Cillian Bracken Conway
19th Jan, 2016

SEOs and webmasters are always on the lookout for updates on Google algorithms. Who knows what the next update would do to search rankings? It is better to be awake when it happens, so the effects can be minimised if not avoided altogether. But the moment search ranking starts to change or fluctuate, most people would start to panic and the online world would be abuzz with questions.

So, what can you do when Google throws not just one but a wave of updates?

Just over the weekend, Google had an update on a major core ranking algorithm. If not for SEOs and webmasters stirring up chatter, the update would not have been confirmed. Recent reports also confirmed that Google Panda is now officially part of the search giant’s core ranking algorithm. As what Gary Illyes of Google said, “Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals”.

This can mean two things: no other update is likely to follow Panda 4.2, and people may never know when exactly Panda was baked into the core algorithm.

Out of all these came one result – confusion.

More questions are usually to be expected after every time Google shares to the community any information about their algorithms. But sharing news about two different events on the same day simply threw everyone off. Update on the core algorithm happened over the weekend, but panda’s integration may have happened months ago. What followed after the weekend’s algorithm update didn’t help either.

Is Panda part of the core ranking algorithm or not?

Following Illyes’ confirmation on Panda’s change of status, webmasters and SEOs assumed that new Panda scores would be set, and those penalised by the previous Panda update would have been freed from the negative impact. But nothing of the sort happened.

Illyes’ tweet regarding the update on core ranking algorithm caused even more confusions. He made it perfectly clear that the recent fluctuations in ranking have nothing to do with Panda whatsoever. So which is it?

The bigger question would be what does it mean if Panda becomes part of core?

People can now say goodbye to updates that are designed specifically to ensure high quality content, and fight spam. This doesn’t mean they can go back to uploading poorly written and irrelevant content. In fact, they need to up their game and create a high quality website according to Google’s criteria because Panda’s filters will now be a permanent feature in Google Search and would be working with other ranking signals. If quality of content was the only major concern with the old Panda, there will be more to worry about with the new Panda.

With no other updates to follow Panda 4.2, those affected may continue to carry the burden of the penalty. The good news is they can still rank, provided that some of their site’s pages have outstanding quality. The bad news is the site’s visibility may be reduced to just queries, instead of the more highly relevant and specific queries.

Now that Panda is part of the core, people should also expect less sporadic updates. It may not be real time, as what Illyes confirmed, but it will be regular and faster. Regular is both a boon and bane to SEOs and webmasters, as this means more and less to lookout for.

Worse, it would be harder to identify if the change in search rankings is related to a Panda update or not. How would affected websites know which solution to use to get back on Google’s good graces? Now that Panda is integrated with the core ranking algorithm, webmasters and SEOs would have to consider plenty of other ranking signals to identify what hit them and then find an appropriate solution.

Google Panda, also called the Farmer update, was launched in February 2011. It was designed to ensure that sites with poor quality content don’t make it to the first page or the top of SERPs.

The algorithm only runs once in a while, a few times a year. This means that sites that have been hit by Panda, would have to wait for months before they would find redemption. Because of the irregular updates, sites that have been previously hit have an opportunity to escape the next wave, if and when they made the right changes. But those that have escaped the previous update are likely to get caught.

When it was released, it was possible to identify if the changes in search ranking was Panda-related. This also allowed for study and analysis on Panda’s perception of a particular website. But things have slightly changed now that Panda is part of core.

What can SEOs and webmasters do?

Watch content closely. If quality content has always been the norm, there will be no need to worry about Panda and its integration to the core. If this is not the case, some changes have to be made.

Make use of the Search Console’s Search Analytics to identify queries that don’t satisfy a user’s need or those that lead to information that can only be described as overly vague. If you have been penalised by Panda before, don’t delete affected pages, but create newer, better and higher quality pages that will bring back the trust from users that you have previously lost.

Most importantly, there should be more focus on providing users with more useful and relevant content, instead of ensuring higher volume of visits. It should not be about how many visitors a site had, but how many visitors the site helped.