The Google Panda 4.1 update is here and as expected; it is creating a wild frenzy like its predecessors. Google has just started rolling it out, and the dust is yet to settle in, 3% – 5% of queries are expected to be affected. However, based on previous experiences, it is already clear that it will put further emphasis on quality content and punish the ones with thin and insignificant content. Nonetheless, before discussing the new update, let us have a look at the background of these updates so as to help the readers who are new to this field.
Google Updates: Why are they necessary?
When Google and other search engines started out, results were far from optimal. Also, there was no way to know if the results shown at the top of the page were the best ones available. Nevertheless, they improved over the years and started detecting low-quality websites. At the same time, website owners began developing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) methods that design the website and content to appeal to search engine algorithms. Some of them also developed ways to game the system by various unfair means such as keyword stuffing, link exchange and spamming, etc.
These developments posed a serious challenge in this newly developing field. Initially, it was tolerable, but gradually everybody realized the tricks and started taking advantage of the system. The search results got filled not with useful information but with blatant promotional materials that never provided any value to the people. To combat cheap tricks, Google began updating its search algorithm frequently, which was necessary to maintain high quality and relevant content at the top of its search queries. Website owners work hard to keep their content appealing to Google search.
Google HTTPS/SSL Update
In August 2014 to encourage websites to become more secure, Google is giving a boost to sites that use the secure HTTPS connections, currently only a lightweight signal. This update is expected to affect 1% of Google queries, and in the future, they may strengthen the weight of this SEO Signal to encourage more HTTP owners to upgrade to HTTPS. These websites will have at least a 2048-bit certificate. So in this move, a slight ranking boost is given to promote website security.
Google Panda: For a better web
Due to regular complaints regarding search quality, Google finally decided to weed out the malicious and low-quality pages from its results, and one of the biggest blows got delivered in 2011 through the Panda update. Since then we have seen several versions of the Panda, all trying to chastise low quality or duplicate content. In between, it also came up with other updates such as Google Penguin, which targeted websites using unethical link building practices and put many such service providers out of business.
These updates created a panic situation in the web fraternity. Some websites got downgraded and lost their business very fast while some others gained miraculously. SEO experts tried to work their way around them, but eventually, everyone realized only one thing that they have to do is, adapt to Google’s algorithm to stay relevant.
What Signals are essential?
The basics of Search Engine Optimization remain the same. You need to have the right keywords in your content, and you need to build links from reputable websites. The design and structure of the website also matter. However, apart from them, Google now ranks websites by looking at various other “signals” to determine the quality of web pages and to rank them accordingly. For example, nowadays one major signal is the length of the content. In-depth articles with comprehensive details reach higher SERP (search engine rank position) as they are likely to be more valuable for the users. You cannot expect to achieve much with a hundred word token articles stuffed with keywords.
Another important signal here is the advertisements. Sites get penalized if there are too many adverts on a website, which cannot be differentiated between actual content or impede the reading of website content. Similarly, you should also avoid various malicious techniques like keyword stuffing, cloaking (showing different content to humans and the search engine), paid links and link spamming like the plague.
Panda 4.0: The predecessor
This version of Panda was a major update in May 2014 which affected ~7.5% of search queries. Panda 4.0 attacked sites that Google considered “low” quality by placing them lower in the search rankings. With each update Panda seeks to improve on the way, it penalizes websites that don’t meet these criteria.
Panda 4.1: Who gains and who suffers?
When a new update comes out, it always spreads a sense fear among the publishers. However, if your website has already experienced during the last update and you took action to correct yourself, then this may also be the moment when you can bounce back. In any case, you need to keep watching your traffic numbers at Google Analytics. If there is a sudden drop in traffic, you can assume that website got hit by the Panda.
So far, a few days after the update, it has been observed that as usual the thin and repetitive content have been hurt the most. Sites that just pick up bits and pieces from other websites have paid the price. That is why it is necessary to ensure that you do not publish duplicate content even accidentally. For instance, hundreds of sites contain song lyrics. So for a particular song, all of them will have the same content. In such cases, most of the sites are likely to suffer apart from a few big and reputed ones. On the other hand, news sites that regularly update with fresh content and blogs that offer in-depth articles on specific topics have gained after Panda 4.1.
The analysis carried out by the Searchmetrics blog found some websites had dropped as much as 79% in search result position, and others had gained as high as 1353% in ranking. The top 5 websites that suffered from the latest update tended to be sites with very little content, low-quality content, medical sites and large ad websites. These types of sites were penalized heavily by the latest Panda iteration.
Many winners saw substantial increases in their website visibility. Sites with longer articles containing high quality and unique content were ranked much higher after this update. Also, sites that allow you to share via social media Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. seem to be favored by this latest iteration. Some websites that were previously walloped by Panda 4.0 were winners with Panda 4.1.
What is high quality?
Google released guidelines in 2011 regarding sites with high-quality content. Consider the following questions when trying to figure out what is considered high quality:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallower in nature?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
The EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) concept was born from these criteria to evaluate or improve websites. Focusing on meeting these standards is the best way to improve visibility in Google search.
How to Recover?
In case you have been hit already, all you can do is to try and improve your content and wait for the next update. You can consider the following steps:
- Write long and detailed posts of high quality.
The latest search algorithm encourages sites to have longer and higher quality posts. Focus on making anything you post filled with content and about 1000+ words in length.
- Revise or remove all low quality and duplicate content.
Take the time to revisit all old articles and ask yourself if you are filling Google’s guideline for high-quality websites. Posts that do not meet Google standards should be removed or rewritten.
- Update old posts with new information if applicable.
An old post containing irrelevant information need updating to current information.
- Enforce strict editorial guidelines to avoid poor grammar and spelling mistakes.
Sites will be penalized that contain grammatical errors and poor spelling.
- Improve the website design to make it more user-friendly and navigable.
Do not have your site cluttered or filled with ads, try to make it seamless and user-friendly.
- Have a third party review your website.
Remember that your site caters for real human beings. Consider hiring a third party to review your website and assist with improving its quality and make it more favorable to Google search.
Google updates such as Panda are formulated with noble intentions. They want to make the web a better place by making better content more obvious and removing spam. That is why such updates should not alarm you if you are running your website with a purpose and creating your content seriously. Just keep the basics right and maintain quality. If you can provide value, you will get the same in return.
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