Google Panda 4.0: What You Need To Know.

Google Panda 4.0: What You Need To Know.

Panda 4.0 Update


Beginning in February of 2011, Google began upgrading it’s ranking algorithm to remove low-quality and spammy websites from its first page search results.  This update was named “Panda” after Navneet Panda, the gentlemen who created it.  As of March 2013, Google had made 25 updates to the algorithm. On May 20th 2014, Panda 4.0 was released, and has resulted in a flury of fear and speculation.  Here’s what you need to know. 

First, Google has not “changed their mind again.”  If we understand the end-goal of Google search, and view each of these updates as incremental shifts moving them closer to that goal, we realize they’re not changing their mind at all, they’re just forcing the rest of us to change our minds, and get on board with their vision.  With that in mind, let’s dig in.

What we can learn from eBay.

High quality SEO companies have been beating the content drum hard for a long time.  “Content is King!” “Content is King!” They shout it from the rooftops. And it’s true. Unfortunately, although some businesses have taken this advice, and worked hard to systematically create high-quality and relevant content, others have not.

After the Penguin 4.0 was released 2 days ago, eBay saw 80% of their organic rankings fall off.  That’s a major blow for this industry giant. As a result, many business owners are left wondering if they’re next.   

According to Larry Kim at Businesss 2 Community, there are 2 significant reasons why eBay was so terribly penalized.  Thin content, and doorway pages.  If you want to dig in for a more technical analysis of his findings, I suggest you give his article a read.  However, since this blog is not directed to fellow SEOs, I’d prefer to offer a brief explanation of each of these, and tell you what you can do to keep or position your website in Google’s good graces.

What is meant by Thin Content?

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team, says that “Thin Content is content with little or no added value.”  Sounds pretty straight forward, and it is, but here’s specifically what you need to look out for:

Shallow Content. Having a website without deep content is a sure fire way to prevent your site from ranking high in the search results.  Put yourself in the shoes of an average consumer.  If they were to land on this particular page, would they see it as a valuable resource?  Are you providing them with unique insight? If not, you should fill out these pages with higher quality information.

At a minimum you should have 300 words of unique copy for a page you want to rank. However, that’s not a hard & fast rule.  Don’t write content only for SEO purposes; write to connect with the reader.


Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the content you’ve developed before publishing and calling it good.

  • Is this piece of content filled with fluff?
  • Do I answer all of my reader’s objections?
  • Does the keyword blend naturally with the rest of the copy, or does it stick out like a sore thumb?
  • Have you included a Call to Action to illicit the next click?
  • Have you adequately communicated the value of the product or service you’re highlighting?
  • Have you connected with the reader in a meaningful way?

Scraped Content

Don’t copy & paste content you found from another website.  It’s okay to cite quotes, or even provide unique insight into a syndicated article, but if your website is filled with duplicate content found somewhere else online, what unique value are you really presenting to your visitor? Why couldn’t they just find it somewhere else?

Thin Affiliate Pages

An Affiliate is someone who gets paid a commission by referring their visitor to purchase a product found on another website.  There’s nothing wrong with this practice.  However, you can’t simply post tons of links or banner ads on your page without providing deeper insight to your visitor.  Instead, provide an in-depth analysis or review of the product or service.  Discuss the pro’s and con’s of the product so that it’s not completely one-sided. When you’re finished, pass it through the filter of questions outlined above and ask yourself whether the content on this page is rich, or if it’s still pretty shallow.  Don’t publish until it’s right!

What is a Doorway Page?

Technically, doorway pages fall under the banner of “Thin content with little or no value.”  Specifically, this could be any page that is developed for the sole purpose of ranking for that keyword/phrase, and is designed to direct visitors to a single destination.  An example of this would be multiple location-specific pages.

Say we want to rank for “Detroit SEO,” but we realize that Metro Detroit is made up of many smaller communities. We might be tempted to create a page for “Macomb SEO” and others for “Rochester SEO” and “Troy SEO,” because we want to cast a wider net.  If a visitor lands on the page for Macomb SEO, things may seem natural to them, however, if the content is the same on the other pages, with only the city name changing on each, Google will recognize this as a doorway page, and your website will be penalized. This is an outdated SEO practice, which webmasters should halt immediately if they’re engaging in.

eBay lost it’s rankings with Panda 4.0 because its doorway pages had thin content.  Similarly, you can expect the same thing to happen if you’re not avoiding these practices.

 How can I recover from a Panda 4.0 Penalty?

Panda 4.0 recovery will require that you take a step back and look at your website. Is your site thin on unique and valuable content? Are you guilty of hosting many doorway pages? If so, spend time developing in-depth and compelling copy. Write with the end-user in mind – not Google.  It’s important to note that you should include keywords and phrases within your copy, but stuffing the page with tons of keywords will get you penalized as well.  It’s a careful balancing act to keep from sliding down the slippery slope on either side. 

If you have doorway pages on your site and you’re fortunate enough to have maintained your rankings, request a website audit to determine the next best step.  Chances are high that you’ll need to grieve what you perceive as a loss and move on.  It’s simply not worth having a penalty associated with your domain history to pick up a few clicks here and there.  Decide what you want to target, and focus with laser-like intensity there.  Stop trying to game the system, or the system will game you.

If you’ve been hit by a Panda, Penguin or Hummingbird update, reach out for help. We provide expert analysis and recovery services that will address these, and many more issues, and remove penalties associated with your website.  The investment will pay dividends as many of your competitors give and redirect their marketing efforts.  Cleansing the system is a good thing for the strong who will survive.  Be one of them.


Jeff Bickley

Over the past decade, Jeff has worked with numerous Fortune 100 and Start-Up companies to establish, reinvent, and re-enforce their brand. A serial entrepreneur at heart, Jeff has a passion for leveraging his vast experience to provide solid and timely advice to business leaders at all levels.

  • avatar
    Nathan W.
    Posted at 06:57h, 20 August

    Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and the rest of the website is really good.

  • avatar
    Posted at 04:42h, 07 August

    Content is still king in the eyes of Google, but it seems like people want more images and visual appeal. Fine line to balance between being too focused on text at the expense of visuals and vice versa.

  • avatar
    Posted at 20:10h, 05 August

    Even after the Panda 4.0 update, I’m still seeing competitors outranking me that have very thin content on their site. I’ve taken great care to craft very informative content on my site, but it seems like nothing helps. Any insight as to what could be the problem??

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 13:32h, 06 August

      Hi Ferrah,
      There are hundreds of factors that could be preventing you from ranking for your targeted keywords. Content is extremely important, but if that’s not an issue for your site, there’s something else holding you back. I would recommend requesting a free website audit so we can “look under the hood” and see what issues may be causing this.


  • avatar
    Posted at 11:20h, 05 August

    I’m a realtor in Metro Detroit, and was previously listed on the first page of Google. My traffic has dropped off almost entirely over the past 2 weeks… I’m so mad!!! I worked REALLY HARD to achieve a first page listing, and now this… HELP!

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:21h, 05 August

      Hi Jeanette,

      I’m really sorry to hear about the affect this update has had on your rankings. I understand how painful it can be to watch hard worked for rankings evaporate over night. There are options for Pigeon recovery. Please give us a call to discuss. The sooner the better.


  • avatar
    Posted at 03:14h, 05 August

    I have an ecommerce website which had never ranked in the google results. After reading your post about scraped content, I looked at all our product descriptions and pasted them into google. As it turns out, many other sites are using the same descriptions that were sent from the product manufacturers. I then rewrote about a hundred of them in my own words, and within about a week we were showing up on the first page!! Thanks for the insight! Your SEO blog is MASSIVELY helpful!

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 13:25h, 06 August

      That’s great, Olivia! Keep up the great work! eCommerce SEO can be tricky, but with the right tweaks you can make it a success. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help drive even more traffic to your website!


  • avatar
    Posted at 21:37h, 04 August

    We moved up from page 3 to page 1 for our highest volume keyword! Nice job!

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:38h, 05 August

      Slow and steady wins the SEO race! Your competitors finally got blasted for doing what shouldn’t be done. Enjoy the spoils!


  • avatar
    Joe Peters
    Posted at 14:28h, 30 May

    Thanks for the transparency into what Google is looking for with their Panda 4.0 Update. I’ve been baffled by all the updates leading up to this point, as it seems like Google is constantly changing their mind. The fact that you were able to provide a much bigger picture, and identify the common thread is very helpful. Your blog is a constant source of SEO gold. Keep up the great work!