you know what’s happening, whether you need to take any action and how we might be able to help should you land an SEO penalty.

What is Google Panda?

Google Panda is, according to the Wikipedia page, an algorithm update which:

“…aimed to lower the rank of “low-quality sites” or “thin sites”, and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results.”
Sounds pretty simple right?

Take some of the poor quality sites out of the search results and you end up with a better set of results!

Well when Panda first launched in February 2011, there was global uproar, as it affected a huge amount of queries and meant a lot of smaller webmasters suffered. Since then there’s been quite a few small updates, leading up to this latest Panda update, which affected between 3% and 5% of all search queries which started rolling out on the 21st September.

What does this latest Panda update do?

Similarly to previous Panda updates, it tries to remove sites with poor content from the SERPS. When you take away all the intricate data and in depth studies you always end up with the same basic answer.

According to Pierre Far, a Google employee, on Google+:

“Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely.”

Essentially the latest update just helps Google identify which sites lack quaility content more effectively.

The interesting word in this statement though is “signals”. Generally this means that the search giant has identified some kind of trend that lots of low quality websites possess.

The problem with this is that some really good sites might get caught in the net! At present there hasn’t been a great deal of backlash, so perhaps there haven’t been many genuinely good sites hit.

The great news though, is that your site might have a chance to benefit!

It follows that if poor quality sites are being pushed down the rankings, sites with good on site optimisation and high quality content are going to be pushed up. We’re preaching this all the time at Silverbean, which is why you’ll see the word ‘content’ popping up all over the place on our website.

It was really interesting to see that Search Metrics (a tool that we really like) released a list of the top 50 winners and losers after the most recent panda update.

Sites like yellow.com have been hit very hard. When you look at the content on the site you’ll see why. Endless lists of contacts might have been useful in the past, but we know from our discussions on Local SEO, users much prefer being shown actual company sites, rather than having to sift through long lists of possible plumbers, electricians or coffee shops.

Compare that with the big winners, like babble.com. You’ll see that babble is full of content, not everything will be readable for you, but each article is tailored to a certain user, contains plenty of descriptive body content and is integrated well with social media.

It’s not always easy, but if your site can provide more value to visitors than your competitors you’re half way there! Higher quality content means far less risk of receiving an SEO penalty.

What can I do right now to see if I’ve been affected by Panda Update 4.1?

Quite simply, get on your analytics platform!

Whether it’s Google Analytics or otherwise, the visitor numbers to your website are by far the most obvious sign of an SEO penalty.

If you were getting 3000 visits a day prior to 21st September 2014, but have lost huge amounts of that since, you may be in trouble.

Have a look at the landing pages too. You might find that lots of pages that used to convert well have disappeared from the top landing pages report. That’s a sign that those pages don’t have enough content.

Even if you’ve identified a big drop in traffic, there’s no guarantee that you’ve been hit by a Panda penalty. Go through your server logs, browse around your websites and check your backlinks. Maybe something has gone wrong from a technical standpoint or you’re getting hit with a negative SEO campaign?

If you think you have been penalised, we’ve written a comprehensive guide on what to do if you think your site has been penalised.

What’s the best way to make sure I don’t get negatively impacted by future Panda updates?

Quite simply, make sure the content on your website is exceptional. Make it interesting, unique and above all … useful. On site optimisation is key.

Search engines are getting increasingly accurate and finding out which pages really delve into a topic and tell the user everything they’re going to need to know. Remember that you might think you’ve put a fantastic page together, only to realise that the competition have done something much more in depth.

Crawlability is also something that Panda investigates. If you’ve got lots of your site hidden from crawlers, or it uses an illogical structure, Google will ask what users are going to do! If an advanced crawling bot doesn’t really ‘get’ how your site is structured, it’s unlikely that users are going to enjoy using it too much and your site may incur an SEO penalty.

Things like XML sitemaps can help here. Make sure you’ve created a dynamic XML sitemap that will update as you add more pages or update existing pages on the site. This will ensure that search engine crawlers have a clear indication of your site structure, which will help them crawl your site more efficiently.

If you’ve think you’ve been affected by Panda 4.1 or you’d like to discuss on site optimisation and how outstanding content could get your site better rankings, more visitors and ultimately more revenue, get in touch with Silverbean.