Panda 3.9 Update Out This Week

The latest update to Google’s Panda algorithm rolled out earlier this week. The search engine revealed in a Twitter post that it would affect about one percent of searches. Forums and industry writers are buzzing with the news, but few say that they’re seeing much of an effect.

You can check out Google’s tweet on Panda. In addition to announcing the news, it links to a pretty extensive Google blog post that offers guidelines for building high-quality websites. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the tweet describes this as a “New data refresh of Panda.” What exactly does this mean?

Google’s spiders constantly crawl the Internet and bring back data, which is then sorted and weighed by the more than 200 factors that go into Google’s algorithm. Panda, as Danny Sullivan observed, is one of those factors. These factors decide where websites will rank, and how relevant they are for particular keywords.

The Panda ranking factor focuses on rewarding quality content (and penalizing thin content), and can strongly affect how sites rank for particular keywords. But Google doesn’t run it constantly; in fact, it looks as if the search engine runs and tweaks it about once a month. Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Round Table includes a list of Panda updates going back to the first one, on February 24 of this year, which affected about 12 percent of all searches.

The screaming from that first update might have led you to believe there had been a huge stock market crash. To be fair, it left a lot of site owners who hadn’t concentrated on building rich content scrambling. In fact, it was called the Farmer update at first because it seemed to be aimed at so-called “content farms,” which often feature thin content. I mention this because Schwartz has noticed relative silence on the forums with this update. After noting that a refresh which affects one percent of all queries still seems significant to him, he added that “this surprises me that I don’t see more complaints in the forums.”

His experience isn’t unique. Our own thread on the topic in the SEO Chat forums is hardly quiescent, but more members seem to be reporting minimal effects than major changes in ranking. Respected forum members SEO AM and Dr.Marie both reported seeing some minor positive trends, but noted that they may or may not be related to Panda. Some members reported improvements in the plural version of their keywords (“widgets”) while others noted that the singular version of their keywords (“widget”) was the one that went up in ranking.

One brand new member noticed that, at least as reflected on her websites, Panda was definitely looking at the quality of her pages. She explained that “new pages created by our team which have duplicate title and meta descriptions have taken a hit.” Given some of the other issues she found using Google Webmaster Tools, it also told her where some retraining and updating could be of use on her team.

Everyone seemed to agree, though, that with the Panda refresh just rolled out, another Penguin update should be right around the corner. Penguin, you may recall, is similar to Panda in that it’s another ranking factor, but it looks specifically at links. It examines a site’s link profile and tries to tell the good from the spammy. That’s enough to put many site owners on pins and needles, especially with the recent link warnings Google sent out.

Have you been affected by the recent Panda update? Share your experience in the comments.

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