What is Google Panda? How Content Matters to Google’s Algorithm Update

By | 2014-10-01T17:02:45+00:00 October 1st, 2014|Content Marketing Tips, Inbound Marketing, SEO|0 Comments

Google has a history of constantly updating their search algorithm in order to improve it for search users by ensuring the results they deliver are relevant and of high quality. One of the major changes they have made to their algorithm over the past several years happened with the Google Panda algorithm update. In this guide, we’re going to define what the Google Panda algorithm update is, how it has affected specific types of websites, and what you can do if Panda has affected yours.

What is the Google Panda Algorithm Update?

The Google Panda algorithm update was first released in February 2011. Originally known as the Farmer Update, the goal of this change to Google’s ranking algorithm is to ensure that search results return high quality content for specific keywords first. The result of each Google Panda algorithm update is to remove low quality content from the top positions in search results and serving up valuable, authoritative content first.

So far, Google Panda has been updated or modified over twenty times. Here’s the history so far.

UpdateDateMore Info
Panda / FamerFebruary 23, 2011Moz, SEL, Wired, Google
Panda 2.0April 11, 2011SEL, SEJ, Google
Panda 2.1May 9, 2011SEL, SER
Panda 2.2June 21, 2011SEL, SEW, Moz
Panda 2.3July 23, 2011SEL, SER
Panda 2.4August 12, 2011SEL, Moz, Google
Panda 2.5September 28, 2011SEL, SER, Searchmetrics
Panda “Flux”October 5, 2011SEL
Panda 3.1November 18, 2011SER, SEL
Panda 3.2January 18, 2012SEL, SER
Panda 3.3February 27, 2012SEL, Google
Panda 3.4March 23, 2012SEL, Moz
Panda 3.5April 19, 2012SER, SEL
Panda 3.6April 27, 2012SEL, SER
Panda 3.7June 8, 2012SER, Moz, SMT
Panda 3.8June 25, 2012SEL, SER, SEW
Panda 3.9July 24, 2012SEL, SER
Panda 3.9.1August 20, 2012SEL
Panda 3.9.2September 18, 2012SEL
Panda 20September 27, 2012SER
Panda 21November 5, 2012SEL
Panda 22November 21, 2012SEL
Panda 23December 21, 2012SER
Panda 24January 22, 2013SEL
Panda 25March 14, 2013SEL
Panda “Dance”June 11, 2013SEL
Panda RecoveryJune 18, 2013SER
Panda 4.0May 19, 2014SEL, Moz, SEW, Searchmetrics

 The Types of Websites Affected by Google Panda

With the initial algorithm change was released in 2011, the websites affected were primarily article directories and other websites that were considered content farms. Search Engine Land posted a list of the top search visibility losers as calculated by SISTRIX.

















In addition to popular article directories used (and abused) by cheap link building strategies such as EzineArticles.com and HubPages, other familiar websites such as Business.com and Merchant Circle also took a major hit. While these websites suffered, other websites such as YouTube, eBay, Wikipedia, Amazon, and other big names gained in visibility.

Recovery for content farms from this update have been mixed. Websites like EzineArticles.com have never managed to recover their keyword rankings, as shown in this graph from SEMrush.











While Business.com saw some improvements during 2012, they have also never managed to fully recover from Google Panda.









Mahalo.com site owner Jason Calacanis addressed the issue at Pubcon in 2013, specifically noting how Google steals the market of their top performing partners and tanked businesses without explanation. Due to the affects of Google Panda, he was forced to lay off Mahalo’s 50 employees.











Of course, not all of the losers from the original Google Panda update have continued to suffer. HubPages, for example, changed their strategy by moving user-generated content to subdomains (hubpages.com/users to users.hubpages.com). They also improved their quality guidelines and began to enforce them. The result?









Google has continued to refine their algorithm by releasing on-going Google Panda updates. In May 2014, Google released Panda 4.0, with eBay being one of the largest websites to suffer loss of visibility in search.










Even if you do not own any of the types of websites shown above, you can learn a valuable lesson from them. While recovery from Google Panda is possible, it is not guaranteed, and it can be a long, hard road to regaining a loss of visibility in search caused by this update.

How to Check Whether Google Panda Has Affected Your Website

While most of the focus has been on high-profile websites and networks when it comes to discussion of winners and losers, websites of all types and sizes have been impacted by a gain or loss in search visibility with each Google Panda algorithm update. This is why all website owners need to monitor their website analytics to see if Google Panda has affected their websites.

There are two ways to evaluate your website analytics data to determine if Google Panda has affected your search engine traffic. First, you can refer to the table above or the Moz Google Algorithm Change guide to see when Google Panda algorithm updates are released. You can then look at your search engine traffic in Google Analytics under Acquisitions > Keywords > Organic to see if your search engine traffic has changed around dates corresponding to Google Panda algorithm updates.



While your search traffic may have trending ups and downs, like the graph shown above, if you see a significant increase or decrease in search traffic after a Google Panda algorithm update, it could be an indicator that you have been impacted.

Alternatively, if you would prefer to have the analysis done for you, you can use free tools like the Website Penalty Indicator. It will create a graph of your search engine traffic along with markers for each release of a new Google Panda algorithm update. This can allow you to quickly see which update has affected your website or others using traffic data from SEMrush. You can click on each bar to learn more about the specific update that has impacted your traffic.

Panda graph











If you have only seen positive impact from Google Panda updates, then congratulations! Google considers the content on your website to be valuable and authoritative, and as a result, you have gained search visibility as low quality sites have lost it. If you have seen negative impact from Google Panda updates, then you will have to work to recover your visibility and keywords rankings.

How to Recover from a Google Panda Update

For website owners have lost search visibility during a Google Panda update, there’s only one way to recover from a Google Panda algorithm update. You’ll have to demonstrate to Google that your website houses only high quality, unique content. This means that your first goal will be to remove low quality content from your website, redirecting any related links to newer, higher quality content.

To identify low quality content on your website, you will want to look for content that fits the following descriptions.

  • SEO Only Content– Content that was created strictly for search engine rankings as opposed to content that was created to be consumed by people.
  • Duplicate Content – Content that was used on multiple websites, purchased content that was available to the public such as PLR articles, content that was “spun” (multiple versions of content created with minimal changes from the original), and content that has been scraped (stolen) from other websites.
  • Poorly Written Content – Content that was created by non-native English-speaking writers.
  • Useless Content – Content that provides little to no value to people who visit your website.

As you identify these pieces of content, be sure to remove them or update the content entirely so that it is new, high quality, unique, and valuable.

How to Protect Your Website from Google Panda

For those whose websites have not been affected by a Google Panda algorithm update, you’ll still want to keep on top of the latest changes to the algorithm so that you can keep your website protected. Particularly, you will want to continue to ensure that the content on your website meets Google Webmaster Guidelines and Google Quality Guidelines.

In addition, even though Google+ Authorship is no longer an option, you will want to work toward building your own author authority in your industry. While there may not be a way to distinguish in search, Google is still tracking authoritative authors in each vertical. Become one of those authors, and you will give them another reason to count your website’s content as valuable.

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