What’s Black and White and Impacts 3-5% of Search Queries? Panda 4.1!

October 20th, 2014 by Amy Arnold

In the last two months, Google has been busy improving the Panda. In early August (Aug. 8, 2014, to be exact), there was a lot of chatter from the SEO community seeing the flux in Google Analytics accounts, which was generally accepted as an unconfirmed monthly Panda data refresh.

In early September, there was a large Panda data refresh, and on Sept. 25, Google’s Pierre Far announced yet another Panda algorithm update, (the previous Panda algo update was May 19).


And just to keep you on edge, ceaselessly examining your Analytics data, the rollout of this Panda has been sloooowwwwslothlike. Google confirmed that some Google data centers were not updated until “October 6 or later.” So, your website could have seen the algorithm at some point before Sept. 25 and after Oct. 6 – that’s a two-week time frame to analyze!

What is Panda?

There are so many blog posts out there describing the Panda algorithm, I will just summarize it briefly. If you’re interested in reading about it in more detail, here’s a good blog post, and some excellent reading here.

Panda is an algorithm that filters the search results to:

  1. Reward high-quality content with more presence
  2. Push sites with thin content down to rank lower

Google says low quality or thin content is text that

  •   Is very short in length
  •   Offers very little useful information to the consumer
  •   Is unoriginal or copied

Your website content should not be self-serving; it’s all about providing information to the consumer to educate them with detailed and authoritative information.


This most recent Panda is an algorithm update, which is supposed to reward more high-quality small and medium-sized websites. From Par’s G+ post:

“Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.”

This update is significant because it added more signals to better identify lower quality sites. Earlier algo updates have rewarded big directories for local searches, so this update is exciting because small- and medium-sized websites have a fighting chance for ranking in their local markets.

Google Updates vs Data Refreshes

To paraphrase, an update is a change in the algorithm. A data refresh is when the algorithm has not changed, and new data that is pushed through the data centers, such as new crawl data, is updated in the various data centers across the Google universe.

Updating the data centers is one reason why updates are seen at different times for different geographies.

I am quoting this really old Matt Cutts blog post here:

Algorithm update: Typically yields changes in the search results on the larger end of the spectrum. Algorithms can change at any time, but noticeable changes tend to be less frequent.

Data refresh: When data is refreshed within an existing algorithm. Changes are typically toward the less-impactful end of the spectrum, and are often so small that people don’t even notice. One of the smallest types of data refreshes is an:

Index update: When new indexing data is pushed out to data centers. From the summer of 2000 to the summer of 2003, index updates tended to happen about once a month. The resulting changes were called the Google Dance.”

What are data centers? Google crawls the websites out there and caches those in their gigantic index. That index is huge and is stored on thousands of machines. Those thousands of machines live in various Google data centers around the world. To truly geek out, read more about Google data centers here – these centers are where the Internet exists.

Did Panda Help or Hurt Your Site?

When you look in Google Analytics, it may be easy to see a drop off or dramatic increase. For example in the graphic below, I’m guessing Panda rolled out in the business’ local area around Oct. 6, and it didn’t go well for the site:

Panda rolled out Oct 6, 2014

And on Sept. 29, this site was Panda-happy:

increase in Google organic traffic after Panda September 2014

For most of the sites I looked at, the visual changes were more subtle, so I usually toggle between the data by week vs. the daily data. The weekly data shows me a week where the decreases started, which correlates to the earlier rollout dates:

weekly analytics view to pinpoint Panda rollout

When I switch to the daily data, I can clearly see the dips in traffic. I have to pinpoint Saturday, Sept. 20t or Wednesday, Sept. 24 as the day this site got the Panda.

daily Analytics shows dips in Google organic traffic after Panda

The Sept. 20 might be a little early to fit in the Panda time frame, and I am accustomed to seeing a spike immediately before an algo filter, so I’m going for Sept. 24. Using Sept. 24 as the before and after date, this website has seen 12% decrease in Google organic traffic.

12% decrease in Google organic traffic after Panda Sept 2014

This website with the 12% decrease in Google organic traffic after Panda is a good website for an authoritative local business. What this drop tells us is even if the content on the site offers really great information for the consumer as this one does, it might be old and/or thin. Someone may have copied it over the years. We might need to add other content to our pages with images and videos. Content is not just text. We need to take a good look at the age of the text and the variety of the content on the page. With this review, we can create a strategy for improving the content for the next Panda data refresh.

What to Do Now

PandaImageWebsite owners or managers who see a Panda smack really need to take a critical look at the content on the site. To succeed, the content needs to be information rich, and not self-serving.

An example of self-serving content is content that is stuffed with keywords, abundant keyword use on a page not only in the body text, but also in the URL and alt tags. This is also sometimes referred to as over-optimization.

Self-serving can also mean the content talks too much about the business instead of talking about the product or service the consumer is trying to learn about. Talking about the business is great as long as it’s on the About page or the home page. Leave products or service pages to be about those topics.

This is a great list compiled by Josh Bachynski “The Complete Google Leaked PANDA Do & Don’t LIST – 2011 to Present.”  This list really dives into the aspects of good and not-so-good content.

Google published a list of questions to ask when writing content. The full list is here. I have chosen some to republish below:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • 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?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

Diversity of content and freshness of content are also factors to consider.

Diversity of content helps readers in various ways. Content can mean images. Original images are best rather than stock images, but stock images work. Content can also mean videos, charts, calculators, and reviews. Content is anything that helps the consumer learn more to make well-informed decisions.

For content freshness, a blog is probably the easiest approach to keep the website updated regularly without having to rewrite your page’s content too often.

If you have a specific owner or practitioner who is the authority on the information, claim that using Author markup – authorship thumbnails are gone from SERPs but that doesn’t mean the Author authority is gone.

There are so many tactics for coming back after a Panda smack, and the best strategy is a mix of tactics. It will likely take time to create really good content and build back your website credibility, but it is a necessary investment for your site’s success.

If you think your site is suffering from the Panda, give us a call. We would be glad to help.