Softer Panda Update Coming: Good News for Small Businesses (2014)

Panda bear in zoo

Google’s head of Webspam has just announced that a newer, ‘softer’ Panda update is in the works, and this is making a lot of small business owners very, very happy.

Many smaller sites felt the impact of the original Panda update back in 2011, and some are still struggling to recover. So, while Google had already released an update last year aimed at softening the impact of Panda, many webmasters are hopeful that this newest announcement will mean a full recovery and reinstatement of their pre-Panda search engine rankings.

A History of the Original Panda

In case you aren’t fully aware of what the original Panda update entailed (or if its impact was so bad you’ve blocked it out!), here is a brief recap:  In February 2011, Panda launched a filter, which it called Panda; this filter was implemented in an attempt to lower the rank of poor-quality sites and bump up the rankings of high-quality sites.

Problem was, many smaller sites were hit, and were hit hard. These were sites that weren’t all, as you might assume, spammy, or using questionable tactics to rank. However, many sites that had previously relied on short, keyword-rich content and lots of advertising noticed a significant decline in their rankings.

In response to webmasters’ questions and requests for clarification, Google Webmaster Help gave some guidance on what constitutes a high-quality site. Some of the factors they discussed included:

  • Is this content trustworthy, detailed and in-depth?
  • Does this content offer significant value to its readers?
  • Does this site have an excessive amount of ads that would distract readers?
  • Is this site a recognized authority on the topic?
  • How much quality control is done on this article?
  • Is this article original, or can similar content by found elsewhere on the web?

And perhaps the defining question webmasters were encouraged to ask themselves:

  • “Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?”

Basically, webmasters were being reminded to focus more on user-experience, and less on SEO. They were being encouraged to revisit their content, rewriting and combining shorter, lighter-weight articles in order to improve their overall value and quality (and thereby also rank better in the search engines).

The Google Webmaster team stated that besides asking questions like the ones above, there were a few other things webmasters could do to improve their rankings:

“One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.”

Google Softens the Blow in 2013

In May 2013, In an effort to ‘soften’ the effects of the original Panda update, Google announced that they would be making some changes to the original update. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team said in a Google Webmaster video:

“We are looking at Panda and seeing if we can find some additional signals, and we think we’ve got some to help refine things for sites that are kind of in the border zone, the gray area a little bit, And so if we can soften the affect a little bit, for those sites, that we believe have got some additional signals of quality, that will help sites that were previously affected – to some degree.”

So, how this update impact sites? Did sites hit by the original update recover? According to a poll by Search Engine Roundtable,  only 18% of sites claimed full recovery to their pre-Panda rankings. The full results were as follows:

  • 51% said they did not recover at all
  • 20% said they partially recovered
  • 18% said they fully recovered
  • 12% said they were unsure if they recovered at all

March 2014 Announcement: New, Softer Panda Coming Soon

Just this week, Search Engine Roundtable reported that Matt Cutts announced at SMX West that a newer, ‘softer’ Panda update is in the works. According to Cutts, this update is aimed at helping smaller businesses recover more fully from the original update. 

While we don’t know exactly what this update will look like, small businesses are undoubtedly looking forward to a potential increase in their rankings. Some outlets have predicted this update isn’t imminent, but that we should be expecting it within the next 2-3 months.

A quick review of discussion on social media reveals comments such as, “Oh great, this doesn’t look good. They’re just trying to find a reason for more businesses to use their adwords program”, and “I WONDER what Industry will be AFFECTED this TIME?”. Apparently, some webmasters remain skeptical about the potential benefits of this update.

What Webmasters Can Do Right Now to Increase the Chances of Recovery

If your site has never fully recovered from the original Panda update, there are a few steps I’d recommend you take in preparation for the next update. Keep in mind Google’s admonition to focus less on optimizing for the search engines, and more on providing high-quality, relevant content for your readers.

  • Continue posting high-quality, ‘meaty’ content (1000-2000+ words)
  • Combine smaller, ‘fluffier’ articles to make longer, more comprehensive ones
  • Rewrite poor quality content, linking to authoritative sources, or
  • Remove poor-quality content altogether.

It will interesting to see what percentage of smaller sites recover when this newest Panda update is released, and if or how it impacts sites that already experienced some level of recovery this time last year.

Interested in reading about more Google animal updates? Check out my post Penguin 2.1 Comes on the Heels of of Biggest Algorithm Change to Date.

Is this good news, in your opinion? Was your site hit by the original Panda update? Did you experience any relief with last year’s Panda update? 

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