Panda 4.0 has officially arrived, as Google’s Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that they have released version 4.0 of the Google Panda algorithm.

Panda first appeared in February 2011, and was believed to be Google’s response to criticism of how well content farms were ranking.

The Panda algorithm, which was designed to help boost great quality content sites while pushing down thin or low-quality content sites in the search results, has always targeted scraper sites and low-quality content sites in order to provide searchers with the highest quality search results possible.

Google believes that those low-level spam page creators are damaging to the Google search product. Thus they are continually changing their algorithm in order to protect against such sites.

Google Panda 4.0 has definitely caused some waves in the search results. However, the fact that Panda 4.0 is also hitting at the same time as a refresh of an algorithm targeting spammy queries like payday loans makes it a little bit more difficult for webmasters to sort through the damage.

With the payday loans refresh impacting extremely spammy queries and Panda targeting low-quality content, some webmasters could potentially get hit with both of these or by just one or the other.

There had been plenty of speculation about a change with either Panda or Penguin Monday morning, although many found it hard to pin down exactly what the change was. There was also plenty of debate on forums and Twitter about whether the shakeup we saw Monday was Panda-related or Penguin-related. And with the payday loans update thrown in there for good measure, it was definitely confusing.

Google has said previously that they try not to throw multiple updates at once or within a very short period of time, so it is interesting that Google pushed out two completely unrelated updates – although updates that could both impact some the same sites – within a couple of days.

Releasing two back-to-back updates makes it a lot harder for webmasters to analyse the changes and what specifically was targeted in these updates, and could affect Google’s ability to evaluate how well (or not) the two updates worked. It also means webmasters might have a challenge knowing what changes need to be made in order to recover search rankings.

It is however being speculated that some of the Panda change might have been to reverse some of the damage done to sites that had great content yet were impacted for other on-page reasons.

While there have been many smaller Panda updates and a couple larger ones, each rolled out monthly over a period of 10 days, Google announced several months ago that Panda would be integrated into the algorithm updates and that the “softer” Panda would be less noticeable. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Panda 4.0, which has had a widespread impact, both positively and negatively.

We will definitely see more come out in the coming days as webmasters and SEO professionals have a chance to evaluate the changes and what might have caused sites to either rise or fall in Google’s search results. And since we’re still awaiting a Google Penguin update (Penguin 2.0 launched a year ago this week), don’t be surprised if we see one of those updates coming soon, especially in light of Google releasing both the payday loans and Panda 4.0 so close together.

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