Google knows that Panda provides large stores with an unfair advantage.
Nowhere is this evidenced more in UK SERPs than in the car classifieds sector. For most search terms AutoTrader’s only consistent competition for first place is itself – Panda frequently demotes car classifieds sites with smaller inventories and replaces them with more AutoTrader listings.
Google’s softening of Panda is evidence that Google knows this does not provide a good user experience. If the car buying public wanted to browse AutoTrader – and they do – they would log on to AutoTrader.
What will Panda do?
…but is the “next generation” of softer Panda updates going to shake up this sector? Or others like it?
Google is likely to roll out an update that will keep both sides happy – as long as they host good content.
There is absolutely no chance that Panda will dislodge the likes of AutoTrader and Amazon from the top spots. Searchers expect to see the big brands listed at the top…and they are the market leaders for a good reason.
However Google should be looking for ways to include other sites in the search results based on the quality of their pages.
The Panda update is largely dependent on user signals such as search pogosticking. So when a website is affected by Panda it becomes extremely difficult to recover – Google is preventing large numbers of users from reaching the site and interacting with it in any way.
Matt Cutts announcement of a new, “softer” version of Panda on the way, with the express purpose of helping small businesses to compete in Google’s search results, shows that Google knows previous attempts to make Panda less brutal haven’t gone far enough – they’re willing to redevelop the algorithm to enforce change.
Unfortunately this will come too late for many small businesses. As recently as last year there had been very few confirmed Panda recoveries in the wild – which for an algorithm launched in 2011 means a large number of lost customers.
What can businesses expect?
1. An announcement from Matt Cutts
Unlike recent Panda updates, which have been incorporated into the algorithm and rolled out with little fanfare, Panda’s next generation will be announced by the Webspam Team – so we’ll be able to analyse recoveries and have a better idea of what Google considers a good user experience in 2014.
2. Traffic won’t return to pre-Panda levels
Even if the new Panda is an apology from Google to small businesses, you’re still a suspect. If your website recovers and you haven’t made attempts to improve user experience, you should know that your new position in the SERPs is about the best you can hope for. Google rewards great content – your breadline content might not be enough to keep you in contention.
3. No recoveries for recent casualties
After Panda became integrated into the core algorithm(s) and updates became more frequent the conversation around Panda “hits” seemed to die down. It became impossible to diagnose a Panda problem because drops in traffic may or may not have coincided with an update – this means websites may have been unknowingly affected by Panda.
Apart from being quite unfair for businesses that can’t afford to invest in new design and brand new content when this may or may not be the problem – and difficult too for website managers employed by larger companies who need to put forward a business case in order to rewrite their website without using the word ‘probably’ – this does suggest that Google has dialled back the Panda update in recent months.
So as far as Google is concerned, if your site has suffered from Panda since mid-2013 you probably deserved it. You won’t recover. And you probably won’t know why.
Window of opportunity
Recovering from Panda – just like recovering from Penguin – is only possible when the algorithm update is rolled out. Barry Schwartz suggests the new Panda algorithm could be implemented within the next 2 to 3 months. With relatively few confirmed Panda recoveries in the past few years, knowing that the next update will allow a number of sites to recover and see big increases in traffic should be a big incentive for website managers to improve their content now.