How Google’s Panda 4.0 Algorithm Updates Will Affect You


As some of you may have heard, Google released another panda from the zoo – oops, wrong story… we mean Google released another Panda update (Panda 4.0) on May 20, 2014.

The Panda algorithm was originally launched in February 2011 and aimed to increase user experience by returning higher-quality sites near the top of search results and decreasing the rank of low quality sites and sites with thin or duplicate content.  A “thin page” is a webpage that adds little or no value to someone who is reading it.  This isn’t limited to breaking down a webpage by a certain number of words or characters, but in most cases pages with very few words are not helpful. Having one or two “thin pages” won’t necessarily hurt you with the Panda algorithm updates, but if a big enough portion of your website falls under that category, be careful.

Before we get into the details of the new update, let’s first discuss what Google considers high quality content.  Back in 2011, Google posted on their webmaster blog what they look for when deciding if a site is high quality of low quality:


Three years ago, with the first release of Panda, 12% of all search results were affected, but rankings of news websites, social networking sites and sites containing a large amount of advertising were affected the most.  Since the original rollout in February 2011, Google has made several updates to the Panda algorithm after Google webmaster forums became inundated with complaints of scrapers and copyright infringers getting better rankings than sites containing the original content.  However, Google has kept most of those updates “hush-hush,” until this most recent update.  This may be because all of the other updates before now were considered “fine tuning.”


The Biggest Update Since 2011

The Panda 4.0 update released last month was the largest change in Google’s search algorithm since the initial rollout in 2011. According to Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, this version of the algorithm will change the search results for approximately 7.5% of all search queries.  While Panda 4.0 brought some pretty terrible misfortune for sites with low quality content, it rewarded others for abiding by Google’s best practices for high-quality content.  Now that a month has gone by since the update, let’s take a look at the biggest losers and winners from the most recent update, according to


Panda 4.0 + Press Release Wires

There’s been a lot of talk about how Panda 4.0 affected multiple Press Release sites.  It’s no secret that Google doesn’t place much value on such sites.  Matt Cutts once stated, “Google regards press releases as owned content and links in them are not considered much value for SEO.”  Last year, Google updated their Webmaster Guidelines, asking webmasters to remove links with optimized anchor text in press releases.  Following this Panda update, major wire services lost a substantial amount of traffic as well as online visibility.  Individual press releases lost almost all rankings in search results.

Does that mean you should completely stop utilizing PR sites? The answer, in short, is no.  If your company has been releasing press releases the right way, you have done and will continue to do just fine in the eyes of Google.  They want the search results to show natural and organic web pages in order to provide useful information to their users.  Anything which tampers with the Google algorithm can be dropped from the search index.  This is why the Panda 4.0 update led to such a drastic fall in the rankings of multiple press release websites which employed spammy link building tactics.

The standards for effectively optimizing a press release to rank higher in search results will continue to evolve.  When looking for wires to distribute your PR news, make sure they tag external links as “no-follow” and they use their URL’s in conjunction with “rel=canonical” guidelines so the distributed content appear as duplicated content.  It’s also important to focus on writing for humans, not search engines!  Optimize your press releases with well-written, brand-relevant content that piques the interest of your target audience and appeals to reporters, analysts, employees, customers, brand fans and more.  Gaining media coverage, third-party endorsements and brand recognition are the important factors to remember when distributing press releases.  Not duplicating content across multiple platforms.

Lessons Learned

The 451 Digital Marketing Team’s takeaways:

  • Focus on the creation of 100% unique and original content.  Duplicity of any form, on your website or off your website, is risky.  Google penalizes sites with duplicate content very strictly, so make sure your content is in alignment with the “high quality site” bullets listed above.
  • We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – content is king. Create content which is of high quality, fresh, and engaging to your users and make sure that you provide some level of value.  You should be pushing out informative, educative and entertaining content rather than something crammed with keywords that you hope to rank for.  Your content should be inspiring and should strive to solve the problems of your target audience.   If you do not have a blog, now is the time to start creating a content strategy.

Last but not least, make sure you check out our blog post coming soon: Informational Queries. This will help you decipher what kind of questions your readers/consumers/target audiences are asking; therefore helping you create meaningful content and keeping your readers (and Google) happy!

Melissa Sciorra

Melissa Sciorra, SEO Director. Follow her @mel_arroics!

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