Panda 4.0: An Executive Overview for Lawyers

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What the Updates Were

Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, announced on Tuesday, May 20, that the search engine giant had officially started rolling out Panda 4.0. There was quite a bit of talk the prior weekend that another algorithm update had been implemented, and Google confirmed on Tuesday that the Payday Loan 2.0 update had gone into effect as well.

Google’s Panda algorithm is designed to prevent sites with poor-quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results. This update was said to be a softer, yet major update (it affected 7.5% of English-language queries), meaning that it is not designed to have a dramatic effect on sites, but to lay the groundwork for future updates.

Google designed the Payday Loan algorithm to go after significantly spammy niches to clean up the results. It is a more targeted algorithm and has much less impact than the Penguin and Panda updates in terms of the percentage of results affected.

How Panda 4.0 Affected Legal Directories

My company,, did a review of the major metro areas throughout the United States for specific valuable legal keywords. From this snapshot it looks like there were some clear winners after the Panda 4.0 update. SEMRush data from the same period further confirmed this. In this review, we are focusing on legal directories. We did not see much variation from city to city for individual law firm website results.


Avvo appears to be a clear winner after the update. Take a look at the graph below.


A significant jump in traffic follows the update. This is not a true traffic measurement, but rather an estimation of traffic based on keywords ranking and position. This was expected based on our review of key metro areas based on movements like the one below:



Findlaw seems to have been affected by the update. Looking at the SEMRush data, it is not as clear as in the Avvo example that there was a significant change.


When we looked through the snapshot data from before and after the update, it looks like in total lost ground (rankings) in key metro areas. Part of this is probably based on the fact that this update treated other sites better, and stayed the same and that they were just pushed down a bit with the addition of new positions gained by and others.

Conrad Saam published an article on May 23 indicating that many websites that Findlaw was selling as pre-SEO’d sites were crushed by the Panda update. I am not 100% sure whether this was Panda, the Payday Loan algorithm update, a manual action by Google, or the actions of Findlaw, but the result seems to be that most of these pre-SEO’d sites lost all visibility.

If I had to guess, I would say it is due to the payday loan update or the reaction by Findlaw to Conrad’s post instead of Panda. This analysis is based on the severity and sweeping nature of the drops. With Panda, I would have expected less dramatic rolling (across the country) declines. remained strong prior to and gained ground after the update. I did not see a clear indication of this in our snapshot test, but SEMRush data appears to show a significant gain following the Panda update.



Similar to, there appears to be significant traffic gains as reported in SEMRush data below. This was not expected, as it looked like they made gains, but not into the top pages of Google results for our competitive test keywords.  Regardless, the update seems to have favored the directory in a big way.


You will find a sampling of the data from our snapshot test here:


If you have not yet made the mindset shift from short-term wins to the long view on your website investment, you are headed for a rocky road. With every update, Google continues to refine (and set the stage for further refinements) in its ranking algorithm. The search engine is moving quickly to reward the sites that offer value. The longer you put time and money into short-term solutions, the farther behind the curve you will be in setting yourself up for future success. Avvo started out with a focus on smart SEO and adding value. This is clearly in line with Google’s goals and should be in line with your goals as well.

JR Oakes

J.R. Oakes is in charge of developing and managing a comprehensive approach to search engine optimization for the law firm clients of In this role, J.R. constantly analyzes and adapts the marketing firm's SEO strategy to address the constantly changing factors that go into high search engine rankings. Follow JR on Google+ or Twitter

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