Google Panda 4.0 and Payday 2.0: The continued importance of quality content

Last night, Matt Cutts from Google announced two significant algorithm updates:

  1. An update to the Panda portion of its algorithm, targeting low-quality content. This was an interesting development, as Google has previously said that they would no longer be announcing changes to their Penguin and Panda algorithm pieces. Because of this we’re expecting more than a routine change. Panda was initially launched in 2011 and has subsequently had over 25 updates since its conception.
  2. A further ‘Payday’ update, targeting sites in typically spammy sectors (payday loans, for example). This is the second time Google has specifically targeted these sectors, going back to last Summer, and signals that Google is not only concerned about the quality of all of its results, it has no qualms about making updates targeting specific verticals.

Advertisers who put a focus on high-quality content and steer clear of spammy approaches should not see a negative hit – if anything, the Panda update should help move brands with low-quality content out of the way, and the Payday update may clear some poor results for pharmaceutical-related searches.

The Impact

According to Google, 7.5% of English queries are affected to a degree that a regular user might notice – a much more significant reach than has been seen in recent updates.

Initially the Panda update targets sites with duplicated content, content scraped from other sites or content perceived to be sub-standard in the eyes of Google. However, this had a disproportionately large impact on small businesses and has been revised subsequently via recent adjustments. Matt Cutts announced at SMX West in March 2014 that his team was working on the “next generation” Panda update that will “soften” the algorithm and should help small businesses do better in the search results. We expect to see future updates specifically attempting to level the field for small / local businesses in addition to the  adjustments to Panda and Penguin, and more akin to a Venice-level adjustment.

As the update was live as of today, it is unlikely that we will start seeing the impact until a few days have passed. Early signs point to fluctuations in the verticals of Retail, Insurance, Technology, Fashion, Travel and Real Estate due to the number of terms targeted. Separately Google has been freshly cracking down on automated search results pages being indexed, a technique that had been called out by Google prior to its initial Panda launch but saw especially significant hits as part of Google’s subsequent Panda releases.

One high profile loser at this point seems to be eBay. The site reportedly lost a substantial amount of search visibility over the past three days on a competitive set of search terms, as noted by Moz’s Weather Report.

Fortunately the impact of Panda updates can be mitigated fairly rapidly. Onsite changes that reduce content duplication, expand content and improve the journey will all have a positive impact.

The Payday update applies much more to specific verticals that traditionally have a problem with overly aggressive and black hat SEO techniques, such as payday loans and pharmaceuticals. Advertisers in these verticals, even those who have historically approached SEO cleanly, should monitor their performance even more closely than those simply watching for Panda effects. A higher quality standard can mean unsavory competitors being knocked from rankings and improved performance as a result – but can also catch innocent victims in its net and heavily punish even light past indiscretions around content and linking.

iProspect Approach

We have stepped up our rank monitoring and are using a variety of best-in-class tools to ensure our clients are not suffering from Panda related issues, and to take appropriate action where we see client brands affected. Nonetheless, even brands that have not been participating in activities that can be punished via Panda can be caught up in large, sweeping changes, and so even the most clean and confident marketers should monitor performance closely and be prepared to take actions to mitigate any changes until Google’s algorithm catches up and recovers rankings for innocent brands.

This recent update reinforces further reinforces the value of producing high quality, user-centric content that answers a search query, rather than generating automated pages that add little value to the user. Our approach has been focused on developing this for our clients and ensuring that not only do we maintain SEO visibility but also that we improve the user experience.


While specific changes to address this update will be forthcoming as more data become available, there are several direct actions that every brand should be looking at internally to ensure that Panda does not negatively impact them:

  • Ensure that all on-site content adds value to the customer journey.
  • Use Google’s Webmaster Tools to maintain site hygiene factors.
  • Make sure that content is unique and original, not copied from or being copied by other sites.
  • Do not overdo keyword use in your content. Be cautious in using exact-keyword anchor text in external content placements, and make sure that your content is in context with the site around it.
  • Where possible, avoid duplicate issues caused by using subdomains.
  • Proactively use rel=canonical tags, re-direction rules and other techniques to reduce and prevent duplicate content.
  • Where the website is served across international markets, ensure that this is defined in Webmaster Tools and using href=”lang” html code to avoid duplication.

Further Information

We’ll continue to monitor the impact of this release and share any additional information regarding what it means for Google moving forward here on the iProspect blog.