What is Google Panda?

Panda is a Google algorithm update that was designed to filter low-quality content out of Google's search results.

Google’s Panda Update: What Is It, and How Does It Impact SEO?

The Google Panda algorithm update is essentially a filter designed to detect signs of high- or low-quality content based on key factors, then adjust search rankings for that content accordingly. The goal of this update has been to improve search results for users by consistently identifying and pushing high-quality content to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), ultimately providing a better user experience.

While it was initially implemented in February 2011, Panda continues to impact search engine optimization (SEO) practices to this day. To gain an understanding of the changes that Panda has brought in the past decade, let’s take a look at a brief history of the update.

A Brief History of the Panda Algorithm Update

In the late 2000s, Google’s Caffeine update enabled the search engine to rapidly index content. However, it also created some new problems. “Content mills” and blog networks gained influence through manipulative black hat SEO practices. Content mills were generating new webpages with little to no practical value or purpose beyond ranking highly on the SERPs; they merely took advantage of the limitations of search engines to trick them into displaying irrelevant or low-quality content to users. The net result? Users struggled to find adequate answers or information to certain queries. 

When Panda (named after Google engineer Navneet Panda) was implemented in February 2011, it began to resolve these issues. The algorithm evaluates content and a site’s user experience (UX) by means of metrics that are broadly reflected by 23 essential questions in regards to quality assessment. Some of these include:

  • Is this article written by an expert?
  • Does the site have duplicate or redundant articles with only slightly different keyword variations?
  • Does the content have spelling, grammatical, or factual errors?
  • Is the article based on original research and analysis?
  • Does the article provide a comprehensive view of the topic at hand?

Using guidelines based on such questions, the algorithm update would evaluate the content and adjust rankings to prioritize high-quality results. Throughout the next several years, data refreshes led to frequent ranking fluctuations. Slow rollouts of updates (sometimes taking months) made it difficult to anticipate when or how data refreshes were impacting the SERPs. 

In 2016, Google announced that Panda had been integrated into the core Google algorithm. This means that the guidelines that Panda is based on have been integrated into Google’s core ranking signals. As a result, updates have become less noticeable.

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How Does the Panda Update Impact SEO?

Panda can impact individual pages with poor content and, in egregious cases, potentially devalue an entire domain for repeated patterns of poor, duplicate, or redundant content. 

Identifying poorly written content isn’t difficult. If an article has dismal spelling or grammar, or is factually inaccurate, Google will notice. If it contains excessive keyword stuffing, to the point that the content becomes difficult to understand, it will not rank well. “Thin” content — content that fails to provide adequate information, only addressing the topic superficially — will also be devalued.

However, in addition to focusing on creating good content, you must optimize your site’s UX. While the basics of good SEO practices remain intact, web developers and content creators must now focus on delivering the best UX to rank well. If you can optimize your content in this way, you can maximize its potential.

How to Tell if Panda Has Affected You

Has your content lost organic traffic? Is it less visible in search results than it used to be? When did this change occur? Comparing the time this change occurred to Google’s algorithm update history can provide valuable context.

Panda is now part of the core algorithm, so it can be difficult to determine if the changes that accompanied it are specifically to blame. However, it remains true that poor content or a poor UX can lead to losses in the SERPs. 

Consider evaluating your site on Panda’s terms. Knowing that Panda was designed with those 23 questions referenced above in mind, you can review your content with those same criteria. SEO expert Rand Fishkin suggested this approach back in 2012, and it is still a good practical exercise to this day. Try performing this assessment on both a page and domain level to discover reasons your rankings may be suffering.

If you’ve found your domain or specific pages on your domain have suffered from substantial devaluing, it’s time to determine why. You can assess the performance of your content and your site’s UX by performing a content audit and analyzing the following engagement metrics:

  • Bounce rate: The percentage of site visitors who leave the site after viewing the page. Authoritative content with strong internal linking is less likely to result in a high bounce rate.
  • Time on site/page: The amount of time site visitors stay on a site or page before leaving. A higher duration indicates greater engagement and higher-quality content.
  • Social media engagement: If site visitors go on to share your content on social media or discuss their positive experiences with others online, your content is generating authentic engagement — a great sign that your content is meeting user needs.  
  • Backlinks: Exceptional content can generate backlinks, as others will link to you as an authoritative source. It can also be effectively leveraged in a link building campaign. In either case, great content can lead to great links, which is an essential ranking factor.

By evaluating your content’s UX and performance metrics, you should learn insights to begin improving your rankings.

How to Recover From a Panda-Related Penalty

The key to recovering lost search traffic or visibility as a result of the Panda update is to develop a Panda-friendly content marketing strategy. Simply put, this means creating content that is focused on thoroughly answering user queries while providing an appealing user experience. The following steps can help you achieve this goal:

  • Remove articles with thin or duplicate content from your site, and replace it with more robust content. 
  • If you don’t already have an editorial process, it may be prudent to develop one. Fixing grammatical or factual inaccuracies is essential.
  • Read up on the key characteristics of a good blog post, then incorporate these into future content.
  • Optimize your on-page SEO, using headers to create clear organization and avoiding manipulative keyword stuffing.
  • Optimize your technical SEO to make it easier for Google crawlers to index and rank your content. You should also focus on improving your page load speed and site structure to minimize frustration and maximize engagement.

Doing this can drive improvements in your site rankings and help you overcome Panda-related penalties. If you create content that is better and more accessible than your competitors, you may establish your brand as an authority in your niche — giving you a serious competitive edge in the SERPs.

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