Google’s Pandas and Penguins are on the march again, just in time to make October scary for many site owners – and as the precursors to the long, dark winter of the traffic report for many.
We’ve talked about these Google algorithms before, and frequently with our clients. As a recap:
- Google Panda launched in February 2009. Since that time, there have been 27 known updates. The new release, which started a “slow rollout” on September 23, is officially Panda v4.1. Panda addresses content quality, and reduces the footprint of low quality, spammy or duplicated content in search results.
- Google Penguin launched in April 2012. A larger update, version 2.1 of Penguin went live on October 4, 2013. Penguin focuses most significantly on unnatural links to web sites, especially those built via paid link purchase, guest blogging and other low-quality approaches to gaining hyperlinks to content from third-party sites.
Obviously, Panda updates more iteratively, and more frequently. Penguin applies at a different level of Google’s algorithm, so every update is a big deal.
Panda 4.1: What’s New?
Panda updates are typically small modifications that are pushed out every 1-3 months. Most Panda updates impact fewer than 5% of queries. The current release, 4.1, is estimated to impact 3-5% of queries. Current forecast is that this round of Panda is being especially harsh to certain types of sites:
- Gaming sites with thin content – aggregators of other sites’ online games
- Affiliate sites with low-quality content or blank and broken pages
- Lyrics sites that mostly republish song lyrics with heavy monetization
- Medical content farms – sites around medical conditions not created or verified by medical authorities
On the reverse side, Google claims that a “greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites” are showing in results now.
Is Penguin 3.0 Nigh?
At SMX East, Gary Illyes, a Google Search Quality Engineer, announced that Penguin 3.0 may be live as soon as this week (October 6). It is a full rewrite of the algorithm, which is to say it may rock a few worlds. As is typical for Google, they are claiming it will be really positive for most people, and make both webmasters and users happy. They also say that the update will make more iterative release cycles possible – meaning that we may see Penguin update more than once a year. Rumor even suggests that Penguin may become a monthly update.
Right now, webmasters hit by Penguin have very long recovery cycles. Even now, it has been said that if a webmaster starts cleaning up links this week, they won’t recover in the next release – too little, too late.
Our suspicion is that the “new” Penguin will simply be more of the same – enforcement against link activity that cuts Google out of the financials – and won’t be a significant change in how content is handled and ranked. The real impact of this release will be in the ability to release Penguin more often.
Were You Impacted?
Impact of Panda or Penguin (once it hits) tends to be very evident in your site analytics:
- Loss of rankings on branded terms in Google search
- A decrease in organic web traffic from Google to your web site that cannot be explained by changes made in your web site (like a redesign), seasonality, decline in market media or other cyclical events
- Messages from Google in your Google Webmaster Tools account concerning “unnatural links” or spammy optimization techniques
Vendors who implement high-risk tactics that invite Penguin/Panda hits to websites still abound in the market. They typically guarantee a certain number of links “built” each month, or a certain number of new content pages – all for low, low monthly fees. Directory submissions are still touted by these vendors as a quality tactic (lolno).
For most, these updates serve as a reminder to always demand transparency from your internal and external SEO marketing teams. For others, they may be a wake-up call – and cause to issue RFPs. It’s always better to update your tactics on your schedule than to get a Google beatdown, especially if organic traffic is key to your business model.
Remember: SEO is ultimately about return on investment. Rankings, volume of traffic and number of links are rarely top-line metrics to emphasize. Always define your high-value traffic and visitor behaviors, and build to measure economic activity. Accountability – and ability to show value to your accountants – is key.
And if you need any help with that? We know some people you can call.