Google’s Panda Update is a search filter introduced in February 2011 meant to stop sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results. Panda is updated from time-to-time. When this happens, sites previously hit may escape, if they’ve made the right changes. Panda may also catch sites that escaped before. A refresh also means “false positives” might get released.


Say goodbye to the typical Google Panda updates. Panda is now baked in as one of Google's core ranking algorithm.

Google Panda, one of Google’s most significant spam-fighting algorithms, launched in February 2011, is officially part of Google’s core ranking algorithm. It is unclear exactly when this happened; we at Search Engine Land are trying to find out.

Jennifer Slegg posted a Panda guide that was vetted by Google’s PR team, and part of that included a statement that said Panda is now part of Google’s core ranking algorithm. Here is that statement:

Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.

We are also trying to find out approximately when Google incorporated Panda into their core algorithm and what that means. I estimate that it happened in late 2015, but I am trying to get something on the record from Google.

Panda assigns a so-called “quality score” to web pages; this score is then used as a ranking factor. Initially, Panda was a filter rather than part of Google’s ranking algo, but in January 2016, it was officially incorporated into the core algorithm. Panda rollouts have become more frequent, so both penalties and recoveries now happen faster.

The Panda algorithm update addressed a number of problematic phenomena in Google SERPs, including:

Thin content - Weak pages with very little relevant or substantive text and resources, such as a set of pages describing a variety of health conditions with only a few sentences present on each page.

Duplicate content – One of those issues is duplicate content. While duplicate content as an SEO problem has been around for years, the way Google handles it has evolved dramatically and seems to only get more complicated with every update. Panda has upped the ante even more.

So, I thought it was a good time to cover the topic of duplicate content, as it stands in 2011, in depth. This is designed to be a comprehensive resource – a complete discussion of what duplicate content is, how it happens, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it. Maybe we’ll even round up a few rogue pandas along the way.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Let’s start with the basics. Duplicate content exists when any two (or more) pages share the same content. If you’re a visual learner, here’s an illustration for you:


Easy enough, right? So, why does such a simple concept cause so much difficulty? One problem is that people often make the mistake of thinking that a “page” is a file or document sitting on their web server. To a crawler (like Googlebot), a page is any unique URL it happens to find, usually through internal or external links. Especially on large, dynamic sites, creating two URLs that land on the same content is surprisingly easy (and often unintentional).

Low-quality content - Pages that provide little value to human readers because they lack in-depth information.

Lack of authority/trustworthiness - Content produced by sources that are not considered definitive or verified. A Google rep stated that sites aiming to avoid Panda’s impact should work to become recognized as authorities on their topic and entities to which a human user would feel comfortable giving their credit card information.

Content farming - Large numbers of low-quality pages, often aggregated from other websites. For example, of a content farm might be a website that employs large numbers of writers at a low wage to create short articles covering a vast variety of search engine queries, producing a body of content that lacks authority and value to readers because its core purpose is simply to gain search engine rankings for every conceivable term.

The term content farming designates a business model on the Internet, whereby content is produced in very high quantity and monetized through online advertising. The content is often regarded as low-quality and created for the sole purpose of getting a high volume of visits. Common formats are guides, tutorials, or FAQs. Such content is usually optimized against SEO criteria to achieve high rankings in search engines. The aim is to produce as many articles as possible for as many readers as possible to then place advertising around that content as the next step and generate a high ROI. Content farms, also called content mills, are now, however, negatively viewed by search engines and partly downgraded in search results because of algorithm updates.

Low-quality user-generated content (UGC) -  An example of this type of low-value User Generated Content would be a blog that publishes guest blog posts that are short, full of spelling and grammatical errors and lacking in authoritative information.

High ad-to-content ratio - Pages made up mostly of paid advertising rather than original content.

Low-quality content surrounding affiliate links - Poor content around links pointing to paid affiliate programs.

Websites blocked by users - Sites that human users are either blocking directly in the search engine results or by using a Chrome browser extension to do so, indicating low quality.

Content mismatching search query - Pages that "promise" to deliver relevant answers if clicked on in the search results, but then fail to do so. For example, a website page might be titled "Coupons for Whole Foods," but when clicked on, there might be no coupons or there might just be a page of ads, leading to disappointment.

How do I know I'm hooked up to the Panda update?

One signal of a potential Panda penalization is a sudden drop in your website’s organic traffic or search engine rankings correlating with a known date of an algorithm update.

However, it’s vital to bear in mind that many things can result in lost rankings and traffic. These include the rise of a competitor in your market (look at who is outranking you to see if someone new has moved ahead of you), manual penalties (check Google Search Console for reported issues), expected seasonal dips in consumer interest (like a ski lodge in July), or even a completely different Google update than the one you suspect (for example, Penguin instead of Panda).

When a known, named update occurs, it’s important to study industry documentation of practices being cited as involved in the update. If your loss of rankings or traffic corresponds with a known date, go through these industry lists of bad practices to discover if they are taking place on your website. Then, if you believe you’ve found a correlation between bad practices and an update, act to remedy the situation.


How to recover from Panda

In the SEO industry, Panda has been frequently cited as an update from which it can be difficult to recover. However, given that the Panda update hinged largely on website/content quality, steps for recovery generally come back to improving that quality. Remedial actions to take include:

Abandoning content farming practices

Overhauling website content for quality, usefulness, relevance, trustworthiness and authority.

Revising the ad/content or affiliate/content ratio so that pages are not dominated by ads or affiliate links

Ensuring that the content of a given page is a relevant match to a user’s query

Removing or overhauling duplicate content.

Careful vetting and editing of user-generated content and ensuring that it is original, error-free and useful to readers, where applicable.

Using the Robots noindex,nofollow command to block the indexing of duplicate or near-duplicate internal website content or other problematic elements.

In sum, websites that consistently publish high-quality, original content have little to fear from this update, but if your website has engaged in problematic practices, it may have been hit at some point by Panda. From a practical, business standpoint, your best hope of avoiding Panda is to develop a brand that becomes recognized as an authority in its field and to build a website that becomes a trusted resource by dint of its excellent content.

Read More What Is The Google Panda Update?

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