Google is continually updating its algorithm; they have previously stated they made several hundred tweaks and changes in a 1 year period. Most of these changes are not explained or announced as they aim to give the best results to a user without telling the world how they arrive at the rankings they do, hence the SEO industry!
However, occasionally they roll out a major update to the algorithm that determines where sites are placed in their results. The panda update is one such major update and this rolled out in the US or on ‘google.com’ in late February 2011. Panda was later rolled out in the UK on April 12th 2011. The update is essentially a change which aims to demote lower quality pages and sites and thereby give more credit to high quality sites. The main feature of this update was to demote sites or pages that had low content, copied content or ‘thin content’. I have seen in some cases that if a site had substantial levels of copied or thin content it could demote the whole site in the rankings.
The update has been highly controversial, major websites and blue chips have been affected. There have been innocent casualties and Google is still tweaking ‘along the spectrum’. There is almost no reporting of progress from a site that has been ‘pandalized’. Sites that were hit have thus far stayed hit.
We have to take this seriously and go in the direction Google is pushing us, that is, high quality content that is ORIGINAL and NOT elsewhere on the web. It has long been said that content is king but now we need to be saying ‘Quality, original, non-copied content is king’. You can read more on the difficulties with this in my post – ‘Copyright Infringement’.
So the Panda update is a ‘quality’ update or at least it’s based on the signals Google are using to determine quality. They will be looking at site usability, user engagement, bounce rate, site speed, w3c validation and a great deal more. Google can capture a great deal of data about how users interact with sites due to the other google products, adsense, analytics, google user reviews and the google toolbar.
In conclusion, if your site was pandalized by Google Panda and your rankings and traffic fell on the 12th April then you need to focus on removing copied content and improving or removing low quality or ‘thin’ pages. A reconsideration request through Google Webmaster tools in an option you may wish to take when your site is in order. If you were not affected then you should take heed of the advice here to avoid being adversely affected by future iterations and rollouts of Panda, it’s not over.
Further reading: More Guidance on Building High Quality Content.