Google Update: Panda 4.0 (Panda-monium!)

Oh no, here we go again. Another Google algorithm update has just been released, Panda 4.0.

The first Google Panda algorithm update, originally rolled out in February 2011, was targeted at sites with little, or low-quality content. However, small business sites with less content began losing out to larger brands. The small business and SEO communities expressed their concerns about the update and Matt Cutts announced that Google would be releasing a softer Panda update in the near future.

Here’s a quote about the original Panda algorithm release:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites-sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites-sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”
— Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, and Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer

Panda has been updated in small refreshes on a monthly basis for about a year, but this is a larger change to the algorithm. Unfortunately, the effects and extent of the update are still not known, as not many details about the update have been released. If this is the softer Panda update, it could mean lessening the original harsh blow to small business’ websites. Bigger brands, that seemed to be okay after the original release, may now need to reassess their strategies.

Pandas, Penguins, and Payday Loans, Oh My!

Just before the Panda 4.0 update was announced, Google announced an update to the algorithm that targets spammy queries, most often referred to as the Payday Loan Algorithm. Payday Loan Algorithm 2.0 was simply a refresh, affecting a greater number of spammy search queries.

Google releasing two updates in one week has a lot of webmasters confused about what happened. Depending on its properties, a site could have been affected by one, both, or neither of the updates. For instance, eBay was hit particularly hard by both of the updates. Since their site houses an extremely large number of products, they implement doorway or category pages specific to your search, which usually have very little content on them and a large list of links in the left margin navigation. That’ll get you hit with Panda all right. As for Payday Loans 2.0, eBay’s products often have identifiers such as “cheap” and “deals” which negatively affected their rankings.

Double Whammy

There’s a theory that Google is making these changes to push retailers to use Product Listing Ads, or PLA’s, in addition to their existing organic search efforts, for monetary reasons. Truth be told, this might make companies unhappy, but it makes for a better user experience.

What You Need to Know


The Panda algorithm has been updated to Panda 4.0.

Targets: “Thin” or very little content, content that is not useful to the user

It’s a larger change than the monthly rolling updates we’ve seen so far this year. This could be the “softer” next-generation version of Panda that Matt Cutts mentioned. Small business owners might catch a break after being hit hard by the original release. Not a lot is known about the update yet, so be on your toes, and monitor your rankings.

Payday Loans

The Payday Loan algorithm has been updated to version 2.0.

Targets: Spammy queries

Watch your back if your site is in an industry that involves spammy queries, such as “payday loans” or “cheap apartments” If you generally stay away from black hat SEO techniques, your site won’t be greatly affected by this update.


The Penguin algorithm has not been updated.

Targets: Spammy linking tactics (paid links, unrelated links, excessive links, etc.)

Although there’s been some speculation of a new release soon, there’s nothing new to report here. Keep calm and carry on with your good link-building habits.

Learn from eBay’s Mistakes

What They Did

This article recounts Rishi Lakhani’s deep dive into what exactly happened to eBay. Essentially, their site uses doorway pages with a comprehensive list of product listings related to your search. On the doorway pages, there are no overarching content sections that apply, as you would find in a smaller eCommerce site’s structure. For instance, on a product category page selling signed baseball bats, you would normally find content about the quality of the baseball bats and their authenticity. While eBay’s individual product listings have content, their doorway pages have very little substance and a ton of links, which looks really spammy to Google.

What You Can Do

Content is King! Duh, everyone’s heard this before. Make sure you have enough content on your page(s). Don’t keyword stuff and try to write for search engines, because Google will find and penalize you (like Liam Neeson in Taken.) Write genuinely useful content that will help the user and make sure it’s kept up to date.The user will love how awesome and informative your website is and everyone wins.

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