Google Panda 4.0: Web Savior or Digital Bully?


There’s a new sheriff in Webtown, aimed to clean up the place, and if shooting first and asking questions later is needed to clean up the web, then so be it, according to some of the victims. Other digital townspeople sleep better at night, knowing Panda is out there, standing on the internet wall, guarding the virtues of clean content, safe links, copyrighted material, and less, but better advertising.

Panda 4.0 is not exactly new, having been around since 2011, which is eons in internet time, and after about two dozen updates, it has become a beacon for search ranking, but to some, it’s the classroom snitch, just waiting to ruin things for web sites sitting quietly in the digital schoolroom.

“Black Hat” and “White Hat” SEO

Computer Cowboy

Oddly enough, in keeping with the old west theme, the terms for clean and dirty SEO practices are known as “White Hat” and “Black Hat” SEO. Black hat SEO is best defined as anything that is meant to please search engines first, and human readers or visitors second. Examples of commonly used black hat SEO techniques would include invisible keyword text, keyword stuffing, and heavy link usage. Panda is out to eliminate these practices.

White hat SEO techniques are, allegedly, the opposite practice. These techniques can be aimed at both search engines, and human readers. White hat SEO relies upon original content. Some who write about white hat SEO refer to this original content as “well-researched” and “immensely readable.” What exactly does that mean and what are the parameters of research that keeps your site with a white hat, and keeps you from being flagged by Google?

While it is generally agreed that Google’s Panda updates shocked the world of SEO, causing site owners to change the practice of link-building and keyword-based efforts for a “focus on quality content.” But, can there be “well-researched” and “quality content” without giving credit where credit is due by linking back to the sources of that research? Are those links considered “weak” or “black hat?”

The most frightening thing to many is the threat of “penalties” from Google Panda.

“What penalties?” asked one commenter on an article about Panda. “Is this financial, or will Google try to wipe sites from the internet?”

Some web owners are reporting that they have received messages that threaten, “to avoid Google penalty simply remove ALL links to (web site name) from your site.”

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The penalties named in these emails, it seems, may only be a scam from people who are either competitors looking to knock down another site’s SEO through the use of links, or from people who are looking to sell you SEO services in light of the new “Panda 4.0 rules and regulations.”

Always check out the source of any message you may receive regarding the breaking of Panda 4.0 rules, just as one would ignore the millions of dollars for a bank transfer from dead Nigerian royalty.

Google is King!

Cartoon King Idea

It’s no secret that Google wields great power as a top search engine. After the competitor Bing started advertising about the superiority of their searches vs. Google, some thought there would be a digital mob war with binary bodies turning up in web rivers and fields on the electronic. Like it or not, Google knows their stuff and if Panda has become the new standard for proper web ethics, you will need to play by their rules to survive and succeed.

Naysayers of Panda may be those who develop their sites on the fringe of professionalism, or are just cheap and won’t or can’t hire the proper content creators, social media managers and web designers/developers. So, will the new rules limit businesses who can safely and effectively have a proper web site?

Panda has dropped some site’s rankings by half or more overnight. To stay on the straight and narrow, no matter what your business is, your site should strive to adhere to these new guidelines:

Best Content

  • Keep your content original and helpful to readers, rather than advertorials for your services. Many businesses desire ads for themselves written as content and posted on other industry-specific sites.
  • This is also meant to kill off “content mills.” These are the sites that offer blocks of articles you can purchase for your site, rather than paying for original content.

The con of this rule is: Independent authors often count on reprint fees for their articles, hoping one article can be reprinted several times on different sites. Panda may lower the income potential of freelance content creators.

  • The loss of content mills leaves smaller businesses without content for their sites. Does repeat content really negatively impact the web and society?
  • Will your site’s RSS feed become illegal in Panda’s eyes? Some sites rely on their RSS feed to improve their traffic.
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Duplicating Pages for Targeted Keywords

  • Some sites use duplicate pages to spotlight one keyword (New York West Side Hotel). Panda wants to thin these out.

The con of this rule is: Some sites are specific and content about different New York West Side Hotels may be their specialty. If THAT is what you want, will Panda reduce your choices of content?

High Ad to Content Ratio

Throw a few articles in with a whole bunch of ads and people who search out that content will see all of your ads, increasing click thrus, right? That’s something Panda wants to prevent. There isn’t really a con to that rule unless you want to see a bunch of ads for skateboards or such.

Empty Web Pages

  • An older and multi page site can end up with a lot of empty pages (404), usually from bad maintenance of internal search functions as well as the use of keywords that aren’t tied to actual content. Panda is on the lookout for such pages and ready to slap the site owner with penalties for such problems.

The con of this rule is: If this is just accidental, you need to learn to clean up your site. Panda won’t be as kind as your mother was when you kept a messy room!

Buying Popularity

  • There are people who buy Twitter and Facebook followers and those who purchase inbound links, using money to replace quality content for search results. Panda makes these a prime target. Google, as with any search engine, doesn’t like to be fooled and if you try it, prepare to face the wrath of Panda!

There are no cons to this practice.


Cartoon Boss Confused

It all seems fairly clear — Google wants an honest web where the best of the best comes to the top of search engines and  better ranking cannot be bought or stolen. Still, people have their concerns, mostly about making a mistake and receiving Panda penalties and losing search results. Here’s some comments from several articles about the new Panda SEO:

“It’s got to be more than that! My website has 2,200+ pages of original content written by experts, minimal ads (in a narrow right column), NO duplicate pages, NO purchased links, NO empty pages. But, still, Panda took my traffic from 22,000 visitors on a good day to 8,000 on a good day. Killing my revenue and losing me my expert contributors. Doing everything I can, but NOT recovering. VERY discouraging!”

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“I’m always confused of what counts as a purchased link. If you pay a writer to write a guest post on another website, is that a paid link, especially since without the payment you might not have gotten a link? What about sites that actually charge you to have a guest post on their site, or to have links in their guest post? It seems with that situation, the one who gets the link gets penalized instead of the one collecting the revenue.”

“So cute, so furry, so deadly. Why can’t they just call it Piranha or something? I’ll never look at bamboo shoots the same.”

“Panda is Google’s attempt to apply machine learning to determine the quality of content.”

“This isn’t just good for Google’s SERP quality, it’s good for users too. The only ones that really need to worry are the people that try and game the system.”

“I’ve found it’s best to focus on increasing other traffic methods, and not to rely on SEO. In my opinion, referral traffic and social traffic are much more reliable and sustainable than SEO. Any traffic method which make you lose all your hard work, is like building your house on sand. You need a solid base, and focusing purely on SEO is not it. However, you still need to ensure you have quality content, and that your site content comply to the basic SEO rules. If you use WordPress, install a SEO plugin for the basic SEO to be in place.”

It seems to me that the best way to stay in Google’s good graces is to build and manage your website as if Google didn’t exist.”

With all of this in mind, it will be interesting to see how sites like Buzzfeed fair with content drawn from other sources. As for your site, keep it clean, fresh, content rich, and watch those links… which is why I’m not going to include any links to suggested articles on the new SEO for Panda.

Images ©GL Stock Images


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