The impact of the Google Panda update

The Google Panda update hit the UK on 11 April 2011 and has been receiving some attention in the media generally. There have been plenty of headlines generated within the online community.

But what’s it all about and what impact has been seen so far? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Google Panda?

Well, back in February, Google launched a major new algorithm update in the US. According to Google themselves, this change had an impact on almost 12% of all searches carried out in the US (using Google).

The aim of this update was to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites”. Google noted that such sites could be identified as those that do not add much value for users, aren’t particularly useful, or those that copy the content contained on other websites.

It was also suggested that the sites that would receive poor rankings as a result of the update were often those that Google users particularly disliked, according to feedback received by the internet giant.

Once the update went live, some American publishers started to complain about the loss of rankings and the associated loss of visitor numbers. Some article distribution websites (such as Ezine Articles) were listed among those that had been hit.

Here in the UK, we watched what had happened in the US with some interest. It would only be a matter of time before this update hit the UK and many experts were looking at the possible impacts.

11 April 2011

When the algorithm update did hit these shores (earlier this week), many search engine experts (including ourselves) immediately noticed the changes. But they won’t clear in all sectors.

Since we have clients operating in numerous business sectors and geographical regions, we’ve been able to monitor an extremely wide range of search engine listings. We immediately spotted big changes in the world of voucher codes, with some larger websites being penalised, while others seemed to have suddenly appeared on page one of Google.

For many local search results, we saw very few changes. Many Google users would have seen very little that was different compared to last week.

It’s also worth pointing out that Adwords, Google Local results and personalised organic results mean that the search engine listings are always in a state of flux. So most users would probably not suspect that anything had changed.

But what was everyone else seeing in the UK?

Early results

The guys at Search Metrics were out of the blogs quickly with some early analysis. They produced a list of winners and losers – those who had gained exposure and those who had apparently been penalised.

As might be expected, much of the focus has tended to be on the list of losers. These have included some pretty big names, including the likes of:


So what are we to make of this list? The first thing to say is that it needs to be taken with something of a pinch of salt. The owners of some sites listed among the 100 losers have been quick to dismiss the idea that the update has had a significant impact on traffic levels or income.

But it’s probably fair to say that some of the sites listed will certainly have been hit. Do they have anything in common? Many of them basically appear to fall into one of three main areas:

  • Voucher code websites
  • Review websites
  • “How to” websites

There are some interesting connections here. Voucher code websites (if you’re not already familiar with them) list discount codes, coupons and vouchers that have been issued by UK retailers. The nature of these offers is such that many of the voucher code websites will list similar content.

Some may be updated more frequently, or offer additional extras, but many will be listing identical codes. In Google’s eyes, it’s possible that they are all seen as offering relatively little fresh content. This may explain the reason behind their demotions.

But it’s equally true that some voucher codes have been hit more than others. Is it the sites that have the most original content that have done best? We think it’s too early to tell.

How about those review websites? You may well have seen these yourself. They allow consumers to post online reviews about products, services and retailers. Why should they have been penalised?

There are a few potential reasons that stand out. One would be that the same reviews frequently crop up on multiple sites. Has Google interpreted this by suggesting that these review websites are effectively copying content? Possibly.

An alternative explanation may be that some of these sites tend to list thousands of products. In some cases, they may not even have any reviews entered for these products. They’re simply providing a complete database. If they rely on product descriptions taken from similar sources, then this could also suggest that there may be a duplicate content penalty.

What about the user experience too? If you’re listing products, but don’t offer any reviews, then are you really providing what Google’s users are looking for?

Finally, we come to the group of “how to” websites. These websites have a large number of articles, offering information on all sorts of subjects. Many such articles will appear on multiple sites. Again, this might indicate that there’s some duplication here. We need to carry out a full investigation to see whether all of those hit would fall into this category.

The response

With some big names seemingly having been penalised, it’s to be expected that we would also see a fairly vocal response.

One of the more interesting websites on the list of losers is On the face of it, this is a review site, just like many others on the list.

But things are never that simple! is owned by Microsoft, an obvious rival to Google. This has led some industry insiders to question whether the is simply a coincidence. Could there be more to it?

Google have moved quickly to deny that this is the case. As reported by the BBC, the situation is particularly delicate, given that Microsoft is taking part in an EU competition case against Google.

This move may well heighten tension.

Advice to clients

So how should you respond? Google has an extremely dominant position within the UK search engine market. More than 85% of UK internet searches are carried out using Google. This means that changes in the Google algorithm can have a massive impact on businesses.

Although many business owners seek to ensure that they are not over-reliant on Google positioning, the reality may be that you feel worried about your own situation.

We’re always keen to tell clients to diversify. That means drawing in new customers from other search engines, directories, email campaigns and offline sources.

In terms of your website, the overall message from Google is that they want to see high quality websites. As can be seen from the above, they have defined some of the characteristics that they think apply to low quality websites.

If your site relies on scraping content from elsewhere, offers little original content and a poor user experience then you should probably be worried. On the bright side, some would suggest that you’ve already had the benefit of better search engine positioning than may have been deserved.

Now’s certainly the time to concentrate on producing high quality content that has your users firmly in mind.

How about if you think that your site has been hit “by accident”? In truth, it might be said that Google don’t have a great track record of openly communicating with website owners. You may feel that the penalty is an error, but you shouldn’t expect to see your website bounce back up the rankings. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

Try to have a closer look at what you’re doing. Is it possible that Google is viewing your own website as being of a low quality? If so, you’ll need to do everything that you can to correct the situation. Concentrate on ensuring that you’re producing a high quality user experience.

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