Has Google updated?

Can webmasters bear yet another Google update…

Just when you thought it was safe to playfully cavort amongst the bamboo canes of the internet once more, Google Panda has returned to take another bite out of your online presence.

Except it never really left. Google has made no secret of the fact that it regularly updates the Panda element of its search algorithm, without necessarily keeping webmasters and SEO professionals informed (ninja pandas? Now there’s a thought…). This time was different though, with Matt Cutts loudly announcing on Twitter a few days ago: “Google is rolling out Panda 4.0 update starting today.” (May 20th)

So what is so different about Panda 4.0 that Google’s Head of Webspam sees fit to inform the online world? Before we get to that, perhaps we should quickly revisit what Google’s Panda actually does.

Panda is effectively an algorithm designed to root out ‘low quality’ and spammy websites, or at least prevent them from ranking highly in Google’s search results. It does this by analysing the quality of sites and then filtering them accordingly.

The Panda returns

While Google has released few additional details about the update, Search Engine Land has speculated that: “Panda 4.0 must be a major update to the actual algorithm versus just a data refresh.” So the general consensus is that there has been a much more significant change in the fundamental way that the algorithm operates.

Although the update is not affecting all sites, Google has said that 7.5% of English language queries have been affected. The good news, though, is that the scuttlebutt reports this is a ‘softer’ version of Panda than we’ve seen previously.

One of the apparent surprise losers of the update is ebay.co.uk, who have, according to SearchMetrics, had their search visibility reduced dramatically by approximately 47%.

Rather than speculate over the working mechanics of Panda 4.0 though, webmasters and online marketers are better off looking at the overall intention behind the update. That is, to improve rankings for genuine, high quality authoritative sites and to diminish them for low quality, low value sites. The simple solution? Be one of the good guys and work on improving your content and usability.