Can't keep up? Minimize your ranking fluctuations from Panda 4.2

It’s simple – great content ranks better on Google. Throughout the years Google has made a multitude of organic algorithm updates (Penguin, Pigeon, Hummingbird) and their sequels in order to determine which websites have the best and most relevant content.  SEO Experts work around the clock to make sure each update responds favorably with their owned sites and with continuous technology innovation.

Google shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, July 18, 2015 marked the 29th rollout of Google Panda, known as Google Panda 4.2. While the immediate impacts are unclear, Google did confirm that this update will require patience and endurance, rolling out gradually over the next 10 months.

We know that only 2-3% of queries were impacted with 4.2, a significantly smaller effect than many previous Google updates. This low percentage may be easy to shrug off, however with Google’s amount of search volume, 2-3% equates to nearly 36 million searches – enough to cause a ripple. We also know that 9 of the 29 updates have had no changes provided, making it difficult to determine causes for ranking fluctuation.  A majority of the updates which have had formal Google announcements have affected English language queries in the US only, however Google has led us to believe that 4.2 affects English languages worldwide. This is nothing new as previous Panda updates have included English and non-English languages as well as national and international sites.

Top 10 Most Impactful Panda Updates 

Image 1: Timeline of Google Panda Updates

Observed Fluctuations in Rankings

We have seen some noticeable ranking fluctuations however each happened non-consecutively. In general, observations showed that eCommerce sites seemed to have a greater ranking fluctuation over others. This could be because eCommerce sites typically have more pages, less content, and more likelihood of duplicate content due to improper technical implementation of faceted navigation or product filters.

To avoid duplicate content across eCommerce websites, we recommend brands focus on creating original copy, removing duplicate content and making a larger amount of on-page text visible to search engines.

Image 2: eCommerce ranking fluctuations for set of iProspect clients. Duplicate content issues could be a cause of greater fluctuations over other sites.

Impact by Device

Device usage for iProspect clients seemed to show Click Through Rate (CTR) fluctuations as well, with mobile having a greater impact over time. While desktop fluctuations seemed to return back to their average positions after fluctuations ceased, mobile had a slight but steady decrease, which has yet to return back to its average rank.

While responsive design is common practice, this isn’t enough. Google now requires more. Consider optimizing for mobile by performing mobile site audits separately from desktop audits, increasing your visibility for location based queries by optimizing local profiles, and increasing your site visibility with Knowledge Graph results by developing educational related content.

Mobile search is quickly outpacing desktop and as of May this year, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on desktops in 10 countries, including the US and Japan. Conversion rate and page authority are influenced by whether or not your site delivers a mobile user experience. Therefore, we suggest combining relative pages into one page. For example, incorporating overview, reviews & specifications of a product into one, versus having unique pages for each.

Image 3: CTR fluctuations reported for set of iProspect clients on desktop and mobile. Desktop fluctuations returned back to average positions while mobile had a slight and steady decrease.

How to Respond to Panda 4.2

Google is lengthening the amount of time between rollouts so now is the time to improve your site before the next round hits. Not all websites may be affected by Panda, yet all will benefit from improvement regardless of Panda affects.

  1. Monitor desktop vs. mobile organic ranking positions along with Google Search Console’s CTR fluctuations. Device usage saw inconsistencies, with mobile seeming to have a greater impact than desktop, requiring continuous monitoring.
  2. Review Google Search Console HTML Improvement suggestions to see which pages contain duplicate content.
  3. Review whether duplicate pages also decreased in ranking positions.
  4. Consider removing duplicate content and 301 redirecting the page or adding unique and engaging content to pages (e.g. 1-2 paragraphs of text).
  5. Review mobile strategies and consider increasing visibility for local related searches by optimizing your local profiles.
  6. Consider developing more educational related content to increase visibility within Knowledge Graph related searches.

Responding to fluctuations will require continuous observation for the next 10 months, as well as continual emphasis on fixing duplicate content or low quality content issues. As Google continues to crack down on quality vs. quantity with the Panda Updates, marketers in it for the long haul must uphold to high quality standards.

iProspect works with clients on proactive and future-forward strategies. Together we win by creating original content that adds value and is relevant. This includes making a larger amount of on-page text visible to search engines and helping clients understand how to provide a friendly mobile user experience to influence both a positive conversion rate and strong page authority.