In the last week, many speculations have been made regarding what Panda 4.0 has really impacted in terms of ranking and site.  As Google representatives didn’t feel like talking too much about what this update is really about, the SEO world was caught on fire by suppositions and advice about how we should effectively stay safe in front of the big angry Panda. It’s indeed a bit early to draw 100% guaranteed conclusions about what the 4th Google Panda is impacting. Yet, we think that the best to lift the veil of mystery on the matter is through in-depth research backed by real examples and case studies. Making a list with the winners and the losers of this Google Update might not be very elucidating. We need to figure out what are the patterns that lead to the rise of some sites and the fall of others, even if the process of finding it out  implies a lot of work and coffee from our part, and patience and time to read a long article from your part.

We don’t want to throw ourselves in the belly of the beast right from the beginning but our first hypothesis is that Google Panda 4.0 does not penalize sites in the way we are used to(total drop from the top 100 SERPS), but instead is deranking or boosting sites ranking.

Google Panda 4.0 Topical Authority Content Update

If you browse just a bit through the articles written on this issue, you will see how the latest Panda is “accused” of being more “soft and gentle” than its elder brothers. Maybe the Google engineers wanted to bring the Google Panda 4.0 Update closer to the origin of the “big furry mammal”. It is known that Pandas are a symbol of peace. For example, hundreds of years ago, warring tribes in China would raise a flag with a picture of a Panda on it to stop a battle or call a truce. Yet, given Google’s declared war against spamming and thin content, we think that there are other characteristics that the search engine copied from the Panda bear: the fact that unlike other bears, giant Pandas do not hibernate. They walk around all year-long, looking for elevations suitable for each seasons but they can be active at any time of the day or night.

This is a really long article so if you do not have the necessary time to read it, just skip to the conclusions. This is short TL;DR conclusion. For more click here.

Conclusion I. “Content Based Topical Authority Sites” are given more SERP Visibility compared to sites that only cover the topic briefly.(even if the site covering the topic briefly has a lot of generic authority). More articles written on the same topic increase the chances for the site to be treated as a “Topical Authority Content Site” on that specific topic.

Google Panda 4.0 Winners – Quality is Not a One Time Act, it is a Habit …

There was not only once when Matt Cutts said that we shouldn’t trust specialized information coming from sites like eHow or generic find-any-generic find-any-answer sites but look for specialized sites instead, the ones that really have related content and well-documented stuff. Even more, in a video posted in April this year, same Cutts stated that he is “ looking forward those rolling out because a lot of people have worked hard so that you don’t just say oh,  this is a well-known site therefore should match for this query, it’s this is a site that actually has some evidence that it should rank for something related to medical queries, and that’s something where we can improve the quality of the algorithms even more.”

Here we are, one month later this video, facing the reality of the SERPs where it seems that indeed, “Topical Authority Content Sites” gained much more ground. Let’s confirm this situation with some examples that speak for themselves.

Winner – Topical Authority Content Focused Sites 

After the latest Panda update, EmedicineHealth  seemed to have won important positions in ranking, as we can see in the screenshot below.

panda 4.0 increase

To figure out why did this situation occurred we took the keyword “brown recluse”, for which they’ve won a lot of positions in ranking, and we’ve compared the content they offer on this matter to another site that lost 36 positions on the same keyword, LiveScience.

Winner

Emedicine Analysis

Loser

Livescience Site analysis

At a first glance, both sites seem to offer good quality information, well written and with logical structures. Even more, livescience.com has great interactivity with its audience, judging by the high number of shares and comments. Nonetheless,  emedicinehealth.com was the one winning more than 99 positions on this keyword and not livescience.com. Why would this apparent paradoxical situation occur?
To start with, livescience.com is a site offering general information about a lot of things. We see that the trending content from this site includes articles from military&spy tech area to best fitness trackers and 3D printing. On the other side, emedicinehealth.com offers articles highly related to the present topic, leaving the impression that this site really is specialized in medical emergencies and really offers reliable content on this matter and related topics.

Emedicinehealth vs Livescience Google Panda 4.0

Also, in the last years, Google’s goal was to return the best possible results that match not just based on the exact match query but on the intent of the user doing the query. It’s clear in our case that  emedicinehealth.com has  had a more in-depth topic covered than a simple article about the problem, like livescience.com has.

It is interesting to see this patent that Google was granted in 2013 regarding the detection of topics in particular pages and documents. Applying this procedure to each individual page across the web Google can map out all the topics for each and every page and create buckets of pages from sites that talk about those specific topics. Using this methodology it is rather easy for Google to understand the most talked topics for individual sites and map them out based on the authority of each individual page relative to that topic.

Google Topic Detection Patent

The patent goes in more details and outlines how it may be used by being cross-referenced to these related applications.

Google Topical Authorithy Detection

All of the listed references are practically exactly what they would need in order to map the Topical Authority of each site across their index.

 Let’s continue our Google Penguin 4.0 Case Study with more examples that will underline more the Topical Authority Content Update related to this Google Update.

Panda 4.0 drop

 

To sustain this affirmation, let’s take another example that has suffered some changes due to Google Panda 4.0. Webopedia is an online tech dictionary providing definitions related to computing and information technology.  www.webopedia.com is among the sites that lost rankings for a lot of keywords, most likely because Google might be looking at in-depth concepts and not just generic and simplistic content nowadays. Let’s take a look at one Webopedia’s definition page :

Webopedia Site analysis

We find here the definition of a GIF, a graphic interchange format. Although the definition seems correct, this is a broad topic that it is covered only by a  very small article. There are other publications that cover the concept of the GIF in much more detail and those sites are the ones that outperform now Webopedia, after the Google Panda 4.0 update.

We shouldn’t draw a hasty conclusion out of this, believing that dictionaries, by default, won’t be able to rank high due to the Panda 4.0 new algorithmic improvements. Below, you can see two screenshots taken from MedTerms  , an online dictionary specialized in medical terms but  written, as they claim,  with consumers and patients in mind.

MedicineNet Analysis

Medterms Site Analysis

When we searched for “kidney”, not only that we found many articles related to kidneys issues from which we can choose the one that might interest us the most, but each of that articles has substantial and relevant content which covers the topic very well.

Winner – Great Site Structure + High Quality Content

Other sites that seem to have benefited from the Google Panda 4.0 update are the ones that focused on unique, high quality and well-organized content. I know that this concept might seem a bit abstract and is always a challenge on deciding what does” high-quality” really mean. We cannot give you an exact, holistic response on this issue but we can try to figure out what really matters at the end of the day:

What does Google consider to be high-quality content? We are going to unravel the answer to this question by analyzing some sites that have been boosted by the Panda update, most likely on quality and structure basis.

We will start our examples with some sites from quite a controversial area: the glamor and celebrity gossip field. Although a lot of skepticism is thrown up about the content quality of this area,  there are sites that turn out to be very “Google Panda Friendly”.

Celebrity Networth Site Analysis

 

As we can see from the screenshot above, the content that is generated on this site is really unique and substantial. Is not regurgitated nor rephrased from other sites. Although the article’s titles are really flashy, the content is in correlation with those titles and responds adequately to the topic.

Celebrity Networth Site Analysis 2

Another site from this area that got a high increase is Zimbio.com. The site is higher now in the SERPs by ranking on celebrity names like Mila Kunis, Justin Biber or Jennifer Aniston and a lot of other celebrity names. Let’s take a peek to their site to try to figure out what is it that Google found good enough to give them such a ranking boost.

panda 4.0 increase

Zimbio Site Analysis

In fairness, this site doesn’t seem to have much content at all, nothing further than some headers and some pictures. So, did Google make a mistake in this case or was the site ranked high for other reasons? Neither of the two affirmations can be stated fully. Yet, the content on this site is indeed relevant for “Jennifer Aniston” topic and does bring a lot of information (even though in a picture format) about the actress’s life, biography, etc. However, a lot of question marks hover across this website if we take into consideration not only the present Panda update but all the suggestions that Google gave us regarding the importance of the content on a website. Matt Cutts himself said in a video  that

“If you don’t have the text, the words that will really match on the page, then it’s going to be hard for us to return that page to users. A lot of people get caught up in description, meta keywords, thinking about all those kinds of things, but don’t just think about the head, think about the body because the body matters as well.”

So in the end it might be that the site covered the topic of Jennifer Aniston and all the other celebrities much better than other sites in the same niche.

Could it also be about the Topical Authority of the site and how it build it using relevant internal linking structures based on the in-depth covered topics?

A site that Google Panda 4.0 has pushed in front is myreceipes.com

Myreceipe Site Analysis

Not only that the recipes offered  here seemed to be original and really well-written, but this site has also very well-organized content and structure. From its launch, the Google Panda algorithm focused on topical content segmentation and site and article structure. It looks like Panda 4.0 version still focuses highly on a good topical content segmentation.

Let’s take another example in order to reinforce this affirmation. The site we are talking about is Shopstyle.com.

panda 4.0 increase

In this case, we are dealing with an ecommerce site that while is presenting a dozen of products still manages to offer great user interaction  due to its well structured website. Due to the great customer-focused functionality, the site succeed to win a lots of SERP visibility for a bunch of important keywords.

Shopstyle Site Analysis

If you concluded from these examples of well-structured sites that your web page should be very flashy and conspicuous, allow me to give you an example of a site that is an “Google Organic Winner” of the latest updates with a simple and plain visual layout. The site is Thinkexist.com.

Thinkexist Site Analysis

As you can see from the screenshot above, thinkexist.com is a site with a pretty plain visual aspect but with very well structured data. In fairness, in terms of graphic design this site does not excel but what is important (and what Google seems to appreciate) is that it is really well made and it makes it easier for users to interact with it also.

The Panda bear is mostly a solitary animal that meets occasionally for social feeding and mating. Did the Google Panda Algorithm borrow this characteristic from its furry correspondent or social interaction, comments and sharing are now more appreciated than before.

Asked at the beginning of this year whether Facebook and Twitter signals are part of the ranking algorithm, the short version of Matt Cutts answer was “No”.  In this video , the Webspam Team leader said that Google does not give any special treatment to Facebook or Twitter pages. They are in fact, currently, treated like any other page. Still, Google shows an increasing concern, in terms of social media user’s privacy, as if they crawled social media pages the way they crawl other sites, the snippets could end up containing information the user didn’t intend to have showing up in search results. Long story short, Google’s official position is that they don’t take social signals into consideration to rank a site.

Still, a high user interaction shown in comments and sharing on a website seems to have boosted up some websites after the latest update. Let’s put under the magnifying glass the Ultimate-guitar.com , a site that reunites guitar tabs, music news, reviews, etc.

Ultimateguitar Site Analysis

Yet, as we take a look at the overall site, at a first view, we find it hard to figure out what is it that Google loves about this site. What makes this site to be one of the Panda 4.0′ s favorites is the high interaction it has with its audience. On ultimate-guitar.com you can be a contributor (adding chords or tabs), you can request tabs that aren’t on the site already (and is highly probable to get a response in just a couple of the days), you are given the possibility to be active on the forum and (maybe the most important) there is a very strong “ultimate guitar tab community”in which you can easily connect with other people with shared passion.

So, although on the first sight this seems like a website that doesn’t appear to have obvious grounds to be boosted, it’s capacity of gathering people who share the same passion, and have an active community is what Google wants to see.

Allow me to give you another example of a site that is doing better in rankings since the latest Google Panda update was rolled out on the 21st of May 2014. This is yourdictionary.com

panda 4.0 increase

Above, we can see that at the very beginning of May, yourdictionary.com has recorded a major increase. The reasons? Just as in the case before, good interactivity and sharing.

Google Panda 4.0 Losers – Quality “Means” Doing it Right When no One is Looking

Since it was first released in February 2011, Google Panda aimed to lower the rank of low-quality sites or thin sites, and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. The 4th version of this algorithm kept the focus on quality and continued the war against thin content or automatic generated content. As Matt Cutts mentioned in an interview:

“Content that is general, non-specific, and not substantially different from what is already out there should not be expected to rank well. Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table.”

Loser – Thin Content

So, let’s see some examples that best illustrate this direction that Google seems to take nowadays. I am sure you seen the Ask.com site at least once in your life. It is, or was …,  a big authority site that is mostly a Q&A community.

Panda 4.0 drop

Ask.com Site Analysis

As we can see in the example above, Ask.com scraped a lot of content and it seems that it did not pass the Google Panda 4.0 filter. They have a 72% drop. In order to draw an accurate conclusion, you can enter on a page from their site  to see why their site doesn’t line up with Google’s algorithm. If you look here , you wills see that the user experience is not really the best. All we can see is a definition and the a lot of ads and scraped content. Even if they have some user interactivity, the thin content outshines the interactivity. By comparison, to give you an idea of what Google considers to be adequate, take a look at a similar site, dictionary.com, that really provides a useful and pleasant user experience.

Dictionary Site Analysis

Loser – Automatically Generated Content

A lot of thin content and automatically generated content can be seen on the strongly Panda affected site 192.com.

192.com Site Analysis

The page exemplified in the screenshot above is replicated on thousands other pages. There is no user-generated content mostly but only a database built up without any real user interaction.

An intriguing situation can be spotted on Vocabulary.com, another site that has lost rankings due to the new update. Let’s take a sneak peek on their site to see what we’re facing here.

Vocabulary Site Analysis

In this situation, it might be a problem with such database content, no user interaction and some banners. But this kind of structure can be seen on other sites that are still ranking well and where not affected by panda.  We cannot say whether Google may be doing a mistake here or not but, hey, the algorithm “knows” better, right?

Below, there is another site, xmarks.com,  that has been busted by Google Panda for having lots of Google Indexed pages with automatic content based on scraping other sites.

Xmarks Site Analysis

As it can be easily seen in the snapshot above, taken from one of the xmarks’ page, there is a lot of automatically generated content that caused a massive drop in rankings.

Panda 4.0 drop

Another automatic content generation caused a drop for isitdownrightnow.com . For each site, this site  generated  a distinct page that showed statistics (automatic) about that site’s uptime. They have tens of thousands if not even more pages indexed this way. Yet, we can also see some user interactivity due to comments and shares as we can notice here .

Retailmenot was hit by Google Panda probably because of the automatic content generation.

Retailmenot Site Analysis

Pages such as the one illustrated above  are full of automatic generated content without any user input and these are scaled to thousands of pages. What is very interesting about this particular site is that much of RetailMeNot’s revenue used to come from their high rankings in Google. Given Google Venture’s investment in RetailMeNot, there has been controversy as to whether these ranks are organically earned or not.

Retailmenot Google Drop

Looks like Google decided to put an end to all speculations and like a father that punishes his own kid when he did something wrong,  penalized their own investment.

The Curious Case of the Ebay Ranking Drop

A lot of “SEO literature” has been written lately about the curious case of the Ebay Google Drop. Some assumed that it was a duplicate content issue that pulled Ebay from the high rankings it once had, others said that Ebay might have a structure issue. Aggressive internal linking on long-tail keywords has also been brought up. Yet, other sites that have some big ad banners above the hold are still ok. Although Panda had a problem with ads above the fold before, on this update it does not seem this to be an issue.

Panda 4.0 drop

Ebay Keywords Lost

As we stated at the beginning at the article, when it comes to the latest Google Panda … known as Google Panda 4.0, it is hard to talk in terms of penalties. Instead, we think that deranking is a more appropriate concept. And Ebay is a very good example on this line. We are not saying that Ebay might not have its problems, but in terms of content and user interactivity, they are doing pretty well. So what happened here? If you scroll up to the examples that have grown in Google’s eyes, you will see that most of those sites are highly specialized sites on their own topic. A Topical Authority Medical site talking about “spider brown recluse” is doing far better than a generic one, talking about science generally. Sites like 192.com or answers.com that are not really specialized in something but have a lot of universal content, have generously experienced Google Panda’s anger. A similar pattern could be applied to Ebay too. Other smaller but more specialized sites in a certain area might have had a boost in ranking for some specific keywords, which automatically lead to Ebay’s decrease. For example, they lost 95 positions for “insanity workout” while the first sites that are ranking among the first for this keyword are some “how to” YouTube videos and some fitness centers.

Conclusions

We tried to objectively analyze the consequences that Google Panda 4.0 had on several sites, in our attempt of finding a pattern on how Panda 4.0 really works. Naturally, Google’s latest update brought joy for some websites and sorrow from others, but the most important thing is what are we taking away from all their stories.  Many Chinese philosophers believe that the universe is made from two opposing forces, the Yin and Yang. And it seems that the Panda is one symbol of this philosophy with its contrasting black-and-white fur : some websites went up, others went down.

Let’s make a quick review with the conclusions drawn after our analysis:

Conclusion I. “Content Based Topical Authority Sites” are given more SERP Visibility compared to sites that only cover the topic briefly.(even if the site covering the topic briefly has a lot of generic authority). More articles written on the same topic increase the chances for the site to be treated as a “Topical Authority Content Site” on that specific topic.

Conclusion II. Sites with High User Interaction measured by shares and comments got a boost.

Conclusion III. Thin Content and Automatic content is deranked, even if it is relevant.

Conclusion IV. Sites with clear navigational structure and unique content got boosted.

Right from the launch of the first Panda, in February 2011, Google said it only takes a few pages of poor quality or duplicated content to hold down traffic on a solid site and recommends such pages to be removed, blocked from being indexed by the search engine, or rewritten.  However, Matt Cutts warns that rewriting duplicate content so that it is original may not be enough to recover from Google Panda. The rewrites must be of sufficiently high quality, as such content brings “additional value” to the web.

A few important considerations:

  • Take a look at the number of your indexed pages. If you have 1 million indexed pages with thin or duplicate content, you might have been deranked by the latest update. It’s better to reduce the amount of indexed page to only pages that matter to your visitors.
  • Be sure that your main pages, which offer high-quality content are indexed, and “no-index” the pages that don’t offer important content to the user.
  • Investigate your site structure in order to have it relevantly linked to topical content on your site
  • Be less of a generic do it all site and more of Topical Authority Content in your niche.

The Chinese philosophy says that the gentle nature of the Panda demonstrates how the Yin and Yang bring peace and harmony when they are balanced. It’s hard to tell whether Google Panda 4.0 brings any harmony at all but for sure it tries to bring balance in Google’s search results. At the end of the day, it is all about the user retention by providing a value added service or value added content for the user.

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