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3 Things Content Marketers Need to Know About Google’s Panda 4.2 Update

The newest update to Google’s Panda algorithm is here, and SEO experts are confused. Over time, Google has become more and more secretive about updates to its algorithm, despite the potentially huge effect they can have on companies’ search ranking and revenue.

While this change is the first official Panda tweak since 4.1 ten months ago, that doesn’t mean Google has been inactive. In fact, two big changes have already happened this year: The first was dubbed, a bit hyperbolically, “Mobilegeddon,” and the second as either the “Phantom Update” or the “Quality Update,” depending on whom you ask. If you need a refresher, you can read about those here and here.

Put in simple terms, “Mobilegeddon” required sites to be mobile-optimized or face a fall in their search rankings, while the “Quality Update” rewarded sites that featured what Google considers to be quality content.

This update, like the “Quality Update”, was never officially announced by Google. Instead, Search Engine Land’s news editor, Barry Schwartz, had to plead with Google employee Gary Illyes on Twitter to confirm that Panda was indeed in the midst of an update.

Not surprisingly, given the medium, the response was cryptic at best. Still, experts have connected enough dots to draw some takeaways from the slow roll out of Panda 4.2. Here are the most relevant ones for content marketers.

The rollout will be slower than usual

Panda 4.2 was first implemented on July 18, and the rollout is expected to take effect over a few months. Rollout times have grown in the past few updates, and the time between them has grown longer as well.

Sites hit by Panda 4.1 have had 10 months to wallow in their punishment, and for those that fixed their site, 4.2’s slow rollout can’t come quick enough. For the sites punished by 4.2, it may be some time before the next update comes along. Unfortunately, after the update is released, it’s too late to make changes; your search rankings will take a hit no matter what you do.

Still, it would be silly to use that as an excuse not to keep improving your site and your content. You never know when the next update will be, and focusing on quality always helps tremendously.

The slow rollout also means that measuring changes to ranking and search traffic will be more difficult than in earlier updates, as it’s hard to know when and if the algorithm will affect your site. This also means that what exactly the update is rewarding and punishing is somewhat of a mystery, though it’s safe to assume that these will be in line with Panda has always meant to promote: quality content.

2–3 percent of search queries will be affected

That may seem like a small number, but nothing is small when it comes to Google. As Brafton notes, 2–3 percent equates to 36 million searches.

Compared to recent updates, this number isn’t quite as impressive: 4.0 affected 7.5 percent of all search traffic, while 4.1 hit 3–5 percent. Still, if you look further back, 2–3 percent is still relatively large; from Sept. 2011 to May 2014, no single update impacted more than 2.4 percent of queries.

Creating quality content remains the best way to respond

If you notice your site’s search traffic beginning to plummet (or if it begins to plummet in the coming months), it’s safe to say that Panda 4.2 has punished your site. If that’s the case, there’s really only one option: Focus on creating quality content, and wait for the next update.

Of course, “quality content” is a bit vague: What exactly is Google asking for with Panda? It’s important to remember what exactly Google’s initial intentions were with Panda, as they’ve stayed relatively the same: to punish content mills, keyword stuffing, ugly or broken websites, and any sort of unsavory practices that exploit Google’s search algorithm.

Leading SEO expert Rand Fishkin suggests in an interview with The Content Strategist that content creators should focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to improving SEO rankings: “The vast vast majority of links and shares and amplification signals of all kinds are going to only the top five or ten percent of content that gets put out. There’s not a whole lot of value in writing a decent blog post anymore. [There’s not a lot of value] unless you can be pretty extraordinary.”

In other words, your site should be focusing on what it should probably be focusing on anyway: well-written, original content and better, less bloated website design. Though we’re still lacking concrete details of what exactly these updates are rewarding or punishing, these guidelines (and this insightful guide from our associate editor Jordan Teicher) should help.

After all, awesome content is always a noble goal to pursue, even if we don’t always know the ways of the fickle, mysterious Google gods.

Image by Eugene Hoshika
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