Just a few weeks ago, Google rolled out its latest Panda search-algorithm update -- otherwise known as the search update that could destroy your business.
Ever since, experts in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world have been struggling to understand the potential impact.
But it turns out that few analysts can quantify the effects of the Panda update. In reality, Panda 4.0 may just be another overhyped move by the powerful Google.
The Panda Punch
Google drew more attention to this particular Panda update, for whatever reason, even though the search giant's content algorithm is updated at least monthly. Matt Cutts, Google’s "Head of Webspam," called out last month's release on Twitter.
Google is rolling out our Panda 4.0 update starting today.— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) May 20, 2014
The latest Panda is designed to cut spam in links, hone in on high-quality, niche content, and stop people from gaming search engines with low-quality or duplicate content. But this has been part of Google's search goal for a while, and now it's clear, despite some sensationalistic stories, that the latest Panda is just a step further in that direction.
"The buzz around this Panda was that it was a bigger one," said Andy Kuiper of AndyKuiper.com, an SEO consultant based in Calgary, Alberta. "Panda is supposed to update every month, algorithmically. This last one had some buzz because Matt Cutts announced it, and there is a lot of stuff being thrown around. But it may have been overhyped."
News sites pounced on the update, attributing it to some large traffic swings. Sites such as Ask.com and eBay appeared to be hit very hard by the Panda update, with traffic declines as much as 50 percent, according to some reports. Other firms, however, have seen equally large boosts.
Correlating daily traffic shifts with Google algorithms is tricky. And in fact, even after the first wave of updates, it became apparent to some that Google continually adjusts search so that the most serious impacts waned after a week or so.
PR Takes a Hit
The widely stated goal of Google's Panda updates to its search algorithms is to reinforce high-quality content in search results and push out lower-quality content or spam.
One area that seems to have drawn the attention to many SEO analysts, and might be real, is a decline in search among press release sites, according to several industry reports.
When breaking down exactly what Panda penalized and favored, it's sensible to follow Panda's long, common theme, which was been widely communicated by Google: It seeks to favor original, high-quality, focused niche content, and filter out marketing-driven stuff.
'Awesome' Traffic Surges?
Glen Gabe, a digital marketing consultant, has analyzed almost 30 websites and the impact from Panda. On his blog, he said the results were wide-ranging, with some companies taking large traffic hits and others staging "awesome" traffic rebounds, which he attributed to the work they did to optimize for Google's adjustments.
Another interesting point Gabe makes is that Google had actually been tweaking the search algorithm through much of May, and Panda 4.0 was preceded by a few weeks by another search adjustment he refers to as "Phantom." That adjustment seemed to have even more draconian impact on search traffic that was later scaled back in the Panda update.
Gabe pointed to a large user forum with 1 million plus visits per month as an example of a site that adjusted well to Panda. They "made a boatload of changes to address thin content, spammy user-generated content, etc." writes Gabe. "They were able to gut low-quality pages, noindex thinner ones, and hunt down user-generated spam. They greatly increased the quality of the forum overall (from an SEO perspective). And they are up 24 percent since Panda 4.0 rolled out."
Content Culling Gone Wild
Others agreed that content optimization and tuning is key to adjusting to Panda. Daniel Hurley, Director of Search Strategy at Terakeet, a web agency in Syracuse, N.Y., said handling Panda is part of best practices with Web content. Some clients are reacting by accelerating plans they've had to deal with Panda principals all along.
"Most of the sites we saw affected are now actively culling (generally through a no-index directive in the page header) huge categories of content that either doesn't align with their sites conversion goals or that was user-generated and contextually disparate from the sites core purpose," wrote Hurley in an email.
Elsewhere, some SEO experts saw little effect at all. That might be because if aren't a huge site like eBay with vast amounts of small, product-specific pages, it may not matter.
"Some people are saying they dialed it down, some people are saying they dialed it up, and some are saying that they haven't noticed," said Kuiper. "Whenever an update comes out, people attribute a traffic change to this update."
Although the impact of yet another wave of Google Panda updates remains unclear, what does remain clear is the common theme: Google is going to continue to target low-quality or duplicate content, so if you haven't addressed this in your web optimization strategy, you're going to continue to fall behind.