Our Definitive Guide to Google Panda: What You Need To Know & Do

Google has long been the dominant search engine in terms of market share.

Data collected by SEOmoz, Alexa, Karma Snack and several other trusted analytics sites show us that Google has an unbelievable 72.48 percent of the search engine market share. This equates to around 1.6 billion unique visitors a month.

So, how do you ensure you keep up with Google? Here’s our breakdown of how Googles Panda algorithm affects you and tips on how to stay on top:

Panda, Penguin & Search Engine Optimization

To keep search engine results fresh, Google frequently upgrades the way in which it carries out searches and indexes information.

Each of these updates focuses on a particular aspect of the search engine.  The Google machine has been slowly transformed and upgraded one cog at a time since its official start up in 1998.

Two of the most widely discussed and influential upgrades are referred to as the ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ updates.

Roughly speaking, Google Penguin is aimed at finding and penalizing nefarious link building tactics, and any questionable SEO tactics and in particular, a spammy approach to SEO.

Whereas Google’s Panda update aims to measure the overall quality of a site and improve search engines results by rewarding informative and unique content while penalizing  spammy content and marketing tactics.

Panda Update and its Effects

Panda 1.0 (also known as Farmer) was launched on 24 February 2011 and immediately affected a whopping 12% of queries indexed by Google.

After Panda was initially implemented, CNET reported a surge in the rankings of news websites and social networking sites, a change that suggests Google was successful in achieving its aims as both of these generate a huge volume of original and engaging content.

Sistrix, an independent SEO-software firm, analyzed a huge amount of data after the initial update and published a table of winners and losers.

According to Sistrix, the pages that were worse hit are those we call ‘content farms,’ sites that rely on third-party writers to provide large quantities of low-quality articles and content in order to remain high in SERPs and generate profit through advertising.

Many other sites and digital bodies looked into the effects of the algorithm update and noted many other types of site that were adversely affected.  These include:

  • Voucher & discount sites
  • Review sites
  • Price comparison sites

These are all sites that generate huge volumes of thin and deficient content.

Panda vs Small Business

Because the importance of ranking well in Google is so widely understood, and has been for a while, many smaller businesses, in the years leading up to the update, took to implementing SEO tactics to improve their online visibility.

However most smaller companies simply do not have the time, budget or knowledge to do this in (what Google would now call) ‘a legitimate fashion,’ the rankings of small businesses were hit particularly hard by the update.

In addition, the very nature of local business websites makes them natural targets for the Farmer upgrade.

This is because:

  • They contain minimal content,
  • Businesses dealing with products will often have descriptions and information from the manufacturer/supplier, which will result in the site being flagged as unoriginal.
  • Due to both a lack of time and fresh information, it is very hard for small businesses to frequently update their content – something else that Panda penalises.

After the release of Panda 1.0, hundreds of articles and posts were published either investigating the negative effects of the update or outspokenly attacking it for taking ‘money out of the pockets of honest people that feed their families with their internet business.’

Google, has tried to appease these voices, by releasing many guides outlining how to avoid being penalized as well as plenty of information on optimizing sites on startup.

Tips for Winning: How to Tame the Panda in 4 Steps

One of the most frustrating challenges for SEOs is that these algorithms are constantly being upgraded and changed.  So how do we stay ahead?

There are a few basic rules, which if stuck to, will always greatly reduce the chance of your website being penalized by the current Panda or any of its descendants.

1. Consistent Updating

You must keep your site up to date and fresh wherever possible.  Try to review and replace any content that is too old, and try to add new pieces of material at least every week or two.

A blog, even for a small business, dealing with industry news, reviewing products or technology etc. can be a great way of generating new content and gaining Panda’s trust.  Content such as white papers, webinars, slideshows, infographics or guides can generate buzz, links, comments and discussion, which also counts as valuable new content.

Nine out of ten organisations are marketing with content these days; make sure you don’t lose out.

2. Make sure your content is unique AND original

If you need information from elsewhere (regarding manufacturer information for example), read it, learn it, and then rewrite it in your own words.  Panda hates nothing more than copying and ‘content scraping.’

The other very important rule is to make sure you have no duplicate content by posting any of your work elsewhere or allowing other people to use it.

3. Make your site easy to navigate and understandable

Panda will punish sites that are vague or unclear.  Sites will also be penalized if they failing UX best practices – such as slow load times, being tricky to navigate or move from page to page.  To avoid this, make your site as simple, clear, and load time optimized as possible.

4. Make your site valuable to visitors and not search engines

When you are writing, keep your target audience in mind rather than the Google’s bots and spiders. Avoid keyword stuffing or unnatural-sounding sentences.

Encouraging the publication of interesting and engaging information is Panda’s main role and while crawling and examining a site, Panda takes into account bounce rates, engagement and social shares, return viewers and average time spent on pages to ascertain the value of your site to its human visitors.

If you follow these four key rules regarding content you are highly unlikely to be penalized by Panda.

Additional Resources

There are many guides and blogs that focus on helping site owners to adapt to the Panda updates and continue to optimize their websites in terms of Google rankings.  Here are some of our favorites:

Summary of All Panda’s Updates & Effects

Search Engine Land has compiled a great summary of all Google Panda updates to date into an easy to read numbered list as listed below:

  1. Panda Update 1, AKA Panda 1.0, Feb. 24, 2011 (11.8% of queries; announced; English in US only)
  2. Panda Update 2, AKA Panda 2.0, April 11, 2011 (2% of queries; announced; rolled out in English internationally)
  3. Panda Update 3, May 10, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  4. Panda Update 4, June 16, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  5. Panda Update 5, July 23, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  6. Panda Update 6, Aug. 12, 2011 (6–9% of queries in many non-English languages; announced)
  7. Panda Update 7, Sept. 28, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  8. Panda Update 8 AKA Panda 3.0, Oct. 19, 2011 (about 2% of queries; belatedly confirmed)
  9. Panda Update 9, Nov. 18, 2011: (less than 1% of queries; announced)
  10. Panda Update 10, Jan. 18, 2012 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  11. Panda Update 11, Feb. 27, 2012 (no change given; announced)
  12. Panda Update 12, March 23, 2012 (about 1.6% of queries impacted; announced)
  13. Panda Update 13, April 19, 2012 (no change given; belatedly revealed)
  14. Panda Update 14, April 27, 2012: (no change given; confirmed; first update within days of another)
  15. Panda Update 15, June 9, 2012: (1% of queries; belatedly announced)
  16. Panda Update 16, June 25, 2012: (about 1% of queries; announced)
  17. Panda Update 17, July 24, 2012:(about 1% of queries; announced)
  18. Panda Update 18, Aug. 20, 2012: (about 1% of queries; belatedly announced)
  19. Panda Update 19, Sept. 18, 2012: (less than 0.7% of queries; announced)
  20. Panda Update 20 , Sept. 27, 2012 (2.4% English queries, impacted, belatedly announced
  21. Panda Update 21, Nov. 5, 2012 (1.1% of English-language queries in US; 0.4% worldwide; confirmed, not announced)
  22. Panda Update 22, Nov. 21, 2012 (0.8% of English queries were affected; confirmed, not announced)
  23. Panda Update 23, Dec. 21, 2012 (1.3% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  24. Panda Update 24, Jan. 22, 2013 (1.2% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  25. Panda Update 25, March 15, 2013 (confirmed as coming; not confirmed as having happened)
  26. Panda Update 26, July 18, 2013 (confirmed, announced)
  27. Panda Update 27 AKA Panda 4.0, May 20, 2014 (7.5% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  28. Panda Update 28 AKA Panda 4.1, Sept. 25, 2014 (3–5% of queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  29. Panda Update 30 AKA Panda 4.2, July 18, 2015 (2–3% of queries were affected; confirmed, announced.)

Panda Now Part of Google’s ‘Core’ Algorithm

In January 2016, Google announced that Panda was now part of their core algorithm – meaning it’s ‘baked in’ to Google’s main algorithm – and therefore we can likely no longer expect to receive any information from Google about changes or updates made to Panda in the future.  This means that Google now considers this to be a hugely important part of how they rank sites, so get your content strategy right!

Originally Posted On: 1/22/2013
Last Updated On: 2/28/2018

Feb, 28, 2018