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Google Rolls Out Panda 4.1

google-panda-01Google has released yet another update to its algorithm used to rank websites. Known as Panda 4.1, it follows in the same footsteps as previous Panda updates – with a focus on identifying and penalizing websites with thin, irrelevant, low-quality, and/or mostly duplicate content. If a website is deemed to offer little-to-no value to the end user, Google may penalize it by reducing its rankings or even removing it from its search index. To learn more about Panda 4.1 and how to protect your website from becoming its next victim, keep reading.

Pierre Far broke the news of Panda 4.1 on his Google+ Page, saying “Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.”

The good news is that Panda 4.1 is a relatively small update when compared to previous algorithm updates. According to Far, it’s expected to affect just 3-5% of all Google search queries. With that said, webmasters should still keep a close eye on their rankings to determine whether or not they are being hit by Panda 4.1. If you notice a decrease in one or more of your sites’ rankings, you should perform a thorough audit of its on-site and off-site optimization elements.

A Look Back at Panda 1.0

Google publicly announced the original Panda 1.0 update in a 2011 post on its Webmaster Central blog, noting that it was just one of hundreds of different search improvements expected to roll out that year.

Some publishers have fixated on our prior Panda algorithm change, but Panda was just one of roughly 500 search improvements we expect to roll out to search this year. In fact, since we launched Panda, we’ve rolled out over a dozen additional tweaks to our ranking algorithms, and some sites have incorrectly assumed that changes in their rankings were related to Panda. Search is a complicated and evolving art and science, so rather than focusing on specific algorithmic tweaks, we encourage you to focus on delivering the best possible experience for users.

Panda was launched for the sole purpose of improving Google’s search results. If Google allowed its search results to become cluttered with irrelevant, low-quality listings, a large portion of its users would probably switch to Yahoo, Bing or some other search engine. Panda helps the Mountain View company weed out the low-quality websites by searching for signals.

We don’t know the exact formula Google uses for its Panda update, but it’s focused primarily around content. Webmasters who put forth the effort to provide their visitors with engaging, high-quality content will reap the benefits of higher Google search rankings. On the other hand, webmasters who churn out low-quality content that’s riddled with errors will suffer the consequences of lower Google search rankings. This is the fundamental principle behind all of Google’s Panda updates, and 4.1 is no exception.

Impact of Panda 4.1

Panda 4.1 is still in the early stages of being rolled out, so we don’t know its full impact on the Google’s search results. However, there are some noticeable winners and losers from this update. Each time a website’s search ranking is lowered, another website moves up to take its place.

SearchMetrics.com performed a study to identify which websites benefits from the Panda 4.1 update and which ones were hurt by it. According to the study, some of the losers of Panda 4.1 were yellow.com (-79%), similarsites.com (-79%), free-coloring-pages.com (-79%), dwyer-inst.com (-79%), issitedownrightnow.com (-79%), updatestar.com (-71%), office365.com (-70%), and findthebest.com (-70%).

Some of the winners of Panda 4.1 were comdotgame.com (+1353%), hongkiat.com (+406%), babble.com (+379%), rd.com (+315%), mediamass.net (+308%), hotelguides.com (+285%), yourtango.com (+256%), moreofit.com (+256%), and celebrity-gossip.net (+255%).

How To Protect Your Website From Panda

Now for the million dollar question: how do I protect my website from Google’s Panda 4.1 update? Again, we still don’t know the exact formula behind Panda, and it’s unlikely that Google will release this information. There are, however, some known elements that play a role in Panda.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, confirmed that just a few pages of low-quality and/or duplicate content can bring down the rankings of an entire website. If you have two or more pages that cover the same topic, try combining them together to create a single large page. You can then set up redirects to funnel visitors and search engine bots to the newly created page.

The single most important step webmasters can take to protect their websites from Panda is to publish high-quality content. The adage “content is king” holds true when it comes to Panda. By delivering high-quality content to your visitors, people will stay on your site for longer, return to check out future posts/articles, and your site will benefit from higher search rankings.