Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About the Google Panda Update

google panda

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you couldn’t miss the news about Google’s latest algorithm change, the Google Panda update.

In early 2011, the Panda update hit low quality websites that were content farms. Since then, a lot of major sites lost rankings and traffic.

There have also been several smaller-scale extensions of the Panda update. And to make things worse, Google is promising to have more changes.

If you were one of the unlucky individuals to see a drop in your traffic following any of the Panda updates, you are probably wondering how to fix it, right? Or if you’ve been spared by the initial Panda roll-outs, you are probably wondering how you can ensure your site will remain safe from future updates?

Understanding the Big G

Before I dive into the history of the Google Panda algorithm update, I’d like to take a step back and review what Google is and why it makes the changes that it does.

Google is a search engine whose goal is to provide the people who use its service with the best possible results in response to their search queries. When it does a good job, more people use Google over its competitors. When more people use Google search engine, Google gets more exposure for its Adwords sponsored listings, which means it makes more money.

As you can imagine, Google isn’t happy about people who try to game the system with low quality content that ranks well without providing good value for its visitors. In Google’s eyes, when it displays these bad content sites, it creates a bad user experience for its customers.

In order to fight this, Google regularly updates its algorithm or the way it ranks web pages on its search engine. And although the Panda algorithm update is one of the most major changes in the last few years, the reality is Google is constantly updating its algorithm to fight spammers who are trying to game its system.

According to a post by Amit Singhal of Google:

Panda was just one of roughly 500 search improvements we expect to roll out to search this year. In fact, since we launched Panda, we’ve rolled out over a dozen additional tweaks to our ranking algorithms.

Given the number of sites affected by the Google Panda update and the big changes in traffic they experienced, it’s worth spending a bit of time focusing on what the Panda update is, how it’s influencing current search results and what you need to do to protect your site against future updates to this major algorithm change.

What is the Google Panda Update?

The initial Panda roll-out, Panda 1.0, occurred on February 24, 2011, and took aim at the content farm sites that boast thousands and thousands of low quality, user-generated pages. Initially, the algorithm update was referred to as the “Farmer’s Update” due to the number of content farms that were affected by the roll-out. Google later acknowledged that the update’s internal name was “Panda” after one of its lead developers.

Google’s estimates put the number of search result pages affected by this update at 11.8% of all search terms on the web. Among the sites most affected by this initial update were article directories and content farms. The chart below, provided by Sistrix, details the top 15 affected domains.

panda sites hit

Although this initial shift garnered the most industry attention, Google has been rolling out updates to the Panda algorithm changes every 4 to 8 weeks since its February launch. The following are the known changes that have occurred thus far:

  • Panda 2.0 – The first revision to the original Panda update occurred on April 11th, 2011, and expanded the initial roll-out from targeting solely US search queries to affecting all English language results around the world. This update also marked the first time Google acknowledged using data on blocked sites through its Chrome extension and search engine results page “block link” feature to influence rankings. This update was estimated to affect only about 2% of all search queries.
  • Panda 2.1 (May 10th, 2011) / Panda 2.2 (June 16th, 2011) – In the two months following the release of Panda 2.0, Google made minor adjustments to the Panda algorithm update. Both of them were reported to affect an even smaller number of search queries than the 2.0 release did. The Panda 2.2 update was intended to help fight the problem of scraper sites outranking the original content, but people reported that it wasn’t completely successful.
  • Panda 2.3 (July 26th, 2011) – According to a Google spokesperson, this update incorporates some new signals that help differentiate between higher and lower quality sites. As a result, some sites are ranking higher after this most recent update.

Given the widespread effects of these changes, there’s a debate as to whether or not the Panda update can be called a true “algorithm change”. Here are the three ways of thinking about Google Panda:

  • A traditional algorithm update – with the number of existing sites that experienced losses in the Panda update, there’s no doubt that these changes represent a change in how the Google algorithm regards certain types of content.
  • A new ranking factor – similarly to PageRank or meta tag optimization, a site’s “Panda score”- based on the metrics quantified in the update, will influence where new and existing pages fall in the SERPs.
  • A penalty – maybe one of the most encouraging signs is that sites that implement strategies to correct the issues uncovered by Google can improve their rankings and traffic, making the Panda roll-out a temporary penalty directed at low quality sites.

To understand the difference between these concepts, consider what happens when Google adds new pages to its index. Google’s spiders evaluate the new pages based on specific ranking factors (like PageRank) and figures out where they should fall in the SERPs. But just because the order of the results within SERPs may have changed, it doesn’t mean that a new algorithm change happened.

Or, to look at it in a more simple way, ranking factors determine where individual pages will fall in the Google’s search results. Algorithm changes affect every page in Google’s index.

Will you be affected by the Panda update?

The combination of these updates to the Panda algorithm, as well as a manual review process that allows webmasters who feel they’ve been wrongly slapped to appeal Google’s decision, means that some site owners are reporting a recovery from traffic declines that resulted from the first Panda roll-out.

For example, Danny Godwin of Search Engine Watch reported that traffic is picking up on DaniWeb.com after the Panda slap. His traffic started increasing after he implemented several changes such as reducing page load times, removing duplicate content and improving link structures (including the use of canonical tags and 301 redirects).

However, because updates have been coming out regularly for the last few months and because it’s clear that Google hasn’t yet resolved the issue of scraped content outranking original content in the SERPs, it’s worth paying attention to statements made by Google about what it values in a website. Just because your website hasn’t been hit yet doesn’t mean it won’t be slapped by a future Panda update!

On the plus side, it isn’t that difficult to determine whether your site has a good change as a result of a Panda slap. Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal, who both work at Google, gave some obvious hints about Google’s process of identifying low quality sites in an interview with Wired magazine:

We used our standard evaluation system that we’ve developed, where we basically sent out documents to outside testers. Then we asked the raters questions like: Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?

From the results of these surveys, Google engineers were able to quantify specific metrics that indicate whether or not a site is high quality. These metrics then formed the foundation of the Panda update framework.

If you use these clues, along with the results of the different Panda roll-outs so far, you will be able to determine a number of different criteria that could be measured and used in an algorithm change, including the following metrics listed by Mark Nunney.

  • A high percentage of duplicate content. This might apply to a page, a site or both. If it’s a site measure, then that might contribute to each page’s evaluation.
  • A low amount of original content on a page or site.
  • A high percent or number of pages with a low amount of original content.
  • A high amount of inappropriate adverts (pages don’t match the search query), especially high on the page.
  • Page content and page title tag not matching the search queries a page does well for.

To maintain high search engine rankings and protect your site from future Panda updates, or any future algorithm changes by Google for that matter, consider taking the following measures:

  • Share only unique, high value content – even if the Panda updates aren’t yet sophisticated enough to fight scraping sites still dominating the SERPs, rest assured that that’s the direction Google is heading. In the long run, providing people with good, original content is the best way to survive.
  • Improve page load times – Google has made several announcements related to page load times, so it’s clearly something that’s on its radar now and will be in the future. To improve your page load times, restructure bloated code, compress or resize image files and take advantage of caching plugins if you are running your site on a content management system.
  • Build brand awareness with social networking – because links from social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are now being taken into account as a ranking factor, it’s a good idea to increase your presence on these sites. Use them to reach out and connect with your visitors naturally, instead of trying to game the system by spamming links or buying friends.
  • Avoid over-optimization – when it comes to ranking well in a post-Panda world, natural is the name of the game. If you have pages on your site that are so tightly targeted to a particular keyword phrase that they’re nearly impossible to read, rewrite them. Or if you’ve coded every meta and headline tag with your target keyword, consider replacing some of them with terms that create a better experience for your users.
  • Share expert content – remember, Google is looking to reward expert sites, and one thing that these authority pages routinely do is link out to other great content sites that they feel will benefit their users. When you are writing your new, unique content, start linking out to at least one or two high quality sites in each article.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the important thing to keep in mind is that Google values the experience it is providing to each searcher. Any changes you make to your website that improve your visitors’ time on your site will pay off in the long term, both by protecting you from being slapped with a Panda penalty and by ensuring your safety from future algorithm updates.

If you have already been slapped by the Panda update, don’t blame Google. Just try to provide people with the best information and do what’s best for your visitors. It will most likely help your site rank well on Google in the long run.

So, what do you think about the Panda update?

P.S. If you are having issues with the Panda update, feel free to leave a comment or email me. I’ve gotten 8 sites out of it so far.

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Comments

  1. Very interesting post every webmaster should read. Also congrats on getting websites rid of Panda !

  2. Thanks for the concise breakdown. I’ve always been a fan of “sharing expert content” to other pages, and glad that Google is rewarding that.

  3. Nice work dude. I’ve written quite a lot of the ol’ Panda too, but great detail, great work. Worthy of a bookmark :)

    Dan

  4. People still don’t get it though… Provide visitors with unique quality content and your site will naturally blossom in the SERPs, trying to cheat, take short cuts, scrape will more than certain ensure your site gets hit by a future algo update.

    It’s that simple, but still there’s many that just don’t get it :/

  5. Wished I could say I CARE about the content farms. Come on, the system has been ‘gamed’ these past years that actually finding something relevant in Google is an adventure. So yes, I say bring more Pandas and let’s create sites with CONTENT that’s unique and of quality.

  6. Interesting, Many big websites also effected by Panda.. now I am looking for next update…..

  7. Great post and got to know a lot of things about Google Panda. I feel every site owner should be aware of these updates and work accordingly.

    Online Business Virtual Assistant

  8. Neil, a couple things if I may. First, your article is very well written, as it sounds like it’s coming from *you* and not just a rehash, and that you know what you are talking about. Which brings me to the second thing: some suggestions are just not practical. Sometimes you cannot create website pages for both visitors and search engines. If you add enough content so the SE’s know what your site is about, visitors will think your site is too wordy. If you make your site less wordy, but keep it SE friendly, then you are “optimizing.” Eventually you find a balance; you have to. If you have this totally visitor-friendly website and you’re not ranking, nobody will find you. And vice versa; if you you’re ranking at the top, but your site sucks, visitors won’t want to stick around. So there’s a happy medium. What bugs me is some of the preachy-ness I hear (not from you, I mean in general) about “ooh it’s content content content, create your site for your visitors blah blah blah.” Hopefully I articulated this post clearly. It’s late at night, if you don’t understand it, that means my brain is too slow, feel free to delete this :-)

  9. Aw, see, I just re-read my comment and it doesn’t make sense towards the end because I didn’t give an example. I knew I shouldn’t type this late at night… So anyway, I was saying how there’s this preachyness about “it’s all about content” and “trustworthyness,” which is fine to get your site ranked on the search engines. BUT… here’s the kicker: I think the stakes (i.e. requirements) go up when one wants to be on page ONE in the serps. Just having your “title tag match the page contents” and having some trust-inspiring blurb on your page isn’t usually all that’s needed for a page one ranking :-)

    • Great points, I agree. It is very hard to trust some of the so called experts out there.

      • Hi Neil, thanks for your reply. I hope it didn’t come across like I didn’t “trust” the experts … it’s just that … well, I’ve had a day to think about this comment thread, and here are my thoughts in a nutshell: All that ‘content’ and ‘trust’ and ‘visitor friendliness’ etc., are fine to get you ranked somewhere among the millions of other sites. But if you want to be on page one, I would think you have to look at what your competitors are doing.

  10. Thanks for sharing such a post in detail. I think i should work on page load time and also now i will be improving in sharing experts comments.
    Got to learn new things from your article. Thanks Neil.

  11. Thanks for sharing an information about google panda update neil really am looking for an post to have my clarifications.for eg: if our site has been affected by panda is that possible to recover it from issues

  12. Neil, I’ve dropped you an email about a site of mine. Maybe you can share some ideas if you have the time. Thanks

  13. I wish someday Google will Launch “GOOGLE BULL” and will ruin career of Some SEO out there.

  14. One more thing Neil, If my site have same content for different page (Content on example.com/abc is almost same on page example.com/xyz). Will it be effected and How?

  15. Hello Neil,

    Your post is wonderful , one of my friend adopt the same steps to improve. But after two months he don’t get his ranking back.

  16. Very, very nice article. A lot of new thinks I learn from this. The conclusion is that Google is playing with us :)

  17. Excellent article! It has given me a better understanding of what the algo change is all about. Thank you!

  18. Nice tips there Neil. Although the first update hit all of us, things look better now. However I still find Google not looking into sites gaming the system yet. I mean some sites in my niche use so much bold tags (around 15 bolds and repeated keyword stuffing) but Google does not seem to see that!

  19. Read Aloud Dad :

    Hi Neil,

    Great article, very informative. It seems that Panda gives more significance to the old adage “Content is King”

    Read Aloud Dad

  20. :-) Neat sum up with some great takeaway tips. Just can’t help comparing it what we were always told in high school: be original, be honest, be sincere. Google is a lot like our Principal and Panda..well, could have been our Games Teacher, who never hesitated to whack us when the occasion demanded it. Well, I still largely follow those good old “rules” in my life, and benefit well ’nuff.

    Always enjoy your writing, Neil. Thank you.

  21. Can’t believe I laugh so hard… I was under the rock.
    Just want to thank you for your articles, Neil. I’m really glad I found this blog two weeks ago when I came up (lol, I’ve said it: I was under the rock!!)

  22. Really strange, but one website jumped recently from being a year on #5 on its main KW to #3 (havent changed one little bit), might this be the first positive thing I see from the Panda?

  23. After reading your article, i’ve much better understanding of google panda update, and the rank of my site that suddenly goes up and down. Perhaps they are adjusting a lot of things.

    Thanks for the head up.

  24. Thanks Neil,

    Quick question, does this mean all those internet marketing sites, that ‘have’ solutions to all our problems for $149, and all sorts of font sizes on their pages have been penalized?
    Thanks for this.
    David

  25. Hi

    Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for this, cleared up alot of questions I had, and excellent written.

  26. Hi Neil, Nice post, I been have writing a little about the panda update, but this is great break of the whole thing. After reading reading some of comments above, it’s funny i was just saying to my girlfriend that since we do web design and seo, the only articles I read from you are the ones about search and ranking. not the regular posts about general business. Which is a different point of view what sell textbooks was saying.

  27. Hi Neil,

    Great summary of Panda. Well written. From your experience do think that directory type sites that feature similar search results pages throughout their directory were targeted by Panda? It appears Google has been targeting directories for some time. I mean why would they show third party search results within their own search results? Just curious as to if whether you think Panda had an impact on directory-type sites or just low quality sites in general?

  28. Great article. I was wondering why I lost positions on the keyword Dental Tourism India. Now I know. Thanks Neil. Keep up the good work.

  29. This year I have seen that my sites page rank changed for three times. I guess there are more changes coming unless they make a standing algorithm.

  30. Brilliant info as usual. Will take on board all these changes. Been working on my seo for a while now. ;]

  31. Thanks for giving us more information about new cute Google Panda :-)

    Tanveer

  32. Joseph Tamargo :

    Hi Neil,

    I have been working as a web developer for 10 years, I also love this post , ( been reading your stuff for years ).

    BUT – I feel the problem is mindset, all mindset, People are lazy,

    Let me give you an example,

    I often consult with clients for development, apps etc.

    I was trying to get this one client for the last few weeks,

    I kept telling him he had to start with the small personal things like:

    writing: How can I Help You” on his twitter account / facebook once and a while instead of just jamming his “get $100 off now, in the next hour” tweets….

    Not only that, This client was linking in huge font to his twitter and facebook with nothing but spammy “save now”

    Now granted. This is no where near the answer for the panda as me You and I know,

    BUT – The mindset of many webmasters is to still “game” the system,

    I personally feel that 90% of webmasters DO NOT want to work more then 2 hours a day,

    I personally work 12 – 18 hours a day and even made it onto Conan O Brien in 2005 ( Feb 3rd )

    And in 2011, I am still going strong,

    What’s my secret?

    Here is the recipe:

    * hard work
    * respect for every customer / persona / visitor
    * 100% unique and information packed content
    *Keep it personal

    oh and if you still are broke…..your planing wrong……

    So anyone who read my comment, well work harder, stop cheating and use that PC for more then internet porn and games….

    If every man worked on his website as much as he looked ar internet porn…..well…….you get my point,

    2 years go I was going to write a book called “The Google Serp Lockdown”

    It was going to be about how Google was going to make you show up every day and work for the serp’s and if you didn’t they would fire you;

    Today – This is part of the Panda,

    Publishing between normal work hours in your time zone is very important,…..Remember EVEN a machine can see bull shit content being published at 3am by an auto feed

    WAKE UP *@ 8 am , write something unique all day, publish at 4:30 pm ( at least 1800 + words and original pictures ) and guess what…..you won’t have to worry about the Panda :)

    Anyhow – Thanks for letting me rant, :)

    BTW – Neil – I wanted to apply for a job you were offering, I should have , I just was afraid I was too hyper ( think Gary Van Der Chuck ) That is like me , but I am 100000% times more manic :)

    BTW way – Great post !!

  33. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. When the panda update came out I noticed my traffic almost overnight doubled, I did lose some ranking for a few keywords but overall it’s been pretty positive for me.

  34. If you do nothing bad, Panda will not slaps you. LOL. :)

  35. well … I’ve heard a lot of things about this panda update, but never read or go to deep on the subject; but this article make the things more clear to me. thanks a lot for this post. love it the one before regarding emotions; the top one (mistake :D ) for me is number 4: Don’t count your chickens until they hatch . maybe someday I will learn to do that :)

    peace.

  36. Like kung fu panda in movie Google Panda is on action inside search engine world. It is trying to remove all unrelated, low quality web pages as bad guy, so user will get content what they want. :)

  37. Its time for bye bye to pages having low quality,unrelated content.Google white black panda hungry about fresh and quality content. Google always thinks about users.

  38. thanks for the article, the article is good at reading

  39. Usual to your style Neil a well written and useful article. I started reading your posts recently and have benefited from your insights.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  40. Seems good article will read tonight :)

  41. Must read post for every webmaster thanks for sharing….

  42. Niel I appreciate your great input and good reporting on what is really happening.

  43. Nice info about Google Panda. I hope Google really does something about content scraping.

  44. Thanks for the post neil. I have observed that most of the affected sites used adsense for monetization. So it gives me impression that adsense-friendly!=panda friendly site, what do you think ?

  45. Great article! I have been working with a company who got hit pretty badly. You provided some quality insight.

  46. Neil, it was great perception by you, but i must say still Google did not hit news sharing sites, because some of my competitors use content from Google news indexed site and still on top at a very competitive keyword. and it is so much frustrating for me :-|

  47. Great article. You always outdo yourself. Like what others said, its worth a bookmark. This is expert advise not to be wasted. Thanks for the time writing this. I know you’ve helped a lot of struggling marketeers out there.

  48. Google panda affected a lot to article directories as i found its giving importance for content

  49. Great post, explaining everything about Google Panda

  50. Great article Neil! I always enjoy your posts as they are insightful, meaningful and well written. Overall, nice summary of the Panda Google update.

  51. Thanks Neil I have yet to see such an extesive review of the update and some of it’s other important mini updates since. The panda update helped my person blog as well as my other sites. I do like the new effect and I hope that many others will follow suit and start making better content and being as organic as possible is the way to go. There are some tried and true ways to build rank without having to go to far.

  52. I haven’t seen much of a drop in any of my sites, must mean I am doing something right.

  53. I had a few sites that were affected. One site – too many backlinks too quickly. Oops on that one. The others – Why? They were junk. All content was unique but Google follows so much of the user now in terms of habits, trends, how long they stay on a site (I think) so quality is definitely key. By the way, thanks for the link on how to increase site load times.

  54. By the looks of it the panda update has affected article directories.

  55. Brilliant summary of the panda update. I am so careful with my seo and i have noticed i am climbing higher since i started. I want everything to be as organic as possible for my cleaning company. The only thing i need to start doing now is creating my google backlinks. I am virtually top with yahoo and bing for my 3 key phrases and am on 2 front pages on google for two of my key phrases. Not bad for a first timer. I have been reading non stop for 9months on seo and im more than happy so far as i havnt spent a pound doing it. As long as people who are doing their own seo dont go with everything that you read you should be ok. Dont mke any rash decisions because this could be fateful. If you think something isnt right then go with your instincts. ;] Good luck

  56. All the same. We don`t felt anything regarding the panda update. By the way we are still online since 1 month :-)
    thanks for the nice post.
    regards
    ronny

  57. i really think Google should do more against mfa sites and low content sites. there are a lot of them…

  58. Wine Glass Rack :

    Thanks for the concise breakdown. I’ve always been a fan of “sharing expert content” to other pages, and glad that Google is rewarding that.

  59. Thanks,
    That’s too bad about your friend.

  60. Hey Neil informative blog post. In today’s time every website should have a good quality content and that too highly informative. To get higher rankings in various search engines, it is highly necessary to provide useful as well as informative content and that too unique.

  61. Thank for this amazing site!

  62. yes my sites too got affected by google panda, am trying to recovering it.

  63. Hi Neil
    Commenting after long time.I was busy with my website.Implemented new design.Needs your valuable feedback.

    Neil your articles are always insightful.The depth in the article shows how much efforts you put in each article.
    Thanks a lot your providing tips. fortunately i follow most of them but still needs lot of things to do.
    Could you please suggest me something for my website. :)

  64. That post made the whole Panda issue a lot clearer for me – thanks a lot Neil.

  65. this IS everything that we need to know about the Panda update.
    Well done Neil….you have saved us hours.

  66. Thanks for sharing this information. My question is, What standards have Google set for marking a site as good or bad. Can you tell something about that?

  67. I really like how Google is returning to the “people”, and if you are an expert in your field, and have just a little web savvy, you should be able to do well.

  68. Thank you for explaining it in a non-technical way Neil, I now feel I can say I understand it. Seems to be a big plus for those of us who write seriously and expect a reasonable coin for our efforts.
    Nigel

  69. although I just started my web after this google panda update thing, I can feel that there are a lot changes going on because of this panda update. Enormous and countless topics has been started on one of the forum I Joined.

    It’s funny how a big company can change something in the algorithm and caused the whole world to talk about it. Wonder if someday, quicksprout can also have that kind of effect.

    Thanks for the inspirational post. Keep it going.

    • There have definitely been many changes due to google’s panda update. I am sure there will be more to come in the future. I am glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for reading Quick Sprout!

  70. Thanks for the Panda Timeline Neil, it really put’s it into perspective. At the end of the day, content seems to still be king.

  71. hey neil,
    it’s very informative post. related people must read this. definitely every one will find it helpful for him. Nice to know.

    Thanks.

    Matt

  72. this article is really nice. I really enjoyed reading your posts. They are all well written and informative. Congratulations on you achievement. Thanks for providing an effective Blog that offers complete synchronization between creativity and information.Your Blogs meets all the requirements of the readers and is user friendly and provide the best and best information to the reader. thanks once again.

  73. Great post and got to know a lot of things about Google Panda. I feel every site owner should be aware of these updates and work accordingly.Thanks!,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  74. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement? My website has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being ripped off? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

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