Did your website rankings and traffic tank last week? If so, there is a strong probability that your site was hit by Google’s latest Panda update.

Google rolled out Panda 4.0 on May 20, and while many were predicting it a few days prior, the commotion and panic really hit the fan when Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, put out this tweet:

So, what exactly is Google Panda?

Panda is an algorithm update that was first released by Google in February of 2011 and took aim at low-quality websites, particularly those that were ranking with scraped/copied content. A Google Webmaster Central Blog post stated that, “the initial Panda change affected about 12 percent of queries to a significant degree; this algorithm affects about 3.1 percent of queries in English to a degree that a regular user might notice.”

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Google refreshes Panda on a monthly basis, but the recent 4.0 update is a bit more significant than just a data refresh. Since Google decided to announce the update one has to assume that it was a modification to how the algorithm pinpoints the low-quality sites that Panda set out to identify.

Throughout the years, Google has released updates to Panda, all of which can be seen by taking a look at Moz’s Google algorithm change history. Search Engine Land also has a nice resource that documents all of the Panda updates throughout the years that can be seen here.

Why was Panda developed? Google feels that websites with low-quality content are bad for their search product. If a user makes a search query and low-quality websites are returned it provides a bad user experience. Panda is Google’s answer to combating spam and preventing it from ranking high in their search results. There will always be a continuous game of cat and mouse between Google and spammers, and neither side will ever slow down.

What does Google’s Panda updates target? Websites with content that is either copied or barely readable spam. The goal is to prevent websites from being rewarded that simply copy (steal) someone else’s work or just fill their pages with unreadable content that is stuffed with keywords.

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Simple terms: If your website contains low-quality outsourced or scraped content, you might be on Panda’s radar -- if it hasn’t already buried your site.

How can you avoid getting hit by Panda? This is simple -- only add high-quality original content to your website that provides value to your readers. Would you be confident publishing your website content on a major news or industry website? If your answer is yes, then you have nothing to worry about. If you are not sure or if the answer is no, then it is time to change your content strategy immediately.

What can you do to recover from Panda? If your search-engine optimization provider was using cheap, outsourced content on your website and you were hit by Panda, then it is time for a content audit. It is possible to recover from a Google Panda penalty by rewriting content and adding new high-quality content to your website, although it isn’t an overnight process and it can be quite time consuming and costly.

If you have been using lower quality content on your site and snuck by without being hit by Panda 4.0 then consider yourself lucky and take a step back to evaluate your content strategy.

The money you save by purchasing low-quality content (or using automated tools to create it) is nothing compared to the revenue that can be lost due to a penalty and drop in rankings/traffic.

Related: Why Cheap, Outsourced SEO Will Cost You in the Long Run