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Google managed to sneak in the 21st update of its infamous Panda algorithm on the eve of this week’s presidential election. Google
announced the change after the rollout via tweet:

Google Tweets Panda Update

It’s kind of funny how major algo updates happen during critical events. It’s a great tactic to minimize attention when Big G makes new changes – whether the search giant is employing this tactic deliberately, however, is up for interpretation.

It should be noted that this is a data refresh and not a complete algo overhaul. It’s the 21st in a series of Panda updates, and each one has rolled out roughly every 4-6 weeks, give or take. After the initial earthquake in the SERPs when Panda first burst onto the scene, the algorithm has finally taken root and started leveling out. If you haven’t been doing some serious quality control, you may have found your site tossed into the virtual abyss this week.

Data Refreshes versus Traditional Panda Updates

This Panda update is a data refresh. Way back in 2006, Matt Cutts explained the difference between data refreshes and full-fledged algo updates on his personal blog. This was back in the dark ages – he wrote these definitions long before all those cute cuddly creatures made their way into our SEO vocabulary. However, the core explanation remains constant, and it’s definitely worth a trip down memory lane in light of all the recent upheaval in the search landscape.

A full-scale algorithm update results in changes in the SERPs that manifest dramatically. They’re huge overhauls that change the core workings of the algo in question. Keep in mind that Google may change algorithms whenever it chooses, but algorithm updates are relatively infrequent in the grand scheme of things.

Data refreshes, on the other hand, are merely information updates. They refresh data in an existing algorithm. After an algorithm has been live for some time, as we’ve seen with Panda, data refreshes become less and less noticeable as things level out.

Matt Cutts also released a video in which he discussed data refreshes versus algorithm updates. In it, he pointed to the metaphor of a car to explain the differences with a bit more clarity. Cutts noted that a full algorithm update is similar to changing the engine or another major part in a car. Conversely, data refreshes are merely like gassing that car up.

A Panda Success Story

When Panda first rolled out, we saw an Internet bloodbath of epic proportions. Content farms especially took major hits in the SERPs – think sites like eHow, About.com, wiseGeek, and Suite101. Most had overly optimized articles in thousands (even millions) of subject areas. And by subject areas, I mean areas with highly searched keywords. I know this because, when I first began freelance writing, I wrote for a few of these sites. The pay was paltry, the standards were non-existent, and anyone could get a job writing for one. Anyone. Even people who couldn’t speak English very well.

Then, along came a Panda. These websites were the first to feel the wrath of the Google slap, and most went under due to irreparable financial damage. Some dramatically restructured and started from square one. We’ve yet to see a strong comeback.

That is, until now.

Demand Studios has one heck of an impressive comeback story. The website was the veritable definition of a content farm – and it became infamous as a spam-producing machine literally overnight. Soon after Panda rolled out, eHow articles began dropping like flies all over the SERPs.

Demand didn’t curl up and die, however. Far from it. Instead, the company went on a mass firing spree and completely reworked its writer requirements. Employees worked tirelessly to remove hundreds of thousands of low-quality articles completely from its database. It was a year long process with lots of blood, sweat, and tears in its wake.

Flash forward to the present. Check out what the stock market had to say about Demand Media yesterday:

Image 2:

Is that clear enough for ya? Any website can bounce back from Panda – even the worst offenders.

Quality Control for Your Website

If you got hit by Panda, or if you’re in the unfortunate minority that suffered at the hands of the newest data refresh, don’t despair. Take a page from Demand’s playbook and get crackin’ on fixing the leaks in your site that caused it to tank.

Here’s a few pointers to help you get started:

1. Check your entire volume of website content for grammar and spelling issues. Frequent slips are a hallmark of a low-quality site.

2. Ensure your navigation is easy to use and your layout is easy on the eyes.

3. Don’t cram ads above the fold – keep them minimal.

4. Ensure your content is displayed as soon as a visitor hits your home page.

5. Don’t stuff title tags, headers, and URLs with keywords. Instead, throw keywords out the window and keep it relevant.

You can read more about what Google considers “high quality” here. Remember, Panda is completely algorithmic and it only runs once in a while, so it is possible to make a 100% recovery with the right tweaks. You just have to do the legwork.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

6 Responses to “Google’s Panda Election Eve Update

    Useful update and a great point about google slipping changes through during busy periods, although with the amount of updates going on it would be difficult to find a ‘quiet time’

    November 8, 2012

    Thanks Nell for this Google update! I’ve gotten to the point of stop relying on Google for traffic and just start building up backlinks and getting fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. So far, so good.

    November 8, 2012

    “Any website can bounce back from Panda” – I very strongly disagree. Any ‘big brand’ website can bounce back.

    November 8, 2012

    google update constantly make seo-er shortness of breath

    November 8, 2012

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