At the recent Search Marketing Expo Conference (SMX), Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the search engine is working on a “kinder, softer” version of Panda. The forthcoming Panda refresh will help small businesses that may have been adversely affected by previous versions of the algorithm. Google Panda first launched back in February 2011, and the initial roll-out was designed to identify, and penalize, sites with low quality content.
Panda’s goal was to eliminate content farms, but as a side effect many smaller, less authoritative sites found themselves floundering in the SERPs, even if the content that they did have was of high quality. The algorithm hit small businesses hard and made it almost impossible for them to compete against bigger, more well-known websites. Product related searches were among the worst hit, as smaller retailers found themselves unable to compete against huge online retailers such as Amazon, even if the smaller retailer was a specialist that offered better products, prices and service.
Local search is another area where smaller companies struggled in the post-panda world. Local estate agents, contractors and other services found themselves unable to compete against national companies, even if the national companies did not even offer their product or service in a given area. This is something that Google has already put a lot of effort into correcting with their recent local and mobile centric updates.
Google has long acknowledged that Panda had a bigger than desirable impact on small businesses. Last August, Matt Cutts asked webmasters to submit examples of smaller websites that had high quality content, but were not ranking well in Google. He got a lot of responses to that request, and found that there was indeed a large number of sites being negatively affected by Panda that were perhaps undeserving of such a penalty. Perhaps this forthcoming update will boost those sites in the rankings, and help those sites to compete in their chosen niches.
It is unknown when the Panda refresh will go live. It is likely that it will be several months before we see any movement, however. In the mean time, webmasters should focus on good SEO practices, and avoid quick fixes and small modifications that are designed purely to help you pass the “Panda threshold”. There is no need to design your website purely for the search engines. If you have good content then your site will be fine.