With both Hummingbird and Penguin updates affecting websites by penalising unnatural backlinks, Panda 4.0 was expected to follow suit bringing low quality content further down in search rankings. Estimated to affect 7.5% of English search queries, this is a significant proportion considering previous algorithm updates have impacted only 0.2%. However, on the 25th of September 2014, Google’s Pierre Far announced Panda 4.1 - the latest update to the Panda algorithm.

Google Panda 4.1 Update

Panda is designed to reward websites creating high quality content and prevents those with low-quality content from ranking highly in SERPs. With many black-hat SEO strategies and a rising number of people trying to outsmart Google, algorithm updates are necessary. So...if you’ve noticed a drop in rankings / visits in recent weeks, your website may have been hit by Panda 4.1. Let’s take a look at what this can mean for your business.

Firstly, it is thought the Panda 4.1 update has been introduced as Google has identified new signals to help detect low-quality pages and, as such, this algorithm will be more concerned with poor quality content than ever before. Thin pages with low-quality content offer little to no value to visitors and if websites are plagued with such, the negative effects of Panda 4.1 will have begun to take effect already.

Secondly, duplicate content is viewed unfavourably by Panda 4.1, whether this is other sources on the web or duplicated throughout your own site. As such, the hardest hit websites will be those which rely on quoted sources, or content which is accessible through a number of web sources. To ensure you do not fall victim of Panda 4.1, attempt to remove as much duplicate content as you possibly can, replacing with original, high-quality content.

Previously, larger sites with a good amount of content and quality backlinks received benefits such as a higher position within SERPs, however, Panda 4.1 aims to be fair to small and medium sized businesses too. Google currently uses both qualitative signals (analysing user behaviour) and quantitative signals (evaluating content) to determine the quality of the site, however these signals will now also take into consideration whether the site is small, medium or large and rank appropriately.

Finally, if a minority of the pages on the website are of lower quality, the site as a whole may still experience a ‘Panda Penalty’. As with its predecessors, Panda 4.1 will also view a website unfavourably if they work as content farms, have an improper SEO structure, too many advertisements, poor grammar and/or are slow to load.

Top Tips to satisfy the Panda

You should already be in the routine of creating high quality, original, relevant content. If so, Panda is on your side! If not, you need to review your content strategy, quick! Panda 4.1 isn’t as generous as its other Google animal ancestors and you run the risk of being pushed to the bottom of Google’s ranking pile.

Firstly, conduct an audit of your website and update all irrelevant content which will not be of value to your audience. When an audience is engaged with the content on a webpage they tend to spend longer periods of time browsing it and Google’s qualitative signals will view this website favourably. Google Analytics can be used to analyse the best / most engaging content you’ve created. Brainstorming with your audience and encouraging user-generated content is also an excellent way of providing users with the content they want to see. The focus is on 100% original content, the more unique your content is, the better for Google recognition.

Secondly, in order to gain authority in the industry, a consistent supply of content is essential. Many companies start off with great intentions and high volumes of content, but this needs to be maintained to ensure the website is ranking well consistently.

As mentioned, user engagement plays a huge part in determining search rankings. In addition, social sharing also represents a form of user engagement that this is also tracked by Google (although it’s impact on ranking is debatable) and one that will certainly drive targeted traffic to the webpage.

How do you know if the Panda has bamboo-zled your site?

Providing you keep track of both your keyword performance and your search ranking position, you can determine if you have experienced a Panda hit. Additionally, comparing the level of traffic arriving at your site currently with before the update came into effect can provide an indication if you have been affected or not. This will inform you if action needs to be taken.

Although Panda 4.0 was estimated to affect 7.5% of all English searches, Panda 4.1 is estimated to affect only 3.5 - 5% of searches, conveying that many websites have followed Google’s guidelines for best practice off the back of 4.0 being launched. But, if you haven’t taken action, now is the time! Unique, high-quality content, providing a great user experience, and sticking to SEO best practice are essential for long-term success.

I spoke to our Search and Insights Strategist, who was kind enough to share his words of wisdom into search marketing and the latest Google algorithm updates; “Google will love you if your content is of real value and easily accessible; you offer a wide range of different content types; you appeal to the right audience; your build strong ties with authority websites; you provide a great user experience and you stand out from the crowd providing unique, original content.”