Or, as I wanted to call this post:
Google certainly decided to start 2016 off with a bang, announcing less than two weeks into the new year that onsite anti-spam measure Panda, the update made famous by its ability to slap sites with poor quality or thin content with a big ol’ visibility penalty and/or de-indexed status, was being officially made part of the “core” Google algorithm rather than maintained as an independent entity. A few days later, the search giant confirmed that it had made an update which caused some SERPs to fluctuate, and said this was also “core algorithm” rather than Penguin related. Oh, and by the way, several search APIs are also closing and the Webmasters Portal has had a design revamp, and a Penguin update is going to be happening “within weeks.”
What the dickens, Google? Some of us are still struggling with post-Christmas hangovers, here!
Let’s break down the big three news items into the key takeaways.
Panda is one of Google’s algorithmic components aimed at fighting spam – specifically the onsite variety. It targets sites with thin content (usually meaning “content with no value to users” rather than “content under x words”), excessive use of ads, keyword stuffing and other such bork-ups. There aren’t really any technical elements to Panda (contrary to popular belief) and generally as long as your site is offering good content aimed at users then you should be fine.
The excitement arose when Jennifer Slegg posted an in-depth and delightfully comprehensive guide to Panda and the signals it uses on TheSEMPost (the article is well worth a read) in which the fateful line “Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals” is written.
In terms of the reality for SEOs and webmasters, however, this doesn’t really change anything in a practical sense. All it means is that Panda rocks in alongside all the other organic signals that Google uses in its “core” algorithm (i.e. the thing that decides where your site is going to show up in any given SERP). Before being part of the “core,” Panda was applied as an additional anti-spam filter after everything else had been crunched. Now it crunches along with all the other signals we know and love. Updates and data refreshes still aren’t real time (alas) but the way Panda is applied to search results has changed. The effect it has on those results has not.
So in practical terms, as SEOs and webmasters, this one actually means very little to us. Cool fact, bro. Next.
Core Algo Update
The first couple of weekends in January saw some noticeable fluctuations in search results. All the usual tracking suspects weighed in to confirm yes, the SEO weather was looking stormy indeed, but all Google would confirm was that it was a core algorithm change, not the long-awaited Penguin update. Boo.
The bad news (if it can be called bad news) is that there’s no obvious collapse in a particular sector or “flavour” of websites as usually happens with a big shake-up, so as far as we can tell so far this one has just been a bit of algorithmic housekeeping on Google’s part. Some 4Ps clients have seen a bit of bouncing about on certain query terms as things resettle, but nobody has seen sitewide volatility (yet) or experienced any organic traffic or impression dropoffs, so we’re content to monitor and continue with business as usual.
If your website’s rank sampling seems to be doing an impression of a kangaroo on sucrose for lots of your core target queries, it is probably time to check your core quality signals in terms of content and technical to see what could be offending the big G. Maybe that nagging little canonical fix you’ve been meaning to put in for the last few months has finally caught up with you. Stuck? Drop us a line and we’ll help.
Looming on the horizon and setting black-hat link builders trembling is Google Penguin, the anti-spam algorithm handling offsite trust signals and issuing organic penalties large, small and utterly devastating to sites using dodgy link-building techniques. The only real contact 4Ps as an agency has had with Penguin is when new clients come to us with a penalty in-situ and ask us to clean it up for them, but we do monitor backlink profiles for quality, velocity and anchor text distribution for all our clients as a matter of good sense housekeeping. If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, or how to spot a spammy profile, drop us a line for some tips.
One of the eccentricities about Penguin is that it is heavily dependent on Google pushing out “refreshed” data in order to update it, so SEOs have been begging for a while for Penguin to be made real time so it can update (lifting and applying new penalties as appropriate) without being reliant on a manual data push. This still seems to be a way off (any and all spokespeople for Google tend to get shifty when it is brought up although we’re told it is being worked on) but Gary Illyes has confirmed that the next Penguin “push” update will be sometime this quarter, and as of the 19th Jan said he was expecting it live within “weeks.”
What does this mean for you? Stop the dodgy link building (if you’re for some mad reason still doing it), clean up your backlink profiles and disavow if you need to. Not sure how to do that? That’s okay, we are.
If you’re still baffled by all this Google business and are so confused between Pandas and Penguins that you get lost when you visit the real-world zoo, take a look at what we can do for you with our SEO services or just drop us a line and we can grab a coffee. We’ll set you straight. We do good animal noises, too.
4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and content are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and search algorithms, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.