Since the 6th January 2016 the volatility in the SERPs has been off the chart (well, not really, but it has been significant). Google started off being rather cryptic about the nature of the changes, but soon confirmed that it was not Penguin (the initial theory), and subsequently, not Panda either.
This was further compounded by reports that Google Panda was now part of the Core Ranking Algorithm, and that it was "Real-time" (which turned out to be incorrect). Google Panda is part of the Core Ranking Algorithm, just not real-time.
If you are confused about what exactly all the recent volatility in the SERPs is all about, and what the implications of Google Panda being in the Core Ranking Algorithm mean, then you are in good company.
To at least get some sense of what going on, it is useful to set out all the information. We may not have all the answers yet, but at least, you will start to get an overview of the situation.
The Google Update is Not Penguin
Despite initial reports that the volatility was related to Penguin, Google confirmed on the 12th January 2016 that it wasn't. We are, of course, expecting the new Penguin Update sometime soon, as they even indicated that it would be rolled out before the end of 2015. That didn't happen, but John Mueller still indicated that it would be rolled out soon.
The Google Update is Not Panda
Subsequently, after being hounded by SEO's, Gary Illyes confirmed on Twitter that the recent fluctuations in the SERPs are nothing to do with Panda, and any other animals (referring to Penguins).
@jenstar correct. The recent ranking fluctuations you noticed have absolutely nothing to do with panda or other animals— Gary Illyes (@methode) January 13, 2016
It is a Core Algorithm Update
The news that the latest fluctuations were a Core Algorithm update first broke on the 11 January 2016, when webmaster Trends Analyst, Zineb Ait, confirmed it on twitter. This was then followed up with an English confirmation by Gary Illyes:
Panda is Now part of the Core Algorithm
In an official statement made to theSEMpost Google confirmed that Panda is now part of the Core Algorithm:
Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.
The perception of many is that everything in the Core Algorithm operates in real-time. That being said, previous uncertainty has surrounded Panda, and it was clarified back in March 2015 that Panda did not operate in Real-time. So, with Panda now being referenced as being in the Core Algorithm, it represents a fairly significant change.
But wait, we have been told that the recent changes were not Panda, but also that it is a Core Algorithm Update. Now we are being told that Panda is part of the Core Algorithm.
Gary Illyes shed some light on this obvious confusion, by confirming that Panda is part of the Core Algorithm, but that they did not update the Panda part of the Algorithm:
@jenstar to be clear, panda IS part of the core algo, but we haven't updated the panda part. Not other animals.— Gary Illyes (@methode) January 13, 2016
Panda Algorithm Updated both Automatically, and Manually
Google Panda assesses your site quality, and then based on the assessment will assign it a site score. This site score then remains unchanged until a further data refresh is carried out. This can mean a lengthy period between your site score being reassessed.
In quite an interesting conversation on Google+, Gary Illyes responded to the following questions:
Q1. Panda is now a part of the core ranking algo. Does it mean Panda will be updated automatically not manually (even if not in real-time)?
A1. We do continue to update the data which is used to recognize high quality sites, and we roll that data out over time. Sometimes we have to make manual updates, sometimes it's automatic, but that generally doesn't play a role in how the data is rolled out.
Q2. What is "Core Ranking Algorithm" at all? How different is it from algos that aren't a part of it?
A2. I think this is really the worst takewayof the past few days, but imagine an engine of a car. It used to be that there was no starter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starter_(engine)), the driver had to go in front of the car, and use some tool to start the engine. Today we have starters in any petrol engine, it's integrated. It became more convenient, but essentially nothing changed. For a user or even a webmaster it should not matter at all which components live where, it's really irrelevant, and that's why I think people should focus on these "interesting" things less.
We are not sure what to make of it, but it would seem that Google Panda may constantly update the data that is used to recognize quality sites. However, they indicate that it is rolled out over time. We are not sure if this is any different to the existing situation, or adds any clarity.
The information is not as clear as we would all like it to be, but we can understand why this is the case. Google needs to limit the information it gives out to limit the number of people trying to "Game the System", instead of focusing on high-quality content.
Ultimately, though, we now know that it is a Core Update and that while Panda is part of the Core Algorithm, the recent update does not include any Panda changes. With Google constantly stressing the need to produce High-Quality Content, it is likely (at least in part) to target content quality.