The impact of Google’s ‘Panda’ update might be restricted to a relatively small number of ‘low quality’ websites, according to the search community. I have received some new data that further supports this idea.

Panda was rolled out to on 24 February, but the UK update didn’t occur for another six weeks or so. Then, on 11 April, Google pushed the button. ’Low quality’ and ‘thin content’ websites were targeted by Google. 

Some have suggested that the post-Panda world looks much the same as it did before, at least as far as most sites are concerned. This new data goes some way towards proving that…

The numbers, from search marketing agency Stickyeyes, provide us with a big picture view of five verticals (credit cards, gambling, flights, hotels and holidays). The search marketing firm tracks thousands of keywords for these areas and monitors the top 20 results in Google on an hourly basis. Stickyeyes gathered 4.7m pieces of data, so the sample is certainly big enough to make a few initial conclusions.

Google Panda vs Caffeine and Vince

When you step back and look at verticals the picture becomes clear: Panda hasn’t had the wide-ranging impact that previous Google updates such as Caffeine and Vince have had, as shown in the chart below. Fewer sites appear to have been affected in such a dramatic way. This graph shows the volatility trend of rankings within for the verticals Stickyeyes measures, and you can see that Panda (far right) leaves a much smaller dent than Caffeine and Vince:

Impact of Panda

Google Panda’s impact by vertical

As far as the five verticals go, the big winner among these five verticals appears to be the gambling sector, with 67% of websites in the top 20 results (across the keyword sample) being moved up the Google ladder. Only 19% of gambling websites lost positions, which suggests that there may have been a few big losers.

Across all five verticals 43% of sites moved up in the rankings, 33% fell, and 24% maintained their positions.

Panda impact by vertical

Average position movement following the Google Panda update

This next chart shows us that Panda has had a slightly negative effect on the top-placed websites in the five verticals that Stickyeyes is tracking, with flights the hardest hit.

Note that a Panda’s bite seems to be more powerful than it’s kiss. Websites that lost rank typically dropped 3.7 positions in Google, whereas ones that won typically improved their positions by 2.3 places. Given that only 33% of websites lost rank I think this suggests that some were hit a lot harder than others, rather than an overall gentle shift.

Volatility of Google Panda

What about Econsultancy?

Econsultancy was named by Searchmetrics as one of the top five winners in the UK organic search market, following the Google Panda update, based on analysis of its ‘Organic Performance Index’ (an indicator of search visibility). Searchmetrics suggested that our search visibility improved by 37%. We always like winning, but what did this mean and how did it actually play out?

As it happens, in the two weeks after April 11 our search traffic looked almost exactly the same as the month before. If anything, it fell slightly! Note that I have used the second Monday in the month as the start of the date range, for a more accurate comparison of the effects, rather than the exact dates. Here’s the chart, which measures all Google referrals across a two week period after the update was rolled out in the UK:

Econsultancy's post-Panda performance

There are some caveats in play, notably the fact the April 22 and 24 were bank holidays, and as a B2B brand we don’t tend to pull in much holiday traffic. Also, a 37% improvement in search visibility wouldn’t necessarily correlate to a 37% increase in search traffic, especially as many of our keywords are low volume (but high value).

At any rate, when you factor in the Easter holiday it’s not looking as though Panda has affected our own search traffic one way or another, though we’ll look again once a longer period of time has elapsed.

Some individual websites have definitely suffered, as far as search visibility is concerned, though some of the purported targets of Panda have said that the negative effects have been somewhat overstated. Others have openly admitted to being smacked in the face by angry Panda. But for the majority, it looks like a case of ‘nothing to see here’.

So what about you? How has your website fared in a post-Panda world?