Google Confirms Panda 3.3 Update, Plus Changes To How It Evaluates Links, Local Search Rankings & Much More

google-g-logoGoogle has confirmed a new Panda update at the same time that it’s announcing 40 search updates that happened in February (or are in progress right now).

It would be all but impossible to fully sum up the full slate of changes here, but there are a few that seem especially noteworthy and will no doubt produce a lot of speculation among search marketers. Here’s a look at the ones that stand out to me:

Panda 3.3 Update

Here’s what Google says about its latest Panda-related change:

Panda update. This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.

This sounds very similar to Panda 3.2, which happened in mid-January and was described only as a “data refresh” and not related to new or changed ranking signals.

Panda was launched a year ago — don’t miss the full background in our recent story, Infographic: The Google Panda Update, One Year Later.

Postscript, Feb. 28th: Google tells us that the Panda data update took place yesterday, February 27th. The company declined to share any additional information about the “link evaluation” item below.

Evaluating Links

Google says it’s getting rid of a link evaluation signal that it’s been using for years. This one’s sure to prompt discussion:

Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

We’ve reached out to Google in the past, asking for further clarification on the items in these monthly roundups. The company has indicated that the blog post says everything Google wants to say. That, along with Google’s understandable (and necessary) reluctance to give away too many details about ranking signals, leads me to assume we won’t be getting anything more than the above about this.

A link evaluation signal that’s been used for years is now turned off? The SEO mind races….

Local Search Rankings

Here’s another one, along with the link evaluation signal, that I’m actually surprised Google would so openly reveal. The company says traditional algorithmic ranking factors are now playing a bigger part in triggering local search results:

Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename "Venice"] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.

Traditional SEO has played a bigger part in Google’s local search since the launch of Places Search in late 2010. And now it sounds like that dial is being turned up a little higher, too.

Google’s post also says local results are being improved because of a “new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.”

Other Google Updates

As I said, it’s impossible to recap the entire Google blog post. In addition to the items above, you might pay attention to these items:

  • More accurate detection of official pages
  • Expand the size of our images index in Universal Search
  • “Site:” query update
  • International launch of shopping rich snippets

There are also several updates related to freshness, sitelinks and related searches.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Maps & Local | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Panda Update News | SEO: Local | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Mike

    Great summary Matt. I’m excited about the changes in local. It’s particularly interesting to me since the new Google Venice office is about 4 buildings away from me, and (thanks mostly to tourists) there’s loads of opportunity to study local here in the real world.

  • Matt Polsky

    Any ideas on what link evaluation method they nixed?

  • davep

    Here are the changes that basically mean “show more Google served content in results”:

    “Improvements to travel-related searches.”
    “International launch of shopping rich snippets.”
    “Improvements to ranking for local search results.” & “Improved local results.” (can these even get more invasive?!)
    “Improvements to coverage of News Universal. ”
    “Expand the size of our images index in Universal Search.”

  • Russell Jensen

    Now I have to Digg into the internet and find out what that old link signal is… pun intended. If someone finds it first let me know! Tweet me or something @russelljensen

  • Stuart Blessman

    Why does it feel like this update just invalidated nearly everything we just went over at SMX West? lol…

  • Christoph C. Cemper

    So the old and out-dated Page Rank is finally disabled 100%.

  • eddiemurphy

    Interesting. On Jan 20 we fell off the map for many of our top keywords. On Feb 20 everything went back to the way it was before (and just a little better). I though they had just undone Panda 3.2. Good to know 3.3 actually helped us out!!

  • Curtis Noble

    It seems that the link evaluation method may have something to do with anchor text or topic of the page the link is on. The blog post specifically mentions how they often use methods of evaluating links to help understand what the page linked to is about….sounds like they’re saying “anchor text”. But I doubt they would disable evaluating anchor text. wonder what it is. I have seen no rank changes on any sites, including some “test” sites that rank primarily on link-spam. Not yet anyway!

  • abudahab

    Does this also means that links coming to my page from articles posted in syndication services and newswires won’t count anymore too?

  • cindycrijns

    The new way of linkevaluation is probably microformats. Displaying a relation.

  • Chas

    @abudahab, No, that was 3.2 in January- you can now put those links back in, until 3.4 comes out, then you must take them back out, unless you belong to G+. If you live in Venice and can skate backwards on Roller Blades in a Bikini on the boardwalk you will dominate local search, but, all privacy settings will be null and void once you post it to YouTube. If you can do it in a circle, however, it will be visible only to those who have subscribed to your channel, unless they aren’t in your circle, so be careful who you let in your circle, or you may find yourself in an unwanted circle. Now that that’s cleared-up, I am going to go study Mandarin so I can figure out Baidu’s new Algorythm, ‘Grizzly’.

  • Michael Cropper

    Interesting information about links and Panda. I wonder if Panda was released at the beginning of the month or “today/tomorrow”. Quite a difference, although I am sure someone will have noticed changes.

    Some other useful quotes about how to recover from Panda:

  • EricScism

    I think it’s great that they are taking a more traditional approach to local rankings. They’ve been neglecting a solid formula for local listings and have made them easy to manipulate. Hopefully it helps everyone out instead of just Google.

  • Michael Cropper

    Looks like the official date for Google Panda 3.3 was February 15th from what I can see:

  • Chas

    PS~ You will receive more +1′s if your attire is a G-string.

  • melbpete

    From what I have experienced there is more mis-information and propaganda from Google than anything else. The more you fear them the more power they have.

    Always remember in reality they provide little more than 4% of internet traffic. I just think we give them more credit and reverence than they desreve, after all they are just a money making machine. They are not here for you or me.

    The sooner we learn to live without them the better off we will be.


  • Alan

    Not totally on topic but just unleashing some frustration with Google. When is Facebook going to release a competitor to adsense?

  • Matt McGee

    @Michael – we updated the post this afternoon with the February 27th date that Google gave us today.

  • LBR

    The Panda 3.3 Update made changes to Google Places and local search– this means it will affect businesses. Business owners who don’t take action are going to lose a huge portion of their market.

  • ⌘⌥ Yg!  Ygor Lemos

    There’s a naughty Panda watching all of us in the deepest darkness of the Interwebz ;)

  • Michael Cropper

    @Matt, that’s good to know what the date Google says. Looking at my data there was definitely something Panda related that happened on 15th. From my first hand ranking reports I can only see changes on that date and nothing on the 27th as suggested by Google.

    Either way, there has been an update :-)

  • Shawn Lippert

    Local Search results getting better! That is great news, I guess with Google+ for Business, Google Places YouTube and your business website all linked together with some good business directory listings your local business should shoot to the top of the SERP’S. Thanks for the info!

  • Brian Thomas Clark

    I’m assuming the change in how they evaluate links has to do with the recent proliferation of the “we’ve noticed some unnatural links to your site” messages in GWT? Been hearing from a lot of people recently that there’s a rash of these going around.

  • Vania

    I think that when they are talking about analyzing the links more, they may be taken into consideration if a person bounces or stays in the page which the link lead to, to see if it’s relevant, so maybe they are tracking stays on a page from the link in order to determine if the result is relevant. They’re doing all these changes to make results more relevant, so if people aren’t staying on the page they clicked to, then Google might think…”oh, this may not be answering people’s questions.”

  • F.L.

    Great article, but I walked away without a good sense of what these changes mean for marketers and webmasters. My take on the potential implications of the local search, official pages and images index changes can be found here

  • palla ramarao

    Now it’s more difficult to rank in Google. It has always been that SEO is a “mystic” science which keeps changing ever. The most affected sites are the small blogs. I’ve seen a drastic decrease in traffic (approx. by 40% – 70%) in some of my blogs and my friend’s blogs after the Panda 3.3 update. I really don’t know whether Google has penalized on a country basis or is it still just a level playing turf.

  • SPSoft Global
  • Best Hosting

    Bravo..Amazing update. So this is very happy news that Google being very quick on local search results. New Google Panda 3.3 will be more powerfull then 3.2, I thought. 

  • miteshsoni1995

    really nice. can anyone help me I want to knwo that what should I do should I remove all the copied content from my website or leave as it is.
    when I started my blog it was just a photocopy of 2 website content but now I have started publishing my own content  and mow 50% of my blog is total unique.
    my website is
    so friends please answer my question.

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