Lee Odden

SEO Storm or Light Shower? Google’s Panda 4.0 Update

Lee Odden     Google, Online Marketing, SEO

Google Panda 4.0

The thunder clap of Google’s Matt Cutts’s Twitter post could be heard across the web this week with the announcement of the search engine’s latest update, Panda 4.0.

Of course the type of Panda I’m talking about isn’t a cute bear from China. It’s the name of an algorithm used by Google to filter out low quality content from search results.

The first Panda update in Feb, 2011 was fairly aggressive, affecting about 11% of queries on Google and millions of searchers. Panda also had an impact on more than a few website owners who fell from the search results like hail from the sky.

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable reports that this most recent Panda update is expected to affect 7.5% of English search queries and with 12.5 billion searches per month on Google, that could be a pretty big storm for the SEO world.

For the most part, the types of content being washed away  in the Panda rain represent the low end of the quality spectrum: thin content without much substance, duplicate content and spammy content.

A Softer, Gentler Panda?  Unfortunately, many small businesses were caught up in those earlier updates, but Google has been rolling out a number of refinements to Panda since, to “soften” things up a bit. That is how Panda 4.0 has been characterized on several of the Search Engine Marketing websites covering the space. Not only did Google roll out this major update in it’s efforts to better filter high and low quality sites, but it’s now positioned to continue softening up Panda where needed.

Panda Lightning Strikes: Whether Panda 4.0 was actually a softener or not is up for debate amongst sites like ask.com, ebay.com and examiner.com which were called out by SEO software company SearchMetrics in it’s Winners and Losers List for Google USA. eBay in particular has felt the pain of Panda and Dr. Pete gave a very thorough analysis of that situation over on Moz.

And the Winner Is…  Essentially, the analysis is that this iteration of Panda affected sites both positively and negatively. “Winners” from the Panda 4.0 update include: glassdoor.com, buzzfeed.com and consumer affairs.com. Search Engine Watch also reports that some site owners experienced a significant jump in traffic after the update, so it appears that Panda 4.0 isn’t all bad news for site owners.

Panda Overhaul: As a means to filter out low quality content sites from search results, Panda updates have functioned as rolling data refreshes, but Search Engine Land says Panda 4.0 was significant – an update to the algorithm itself.

The Bottom Line With Panda for Digital Marketers: I think the takeaway here is that while many marketers tightened up their search engine optimization efforts, there’s still plenty of “baby getting tossed out with the bath water” when Google makes significant updates (Panda and Penguin). Every website owner and marketer should be watching their web analytics closely to track changes in organic referred traffic.

Don’t Forget Your SEO Umbrella:  Even if a company thinks their content holds up to the Panda quality filter, it’s important to have a complete audit of all past content as well. It’s not enough to make a commitment to creating robust content that’s easy to find and share in the future, but to determine if any historical content has now become a liability.

If you’re not sure how to manage content and links for maximum SEO benefit and minimum Google penalty, there’s a lot of advice on the topic and plenty of consultants willing to audit and manage it (including TopRank Marketing).

Content Isn’t the Only Way to Get Wet:  Along with the content on your website, inbound and internal links should also be managed.  Companies may be entirely focused on PR related efforts for link acquisition from the most credible of editorial sources, but the totality of a company’s link profile must also be maintained. It’s not above competitors to send nasty links your way in an effort to pull your competitive advantage away. Some of the link sources put in place years ago could not become a liability with Google Penguin – of which another update is imminent.

No Matter How White Hat, Prim and Proper Your SEO Raincoat Is, it’s important to monitor, manage and optimize the search performance of your search marketing assets on an ongoing basis. Just because SEO has changed significantly, doesn’t mean search engines have become static. There’s nothing static about search engines. The continuous change and updates to what’s allowable means companies that expect to attract new business and be easy to find for current customers, will need to maintain search engine readiness.

No site is truly immune to Google’s decisions and that is why no business should have all it’s online marketing eggs in the Google basket.

Has your site been affected by Google’s Panda 4.0 update? Have you seen a sudden drop in organic search traffic form Google in the past week?

Image: Shutterstock

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I think the bottom line here is that publishing content just for the heck of traffic is not a good idea. The main reason why Google made the update – because a lot of sites take a lot of content just for them to attract more visitors from the search engines to go to their site and give some impressions and clicks to the ads.

  2. I like Buzzfeed being rewarded Lee. Recognizing creativity! I’m about it on my blog and throughout my brand. Being creative, using powerful headlines and publishing valued content frequently should be noted. Nice share!

  3. Avatar LithoCafe.com says

    Thanks Lee for the Info.

    How do you find the happy medium between good content and SEO? We work hard to provide informative printing information for our website, while trying to also keep SEO in mind.

    Look forward to seeing future updates!

  4. That’s really interesting article, thanks for sharing.