Google’s Latest Algorithm Update – Panda 3.9

On July 25th, Google released their latest algorithm update – Panda 3.9.

With Digital Marketing’s rapid evolution and major Google search algorithm updates rolling out every few months, it’s challenging to stay on top of how these updates may be impacting our web presence and what counter measures need to be implemented to positively impact results from our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts.  So here’s a Panda primer…

What is Google’s Panda Algorithm?

Panda initially rolled out in February 2011 (globally, all languages except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which rolled out in August 2011) and was designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which have content of little value for the query and sites that copy content from other websites.  At the same time, Panda was engineered to improve rankings for high-quality sites – sites with original, well thought-out, in-depth content of value to the user.  The original Panda update impacted ~12% of searches (in contrast, most updates affect 1-5% of search queries; e.g. the update targeting slow-loading webpages, dubbed “Caffeine”, affected <1% searches)

Panda 3.9 is the latest data refresh of the Panda algorithm – this is essentially Google’s way of updating their data systems (i.e. Google’s Index).

Why does this matter?

Google aspires to deliver search results that are relevant, high quality and authoritative sources for whatever the searcher asks for.  Each time they modify their algorithm, it changes the impact of whatever on-page and off-page Search Engine Optimization strategies that earn your website its current position on any number of search terms.  If you take your eyes off the ball, your rankings for your most important keyword searches may drop if they have not already, and the cost of not ranking high on Google can result in losing revenue and market share to your competitors.

What should you be doing about Panda?

If you have SEO responsibilities at your company or are managing a relationship with an SEO agency, you should be doing or ensuring the following things are being checked to be in line with Google’s algorithm updates.  While these are all guidelines that Google has been advancing for years, with Panda they’re now (finally) actually enforcing them.

1. Build high quality content of value to the user
•  Google has started penalizing websites with ‘thin’ or ‘shallow’ content, and favoring websites that offer more substantive information.  If a user performs a relevant search and lands on your website, they should find the content relevant and uniquely informative.
• Do not copy content from other websites.  Content needs to be unique or you could be penalized.  It is also important that if you have multiple language sites, the content is uniquely localized for that region.
• If your site has many similar pages (for instance, for franchisees or locations), be sure to use the latest nomenclature tagging, or Google will think you’re trying to artificially boost your website page count (it’s a ranking factor).


2. Build a natural portfolio of high quality links from relevant webpages

•    The number and source of inbound links (links pointing to your website) should be in line with what is ‘natural’ for a similar website. Similarly, a percentage of our inbound links should be ‘no-follow‘ links.
•    Webpages which host your inbound links should be relevant in theme and not spammy – Google’s web crawlers are now able to assess an entire page where a link appears, and expect the link phrase (anchor text) to be in context, semantically speaking. The kind of ten-for-a-dollar links available for sale on eBay, for instance, no longer pass muster.
•    Install and monitor Google Webmaster Tools to determine if Google suspects ‘unnatural’ links to your website. •   Avoid the temptation to buy links. Getting rid of ones that get you in hot water can be a nightmare; some link sellers are now charging healthy fees to remove the links you once paid them for!

3. Avoid putting ads or banners ‘above the fold’ on your webpages.

• Users don’t like this, and neither does Google. Websites with many ads or banners above the fold (what a user sees before scrolling down the page) instead of high quality content can be marked as spammy and penalized by Google due to providing a poor user experience. Similarly, if your links are coming from pages like this, those links won’t help you.

As Google continues their mission to deliver the highest quality search experience, it is important for companies looking to dominate Search to stay up to date on the latest algorithm updates and adjust your ranking strategies accordingly.