Posted 29 September, 2014 by in SEO

Panda 4.1 – the Return of the Design Sites?

On Friday Google announced that they slowly started rolling out the latest Panda update, dubbed 4.1 by Search Engine Land , earlier in the week. This latest ‘improved’ iteration of the Panda algorithm has affected around 3-5% of search queries, and according to Pierre Far the update rewards high quality small to medium sized sites with better rankings. Great news if you’ve been working hard on top notch content, bad news if you have local pages that are as thin as a pancake.

As I suspect many SEO’s were doing on the day, one of the first things I did was head over to Searchmetrics to check out some visibility graphs. After taking a look at clients who were waiting to recover (which they have!), I headed over to the ‘Winners & Losers’ to see if I could spot anything interesting. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Searchmetrics, each week they release a top 100 list highlighting sites with the biggest gains and losses in organic visibility. As I was scrolling through the relative winners, which mostly contains obscurely named adult sites, I began spotting some familiar domains (no, not the smutty ones).

Those of you who have heard of some of these sites before will know that they reside in the web design niche, and that in general they post similar content and in most cases are very similar aesthetically. They all experienced healthy increases in organic visibility in the US right on cue with the latest Panda update, piquing my interest enough to do some extra digging.

I began reeling off some more well known design sites, and sure enough I found that the majority of them experienced considerable drops in visibility around the 18th of May or, aka Panda 4.0 . – 406% Increase

Notable ranking increases:

  • funny photos – Up 92 positions into 9th – 40,500 AMSV
  • black wallpaper – Up 93 positions into 9th – 33,100 AMSV
  • space wallpaper – Up 96 positions into 5th – 14,800 AMSV – 438% Increase

    Notable ranking increases:

  • national geographic wallpaper – Up 85 positions into 16th – 4,400 AMSV
  • pictures of rain – Up 89 positions into 12th – 1,600 AMSV
  • flyer design – Up 86 positions into 15th – 2,900 AMSV – 238% Increase

    Notable ranking increases:

  • portfolio websites – Up 88 positions into 13th – 4,400 AMSV
  • free stock images – Up 79 positions into 22nd – 18,100 AMSV
  • cool drawings – Up 76 positions into 25th – 40,500 AMSV – 510% Increase

    This site experienced a significant drop in August 2013, the only update around this time being Hummingbird, but has experienced a nice boost in visibility.
    Notable ranking increases:

  • cool wallpapers – Up 85 positions into 16th – 110,000 AMSV
  • cool fonts – Up 87 positions into 14th – 5,400 AMSV
  • cool logos – Up 91 positions into 10th – 12,100 AMSV – +1,124% Increase

  • gimp vs photoshop – Up 90 positions into 11th – 2,400 AMSV
  • how to use gimp – Up 84 positions into 17th – 2,900 AMSV
  • seamless web – Up 72 positions into 29th – 14,800 AMSV – 325% Increase

    Cygnus SEO put together a post for them when they got hit by Panda. While I don’t agree that ‘reaching out’ to John Mueller or Matt Cutts is the best way to get out of Panda, there is some great advice around auditing existing content.

  • music websites – Up 92 positions into 9th – 27,100 AMSV
  • calligraphy fonts – Up 11 positions into 90th – 22,200 AMSV
  • wood texture – Up 10 positions into 91st – 14,800 AMSV – 269% Increase

  • inkscape tutorial – Up 88 positions into 13th – 2,900 AMSV
  • web design portfolio – Up 91 positions into 10th – 1,000 AMSV
  • icon sets – Up 90 positions into 11th – 1,000 AMSV – 269% Increase

  • wood texture – Up 92 positions into 9th – 14,800 AMSV
  • calendar icon – Up 93 positions into 8th – 4,400 AMSV
  • paint splatter – Up 89 positions into 12th – 8,100 AMSV – 79% Increase

    While this site didn’t experience a significant drop during Panda 4.0, they have certainly been rewarded with higher rankings this time round.

  • animated backgrounds – Up 100 positions into 1st – 2,400 AMSV
  • backgrounds – Up 81 positions into 20th – 165,000 AMSV
  • overlay – Up 93 positions into 8th – 5,400 AMSV 116% Increase

  • grunge texture – Up 88 positions into 13th – 8,100 AMSV
  • grunge background – Up 85 positions into 16th – 4,400 AMSV
  • calligraphy fonts – Up 79 positions into 22nd – 22,200 AMSV

    Closing Thoughts

    There are some notable trends to be observed across all of the above sites. They all have very image heavy ‘list posts’ with little text, which have now experienced considerable increases in organic visibility. Perhaps Google interpreted these posts and tutorials as low quality content, when they can offer value to readers and often attract impressive amounts of social shares.

    These image heavy list articles are essentially what fuels these design blogs, which is understandable for such a visually driven niche. Perhaps some have overdone the ‘X number of free resources about X’ or ‘X examples of X’ type posts and often categorisation and archiving can be massively improved.

    These sites also have a large amount of very similar content (on their own domains, as well as in comparison to each other), they can have quite a lot of ads, can be slow loading (due to the imagery and ads!) and while social shares are generally impressive, I do wonder about engagement signals. Some of the sites do encourage you to read a list post and leave.