If you’ve been following along with the on-going state of the SEO industry, you’ll know that recent times have been fraught with changes. On that score at least, things have stayed the same, in that they continue to change, and Google’s latest evolution has been the roll-out of the latest update to the Panda algorithm, 4.0.
Obviously the first thing that springs to mind is that this must be a fairly large update. Since Google officially stopped notifying people about changes to the algorithm, saying that they would be following a program of rolling refreshes (often on a daily basis) rather than doing big publicised updates, the algorithm news front has been quite.
This break from the new practice of not saying anything suggests a major change instead of just a refresh.
What Is Panda?
The Panda algorithm, originally rolled out in 2011, and now in it’s 26th (odd) iteration, was designed to prevent sites with low quality content from being ranked in search engine results. At the time, Panda and it’s subsequent updates wreaked havoc in the search engine results pages, with previously huge, high traffic sites experiencing massive drops as a result of poor quality, scraped, and keyword stuffed articles.
Google Panda 4.0, the latest version of the content algorithm, is supposed to be a “softer” version, but according to the professionals, it might also just be the start of future changes focused on the same goals…promoting high quality, unique and relevant content above bad quality, copied or derivative content.
How Bad Is It?
According to Google, this update will affect around 7.5% of all English queries to a significant degree. In practice though, that doesn’t really mean much. We can assume that this change involves actual changes to how Google identifies sites and their content.
As before, the real impact is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. It’s only in retrospect, and usually as a result of noticeable traffic drops, that most sites realise that Google might have had a problem with your site.
What Do You Do?
After years of chasing around after updates, and joining in the Google dance, I think I’ve largely given up worrying about Google updates. At the end of the day, if you maintain high on-site standards for SEO, with good solid page titles, internal links, sensible URLs, and above all, great quality, unique and relevant content, you should (in theory) be fine in the long run.
Focus on providing your users with a valuable and informative experience, and by definition, you should (again in theory) be pleasing Google as well.
In practice, it’s not always quite that simple. Sometimes arbitrary applications of “rules” or mistaken interpretations can impact sites that really don’t have anything wrong. Sometimes, things that used to be acceptable practice change overnight, and something you used to do suddenly harms you.
With SEO, there are no guarantees. But if you write, design and act with your users in mind, the odds are on your side. Sometimes you’ll find people doing things that should cost them and getting away with it, but don’t let it tempt you. Google aren’t stupid. Their wheels might grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine too. And sooner or later those sites will find that out.