Last month, Head of Webspam at Google, Matt Cutts confirmed the news every SEO practitioner had been debating for the past 6 months: Google were rolling out their latest algorithm update – Panda 4.0 – and it was going to be a big one.
Even those who aren’t overly-familiar with the practices of SEO are likely to have heard of the critter-themed updates, Penguin and Hummingbird to name two others. But what is often not clear (except to Mr Cutts maybe), is when these updates will hit, what their aims are, and what the effects will be.
Three weeks after the algorithm update, it is still tricky to assess the damage (or benefits) to websites. However, there are a few theories starting to emerge from the fall out, which all provide food for thought.
Google is attacking press release sites
One outcome that has come to light is that press release sites have been hit hard by Panda 4.0. In his blog for Search Engine Land, Barry Schwartz takes a look at the top PR sites and how their website traffic has changed. What he discovered was alarming – big hitters such as PRweb.com, PR Newswire, Business Newswire and PRlog have all lost significant ranking within Google.
Theories as to why Google has decided target press release sites are being thrown about – from Google updating its link scheme guidelines, which now include ‘links with optimised anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites’.
Chris Crum from Webpronews.com also makes a good point that in a recent hangout John Mueller referred to press release sites being used as an SEO tool.
Google is attacking aggregator sites
Another consequence being reported is that aggregator sites have been affected. Sites such as ask.com, which have been badly affected, aren’t made up of original content. Rather, they collate content from around the web in one place. Whilst they are still widely considered useful websites, technically they do not stick to Google’s content guidelines.
Does Google have a vendetta against eBay?
Perhaps the most talked about result to come from Panda 4.0 was the huge effect it had on eBay. Or so we first thought. It was reported that eBay suffered a 78% loss in search visibility following the roll out, which many assumed was an effect of the update. However, Re/Code reported afterwards that eBay had in fact been hit by a manual penalty from Google as punishment for bad SEO practices. As neither party have confirmed nor denied this, it is difficult to determine exactly why eBay was hit so hard. If it was a Panda penalty that was responsible for their loss in visibility, similar websites are sure to be biting their nails right about now.
It is going to take a bit more time before we can be sure of the effects of Panda 4.0. One thing is clear though, Google is making life increasingly difficult for those practicing black hat SEO, even those who had previously evaded penalty. As with everything though, there is a flip side to this, and I’d like to leave you with an interesting concept from Tim Worstall, featuring on Forbes.com comparing SEO with evolution. This theory debates whether as quick as Google is developing its defences against bad practice, these ‘parasites’ are evolving at just as quick a speed, meaning the search engine and practitioners are engaged in a never ending game of cat and mouse.