Today Matt Cutts, head of the Google webspam team, announced that the search giant is rolling out its Panda 4.0 algorithm. This algorithm is aimed at lowering the rankings of low-quality or “thin” sites and those which provide a poor or untrustworthy user experience.
This particular update is supposed to be softer towards small businesses, who, it has been alleged, suffer a raw deal from Google’s algorithms.
The effects of the Panda algorithm do change frequently as Google refresh their data, however, it is important to note that this is an update to the actual algorithm rather than just a data-refresh. Therefore, the effects this time round remain to be seen.
Google also confirmed that it rolled out an updated version of its algorithm which targets very-spammy queries such as “pay day loans”. However, Matt Cutts made it clear that this is unrelated to its Panda or Penguin algorithms. This may explain why Mozcast, a service which records fluctuations in Google rankings, was showing the temperature for Monday May 19th as 98 degrees and stormy (the hotter and stormier the greater the fluctuation). This update apparently has an international focus, however English language results are still reportedly being affected.
There have also been rumours that Penguin 3.0 will hit search results sometime within the next days to weeks (there is normally an update in May). This algorithm targets sites which break Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, such as those with spammy inbound links or those employing black-hat SEO techniques. It lowers the rankings of pages it deems to have unnatural links (such as paid links or a high volume of low-quality links with similar anchor text).
Feedback on Google updates
Whenever Google announces an algorithm update, or when rumours start surfacing about changes to rankings on search results pages, the SEO and inbound marketing worlds go into somewhat of a frenzy. Normally, at least for white-hat SEOs and marketers, there is little to worry about. However, it’s part of the job to determine what the changes mean for websites. Typically there is a mixed reaction, with many SEOs quick to criticise Google, particular if they perceive them to have messed up their algorithm update, when it doesn’t seem to fulfil its purpose.
@mattcutts I’m seeing lots of sites with manipulated links gaining visibility since the weekend
— Pedro Dias (@pedrodias) May 20, 2014
Going to say it – Google borked the weekend update.
— John Doherty (@dohertyjf) May 21, 2014
Dr. Pete of Moz put together a nice summary of the algorithm changes, highlighting big losses by eBay.
What can be done?
As always the best way to stay on the good side of Google is to stick to its Webmaster Guidelines. Having a solid technical base to your website (examples here) and creating high quality, useful content are the best ways to improve rankings and user experience.
If you do notice drops in your traffic and rankings across the next week or two, check your backlinks in Google Webmaster Tools or by using a tool such as Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs. If you have unnatural links, you may have been hit by Penguin. It is possible to use the disavow tool within Webmaster Tools or remove any questionable links you built yourself, or ask webmasters of low-quality sites to remove them. It may also be worth looking at some of your website content and seeing what can be scrapped and what can be improved. This will help your site avoid being deemed low-quality or thin and keep you on the good side of Google Panda.
A history of Google algorithm changes can be found here: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change