Earlier this month Google rolled out another Panda algorithm update, dubbed Panda 4.1. Panda updates are focused on improving the quality of content displayed in web searches and Panda 4.1 (which is impacting about 3%-5% of search queries) is a small iteration of the major Panda 4.0 update rolled out in May 2014. What is this latest update all about? And what does it mean for digital marketers?

New signals detected

The Panda 4.1 update is thought to have been introduced because Google has discovered some new signals to help it detect low-quality content. So sites with thin or aggregated content can expect to lose visibility in search results, while sites with comprehensive, helpful and user-oriented content are likely to benefit.

This is backed up by the sites that seem to have been affected. For example, in our analysis of Panda 4.1 winners and losers (based on Google US) we saw that the update is again targeting for example thin content and aggregator sites.

Sites like FindTheBest, Pearltrees or Socialcomments.org mostly aggregate content and seem to present it in a nice, easy to consume way. But they are aggregators – which means they don’t display unique content. And Google doesn’t want these kinds of pages to rank highly in its results.

Smaller sites set to benefit

According to Google, Panda 4.1 is also supposed to help small to medium sized businesses rank better. In the past, the challenge that Google faced was that bigger sites often benefited the most, just because they showed a good amount of relevant signals (such as backlinks). Now Google is trying to find the right balance for assessing the different signals from both bigger and smaller sites. It is evaluating signals from large and small sites in different ways because they require different benchmarks.

There are two different kinds of signals that Google’s algorithm analyses. Quantitative signals are based on the content on web pages and structure of websites. Qualitative signals are based on user behaviour (such as bounce rates and time on site).

With quantitative signals it is Google’s mission to find sites with unique and rich content – content that provides an added value for the searcher. And with the mass of data that Google collects, it makes sense to take the user signals and weigh the results against a group of other results.

Search results with below average user behaviour are usually sites with a bad user experience. Google is using both signals to determine which results are relevant for the searcher based on their query. When a site has too many “bad” signals, the whole site can fall in rankings. Panda is not just targeting a few specific keywords on a site. It always affects a huge part of the page, that’s it has to be taken very seriously.

Panda 4.1 is the latest Panda update focused on improving the quality of content  in web searches

Panda 4.1 is the latest Panda update focused on improving the quality of content in web searches

What to do if you are hit by Panda?

If your site is unlucky enough to have been hit by a Panda update, one of the first things to do is to a clean-up. Many sites have too much thin content. They have to add value to these pages, find low value pages and merge them or ‒ if the content is outdated ‒ just delete them. Otherwise, these sites will continue generating a bad user experience because they do not serve the intention of your searchers. Time on site will stay low and searchers are likely to ‘bounce’ back to the Google search results page. Google can analyse this and if you do nothing, things will only get worse. Pages that continue to hang on to their low value content tend to experience a ‘slow-death’; they gradually lose visibility until nothing is left.

The next step is to ensure you are adding high value content to the site. We have analysed what content on well-ranked pages has in common and how it compares with content from lower ranking sites. Our research found that better ranked content is on average more comprehensive, easier to read and often longer, with more images on the page.

Most importantly relevant content does not only focus on a certain number of keywords, but covers additional semantically related terms, covering several aspects of a given subject in a holistic fashion. We have gathered some more of the parameters which are common to higher quality, higher ranking sites in our recent Ranking Factors / Rank correlation Study.

So in summary: If you are impacted by Panda, delete landing pages that are optimised for single keywords and pages that are performing poorly. And create fewer, relevant, high value pages that comprehensively cover a topic rather than having several pages with similar content. This will improve the user-experience and have a positive impact on rankings in the medium to long term.

Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober


Marcus Tober is Co-Founder and CTO of Searchmetrics.