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Panda is a Google algorithm update that was designed to filter low-quality content out of Google's search results.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
By evaluating your content’s UX and performance metrics, you should learn insights to begin improving your rankings.
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:
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.