Panda is a new search algorithm from Google designed to improve search return quality for users by filtering for better quality matches. Google cited that the core focus of Panda (AKA the Farmer update) was to target content farms, which were making money selling ads around content scraped from other sites.
Panda was launched 11 April 2011 in the UK, but was initially rolled out in the US towards the end of February 2011. Sites are affected to varying degrees, USA industry reports 10%-20% traffic reductions (although some sites have lost up to 90% of search traffic). If sites see a dramatic drop in traffic from early April it is probably linked to Panda. Although cyclical traffic patterns may have been affected the week of the 11th April, normal patterns seemed to return the following week, albeit at lower levels.
If hit, sites with a lower percentage of search traffic will see the impact to much lesser degrees. For example subscription sites will be less affected as they host quality data much of which is behind pay walls, and the content will be high value and unique. If anything, such sites are likely to experience a positive impact, as quality content will achieve increasing search returns.
10 point Panda proofing checklist
If any of the following apply you might need expert support in terms of audit of your site platform:
• High levels of ads, especially being served around low quantity / quality content. Content duplicated elsewhere on the web may well cause issues
• The new Google Chrome ‘delete results’ functionality is also thought to contribute to the algorithm
• High bounce rates and short site interactions will contribute
• Excessive keywords and poor semantics and spelling – these contribute too
• Unnatural content structure, i.e. a site obviously designed for maximum SEO, not users.
• Presence of duplicate or automatically generated content
• Sites not following Google guidelines, which covers lots of areas including design, usability, reliability etc. Social media integration also scores points.
• Slow site loading and page download speeds.
• Often the main culprits are 3rd party tags
• Site errors in Google Webmaster tools, including 404s / broken links. In such cases old urls need 301 redirects to correct the problem i.e. if content sections have been removed (such as old events).
What to do
• Review quantity, size and prominence of ads on the site
• An in-house evaluation of site speed. An optimization exercise may be required including images, 3rd party tags, coding.
• Use Google tools to review site performance, speed, quality and content.
• Check Google sitemaps are all working correctly.
• Review layout, coding and content.
• Design and usability impacts
• Review depth of content
• Site maintenance and webmaster tools reviewing 404 errors
As with any Google algorithm change, Panda will continue to evolve and be refined over time. After each of the previous updates there has been a number of smaller spikes highlighting further changes to the algorithm, this is likely to also be the case for Panda, therefore potentially affecting more sites in the future.
Moving forward the factors that the Google Panda update has taken into consideration are highly likely to play a big part in the future of organic search.