Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour

Despite Google’s usual stance of repeatedly stating that “nothing is happening” and “no updates are planned….honest” There were a lot of signs from the beginning of this month of some major changes to algorithms were happening and that unconfirmed reports of major changes in the Google search results and rankings were planned.

SEO and Web designer message boards have been lit up over the last few weeks with chatter referring to search rankings and possible changes. Many webmasters and site owners have started to notice a massive fluctuation in site rankings akin to similar period last year and the year before coinciding with previous Google penguin and panda updates.

By the 18th and 19th of May some people were starting to suspect that a massive Penguin update was about to hit, while others thought it might be just a quick Panda refresh, whichever way ti was going to swing, Google had it kept under wraps. Well on Wed 21st Google’s Matt Cutts announced on his twitter feed that they had released version 4.0 of the Google Panda algorithm. Web and SEO tracking tools have been going wild once the data for May was available, with sites like SERP METRICS showing a nearly doubling in page 1 ranking fluctuations.

Google’s Panda algorithm is designed primarily to prevent sites with poor quality and irrelevant content from working their way into Google’s top search results, which is great, in theory. In practice though, as historical algorithm changes have taught us, this also means several weeks or even a few months of massive search fluctuation and waiting for the dust to settle to finally find out where your website will be placed.

The updates themselves are effective at targeting bad sites, however as google gives us no advance warning we can spend several frustrated weeks trying to work out why our search rankings are all over the place. For example, the last penguin update had a -45 / +52 shift on this website for one search term, giving us a net increase of +7 in the rankings which on the face of it looks great, however this shift took nearly 3 months to settle and the site overall so a big drop in traffic during this period as the search results fluctuated wildly for several weeks.

Panda 4.0 looks like its turning out to be a major update to the actual algorithm, as opposed to just a data refresh that we had been previously promised would be the norm. What this effectively means is that Google has made changes to how Panda identifies sites, their content and how they rank.

Whilst it looks like Google is coming good on its promise of targeting black hat link building and Spam, and promoting solid and relevant content, this looks like yet again to be a few months of search ranking chaos whilst the new algorithm scours internet. Link building has certainly been dropped to the bottom of the pile as far as white hat SEO is concerned, but it appears that google is placing a much heavier emphasis on content with this update. What does that mean for you and your website, well, get writing!

Check out these other reports on the changes and how they can affect your sites ranking:

Search Engine Roundtable

Search Engine Land

Search Engine Watch