Has Panda 4.0 Got You Down?

June 18th, 2014 by Search Influence Alumni

Sad Panda 4.0 Image - Search Influence

Now that we are 4 weeks post-Panda 4.0, there is a decent amount of data to sift through and determine if a website got caught in the Panda filter.

Panda is supposed to provide consumers with search results that are helpful to their needs. This means websites that have some authority and provide a service to consumers are going to be more trusted and rank better. The better websites offer answers to consumers for what they are looking for and help them make decisions based on useful information. The content is engaging and gets people the information they need.

Not Too Much Panda Drama

Matt Cutts Panda 4.0 Tweet Image

Panda started rolling out May 19, so that’s our magic date for before and after data. When looking only at Google organic traffic and comparing May 19, 2014-Jun 15, 2014 to Apr 21, 2014-May 18, 2014, I saw a 6.71% increase for one plastic surgeon’s website. This is a respectable increase when you consider that summer is generally thought to be the start of the slow season for plastic surgery as an industry.

For this plastic surgeon, I looked at the same date range for the last 4 years. Every year, this same date comparison resulted in a minor and expected decrease of Google organic traffic. This illustrates the typical seasonality. Given that history, we’re pretty excited to see an increase from Google organic traffic going into summer.

I looked at another client’s website, this time for an apartment complex, which is up 15% in Google organic search. Last year showed a decrease for the same time frame comparison. Unfortunately, the client didn’t have Analytics data for 2012. I have always thought that summer would be a high season for his industry, but he says for his complex and his location, summer is not necessarily the busy season. I always like to see double-digit growth in Google organic traffic (that’s a no brainer), but I worry about the monthly Panda data refresh leveling things back out, which happens all the time. The fact that the site had an increase at least tells us that the site is trusted, and we are on the right path, so that’s the story to celebrate.

One of our account managers has a charter-fishing website (which I think would be super fun to work on). This fishing charter client had a whopping 115% increase, but you have to consider that this is his high season. Last year the same time frame comparisons saw a 65% increase. Even with the seasonality, I think he was a winner with Panda 4.0. He has lots of great original photos and lots of engagement – it totally looks fun to go out on his boat! And that’s a major part of what makes a quality site.

Site Traffic For Engaging Content Chart Image - Search Influence

In the health industry, we have a drug rehabilitation clinic website, which experienced a 19% increase after Panda 4.0. So, the interesting part for this client is that their content is solid. We have been working more heavily on their citations and less on their content, so it’s possible this client is simply readjusting from the previous Panda. It’s also possible that clean local citations are helping the site’s quality and trust.


I know everyone reads these posts for some super secret insight, to learn some nugget of goodness, and I will probably disappoint. The efforts of our account managers have helped our clients’ websites, some shown above, but really, as a group, we have done nothing extraordinary. If it’s an older client, we have taken the time to review all of the past years of work and get back to the basics. We fixed any technical SEO problems we found. We are also constantly refreshing content, constantly reviewing citations, and building social channels with planned content calendars. If it’s a newer client, we work on building a solid foundation of fresh content, consistent business data, and getting social.

There is no magic here, just thoroughness.

This Wasn’t Just Any Ol’ Panda Update

This Panda update is largely thought to be a significant algorithm change rather than the monthly refresh. Barry Schwartz says it succinctly, “Panda 4.0 must be a major update to the actual algorithm versus just a data refresh. Meaning, Google has made changes to how Panda identifies sites and has released a new version of the algorithm today.”

What Does This Mean Quote Panda 4.0 Update Image - Search Influence

What does this mean? It means that if you look in Google Analytics and your visits took a dive towards the end of May 2014, then you need to dedicate some time, effort, and resources to your website. When there is a Panda data refresh every month, it’s not going to get better without some serious website rehab.

As a side note, most of the clients I looked at had a small bump up in first week of June. I don’t know if there was a Panda refresh just 2 weeks after the Panda algo update, but I definitely see it across a large number of clients.

The Panda Checklist

Cleaning House For Panda 4.0 Update Photo - Search Influence

There is so much you can do to “clean your house” for Panda, but here are the first efforts I would take to tackle the Panda beast.

#1 Crawl Before You Can Walk

Start with a detailed crawl of your website. You can use whichever website crawler you prefer (At Search Influence, most of us use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider). You’re really just looking for a comprehensive spreadsheet where you can look at your website as a whole. The crawl will give you a list of pages, images, CSS files, and many other goodies.

With this list, you can sort, filter, get organized, and clean up your site.

  • Review how many H1s and H2s each page has. Subheadings are wonderful. Use them.
  • Check your canonicals. Make sure they are set up properly.
  • See what is being redirected.
  • Find what is 404ing.
  • Read the meta data for each page and see how amazing or how lame it is.

With this list, you can find multiple pages on a single topic. Often enough, we find a client has multiple pages and posts on a single topic. I looked at a client two weeks ago who had 8 pages all on the #1 service she offered. Wow! I was so overwhelmed. I can’t imagine how a casual site visitor would feel (“Where in these 8 pages is the info I need?”) or how the Google bots sort this out. Confusion within your own site is absolutely a no-no. If I am confused about which page I should read, then the Google bots sure won’t know what to say about it. If they could talk and all.

Once you review your site crawl and have some action items to improve the tags and architecture (i.e. make it easier for the consumer to find what they need), you can laser focus on individual pages within the site.

#2 Am I a … Plagiarizer?!

Put your site through a content checker. There are a few out there, so try several because no single tool is the best. If you wrote your content years ago or someone wrote your content for you, it’s a good investment to check for duplication. Who knows who has scraped your content or if your writer ripped it off from some other unsuspecting website owner.

Search Influence’s Tracy Stoller, Content Lead, asks a pointed question, “Google is looking for quality content that is useful to searchers. If the content is on 40 other sites, what makes your site the useful one?

#3 Improve the Content

If you’ve discovered some redundant pages, you need to merge those pieces into a single primary page for the given topic. This is tedious, but it absolutely must be done.

If you happen to find some duplicate content, rewrite it. Sit down and knock out some new text. If you are the business owner, then you know the details of your product and service like no one else. I like to suggest that a business owner talk about the service—just talk—and record him/herself. Then, have a transcript service type it up from the recording. This usually generates the most natural and most detailed text, even after editing.

How long has it been since you updated the content on your site?

I logged into a client’s WordPress site last week and saw that the page I was on had not been updated since 2010. We have been updating their content slowly, but, clearly, we missed this one. Some topics may not have much change in four years, but we can look at how the visitors came to that page and where they went after and how long they spent on the page, and we can certainly refresh the page with this information in mind. We can rewrite with more details and offer easy links to the most often visited next page. We want to make it as easy as possible for the visitor to get the information they need.

Remember, content does not mean just text. Content is text and videos and images and calculators and quizzes and slideshows, etc. Multifaceted media on a single page creates an extremely consumer-focused experience.

#4 Take Some Pictures!

You need relevant images on your page of text. Text and images should be focused on a single topic. The image should be optimized around the same topical idea as the text on the page. If you create the image, and it’s original, that’s even better. I have combed through a client’s Facebook, Flickr, and Pinterest to grab any original images they have and reuse them on the website. If they already exist, and I have access to them, it’s one less thing I have to ask the client to do. You really need to see the impact of authentic, original images.

Really, which of these says more to the consumer?

Engaging Photos Comparison Sailor Image - Search Influence

#5 Blogging

Pages and blog posts are different animals. Pages are for the topics that are evergreen and should represent a business’ core products or services. Blog posts are for

  • Commenting on current events,
  • Answering specific questions that require high levels of detail (Q&A)
  • Showing current trends in your industry
  • Real engagement with your audience!

Paula Keller, Search Influence’s Director of Account Management, says, “We see blog posts written about specialized topics from seven years ago still driving organic search engine traffic to a website. Blogging is good for the readers who come across it today, good for the search engines as the new content publication brings them back to your site, and has long-lasting benefits on your site’s authority.“

#6 Video

Video is not entirely necessary to overcome Panda, but it is a great addition to your content. The best videos are created with some input from the client or are created by the business owner with a handy smartphone.

The best videos are instructional how-to’s or tutorials: 30 seconds on unclogging a sink, installing an ice maker water line, or one minute of an attorney educating us how to behave if we get pulled over or… (Yikes!) arrested.

When you have a video created and ready, add the video to your Google account’s YouTube channel, and embed it on the topically relevant page. Mark it up with proper schema! I would add videos at a pace that is both slow and steady – once a month, once a quarter – whatever frequency you think you can actually stick to.

#7 Consistency is The Key

Okay, so I know that local citations work is not the first thing we think of when we are considering Panda (typically thought of as strictly a content algorithm). Panda is really searching for the quality, authoritative websites. Way back at the very first Panda, Google said, “It will provide better rankings for high-quality sites.” And one of the key efforts in building high-quality sites is having clean consistent business data across the local ecosystem.

David Mihm started his Local Search Ranking Factors “to help small business owners confused by Local Search, or those strapped for time, to prioritize their marketing efforts.” Many industry leaders contribute to the Factors (including Search Influence!). It was last published in August 2013, and it reveals that citation volume, NAP consistency, and other local signals account for 16% of the ranking factors.

Overall Ranking Factors Chart Image - Search Influence

Our own Mary Silva, Senior Internet Marketing Associate, adds, “Consistent and correct business NAP (Name, Address, Phone, and often Website) is the key to getting your site to rank locally. If Google finds inconsistencies in your business information across the web, then your business and its associated site are considered less authoritative and not as trustworthy.”

You can clean your listings yourself, but be forewarned, it’s a serious time investment. There are tools out there to help you in this endeavor. Be sure to allocate some hours every month to reviewing those tools and taking any action to edit and update listings as you go.

Learn to Love the Panda!

If you need help getting your site back on track from Panda, we would love to help out. Just know that Panda can be your friend. The latest update shows that it’s a simple matter of some spring cleaning, getting back to the basics, and being a good citizen. We can help you get there!