In July Google began rolling out their latest algorithm refresh: Panda 4.2.

But what is the Panda update? Will it affect your site? And what can you do about it?

Here is a quick guide to Panda 4.2 and the history of the Panda algorithm update, to answer all of these questions for you…


The History of Panda

The first Panda update was rolled out in 2011. It was intended to give a ranking boost to websites with what Google considered to be high quality content, while penalising those with poor, or very thin, content.

As with all of Google’s algorithm updates, the aim of the Panda update was to improve the search experience for users. When searching for information online, users want, and have come to expect, comprehensive and trustworthy answers.

The Panda update means websites providing high quality information and content are rewarded for doing so, as they are seen first by searchers and therefore receive more traffic.

Google aims to constantly innovate and improve their search engine. As such, they continually tweak and fine-tune their algorithm updates and “refresh” them. In total, including Panda 4.2, the Panda update has had 29 refreshes which have been confirmed by Google.

Some of these were minor, but the major updates were as follows:

  • Panda 1.0 February 2011 – Google took action against content farms (or pages with text that is relevant for a query, but doesn’t provide the best user experience) that were gaining top rankings with “shallow” or “low-quality” content.
  • Panda 2.0 April 2011 – Original Panda update was rolled out from US-only queries to all English queries, as well as incorporating data about sites that searchers had blocked to provide higher quality results.
  • Panda 3.0 October 2011 – A series of Panda algorithm and site recalculation updates over a period of several weeks.
  • Panda 4.0 May 2014 – This affected different languages to different degrees, and was designed to punch low-quality content.

Now we have Panda 4.2, which as you can probably guess from the number, is not a major algorithm update, but what Google call a “refresh”.

In July, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the refresh is expected to take “a few months” to complete:


Search Engine Land reported on 1st October that it is still rolling out.

Will Panda 4.2 Affect Your Site?

As Panda 4.2 is just a “refresh” of the Panda update, there are no new changes being made. This means that Google is analysing its index and applying the same signals from the original Panda update onto a new set of data. Due to the complexity of this task, this calculation cannot be run continuously, hence the frequent refreshes.

Here’s the important part – as these refreshes are not run very frequently, if your site is affected by Panda 4.2, your recovery may take several months until the next refresh is run.

Panda 4.2 means that anyone affected by the previous Panda refresh (4.1) has a chance to recover, if the right changes to their content were made. If your site’s affected by Panda 4.2, unfortunately you’ll have to wait until the next Panda refresh to fully recover, and work on improving your content in the meantime.

If you have noticed a drop in rankings and traffic recently, or start to notice this over the coming weeks, it’s possible that your site has been affected by Panda 4.2.

A useful way of checking this is by using the Panguin tool. Login with your Google Analytics account. A handy graph will show your traffic for the past year, along with coloured lines indicating different Google updates:a



The last red line on the above example represents Panda 4.2. You can see that this site’s traffic appears to decline after this point, indicating a possible reaction to the update.

As already mentioned, Panda 4.2 is being rolled out over a number of months, which is unusually slow for Google. This is apparently due to “technical reasons”. It is therefore important to bear this is mind over the coming months when monitoring your site’s performance.

What Can You Do About It?

If you’re concerned that your site has been affected by Panda 4.2, you need to consider your content. Although it may take a while for your site to recover, you should start work on improving the quality of your site’s content now so that you’re ready for the next Panda refresh, whenever that may be.

Top tips for creating Panda-proof content:

  1. Create content with substance – Every page on your site should include a substantial amount of high quality content that is of value to users. We recommend at least 250-300 words of well-written, keyword-focused copy on every page of your site.
  2. Write authoritatively – You want your users to trust your site, so be sure to back-up your content with facts or quotes to support your content. This will help your site to be seen as an authority on the topic you’re writing about.
  3. Do not duplicate – There is endless content available online to answer almost every query, so you need to stand out. This is easier said than done, but try to give your content a slightly different angle to other sites on the same topic, and make sure every page has a unique focus.
  4. Consider your users – Is every page on your website clear and easy to understand? Don’t distract users with excessive adverts or anything which interferes with the main content on your page.
  5. Proof-read and edit – Make sure your content is formatted appropriately and doesn’t include spelling and grammar mistakes. All of these things help to improve the quality of your content and shouldn’t be neglected.

See Google’s Search Console support section for more advice on creating quality content.

If you want to know more about Panda 4.2, or you’re worried that your site may have been affected, call us on 0800 622 6100 to see how we can help.



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