Google Panda: The Complete Guide to Panda

First officially released in 2011, Google Panda has continued to change the SEO landscape time and time again.

Google’s Panda algorithm is aimed at promoting high quality, content-focused pages while devaluing low quality pages. We like to think of Panda as the older brother to Google’s Penguin algorithm, which focuses on linkspam.

Many websites, both past and present have been significantly affected by the content quality algorithm. If the last Panda update is anything to go by, many websites may in fact never reach the previous traffic and ranking levels they sustained before the release of Panda.

Moving forward, it’s important that your business understands Google Panda and how it ultimately impacts your bottom line – your online sales.

So what can you do to avoid falling on the wrong side of Google Panda?

In this guide, we offer a complete guideline for Google Panda.

We explain what it does, its history, common myths and how you can protect your business from its potential impacts.

What is Google’s Panda algorithm and what does it do?

Initially released on February 3, 2011, the main purpose of the Google Panda algorithm is simple. Panda works to reward high-quality more relevant websites and demote low-quality websites in Google’s organic search engine results.

With more than 28 updates since its launch, Google Panda has addressed and targeted a number of issues in Google search results including:

  • Thin content – These are weak pages with no content or with very little relevant content served to the user. Google recognises that there is very limited significant content or resources that can be beneficial to the user. A perfect example would be a healthcare website that describes very serious health conditions in one sentence. As we can understand, a user looking for information about a health condition would naturally expect to find an in-depth web page – not a page with virtually no text content.
  • Low-quality content – Websites that are populated with content, however, lack in-depth information and offer little or no value to readers.
  • Duplicate content – Plagiarism or duplication of content is a serious offence that Google does not take lightly. Whether on-site or off-site, duplication of content will get you into a big problem with Google Panda. For example, having the same content duplicated on multiple pages on your website might place you under Panda’s radar and negatively affect your search ranking.
  • Content farming – Having a big number of low-quality pages that provide low or very little value to readers. In most cases, content farming involves hiring a huge number of low-quality writers to create short content that covers a wide range of search engine queries with the sole aim of ranking for keywords.
  • Lack of authority – Google is very serious about the trustworthiness of the information provided to readers on websites. With that in mind, providing misleading information to readers might place you on the wrong end of Panda penalties. An easy way to start building up your authority is to have an author box under all your writings. This adds legitimacy to your content as it’s backed by a real, verifiable person within the industry.
  • Excessive ad-to-content ratio – Websites that have excessively paid adverts than meaningful content. If you’re populating your website with too many ads this ultimately results in poor user experience. Websites that do not endorse a balance or provide any meaningful information may be devalued by Panda.
  • Low-quality user-generated content (UGC) – These may include guest blog posts that are full of grammatical errors, cannot be trusted and are not authoritative. Many forms of poor UGC are created for spammy SEO purposes and are highly sceptical of having their URLs devalued.
  • Misleading and deceiving content – Your website pledges to deliver content that matches a given search query but then fails to deliver on the promise (you haven’t addressed the searcher’s search intent). This is highly deceptive and may result in high user bounce rates.
  • A website that’s blocked by users – A website that visitors are blocking either through a Google Chrome browser extension or directly in the search engine is a clear indication that Panda might penalise it.
  • Low-quality and broken affiliate links – Having numerous paid affiliate links that have poor and low-quality content might bring you lots of problems. Again, having affiliate links that don’t take visitors to the promised website or location might bring you even further problems.

Other issues may include non-optimised pages, content with lots of grammatical errors, sites without a specific topical focus and keyword stuffing (refer to keyword density).

Google Panda’s history of updates

As noted earlier, the Google Panda algorithm was rolled out to target low-quality content sites while rewarding high-quality content sites with higher SEO rankings.

The update can also be an opportunity to provide sites that were previously penalised with the chance to recover, should they have resolved previous issues.

While most of these updates are minor, Google has occasionally rolled out major updates. It’s important for you to keep up with Panda’s new updates so that you can understand issues and traffic patterns in your website and the SERPs in general, as well as the best practices.

Is Google’s Panda algorithm still relevant?

This is a question that many website owners are asking a lot. When the update was initially rolled out in 2011, the Panda algorithm update rocked the online world. Many website owners and business owners alike were hit with ranking and indexation penalties for breaking Google’s guidelines.

Google Panda was Google’s first warning shot that they were indeed serious about their war to combat web spam.

Fast forward to 2020, Google has been winning this war and many website owners will continue to suffer if they do not toe the line and follow the guidelines set in place by Google.

This comes despite the fact that the last Panda update was witnessed in 2016. At the time, Google announced that Panda had become a core part of the search engine algorithm and that the internet giant would no longer publish the Panda algorithm updates since it had become an important part of the Google search engine.

Some may say that Google Panda doesn’t have the same influence that it had on the search engine when it first came out. However, it’s important to understand that Google Panda has now completely integrated with Google’s core algorithm.

That said, Panda is still very relevant in 2020 and will continue to be implemented and is here to stay.

So how can you make Panda your friend?

Although Panda has affected many website owners over the years, there are a lot of things that you can do to make Panda your friend in 2020 and well into the future.

In fact, the most comforting takeaway from Google’s decision to make Panda a core part of the search engine algorithm is that there are no major changes to expect in the near future.

So if you’re aware of the Panda guidelines and what is expected of you, it’s very unlikely that you’ll run into new problems or issues in the future.

Obviously, this is not to say that you have to relax on your laurels and forget about these guidelines and how they can adversely affect your ranking and indexing. You should keep in mind that the Panda algorithm updates are very active and you can’t be very sure about what it will bring in the future.

Nonetheless, you can stay on the right side of Panda by doing the following:

  • Enforce quality content – Do not create content that may violate Panda’s content guidelines. You should avoid duplication, low-quality content, irrelevant content, thin content, auto-generated content, redundant content and content with grammatical errors and poor spelling. You should therefore focus on creating unique and high-quality content.
  • Promote positive user experience – Avoid poor user experience like plague because they can give Google cues that something is wrong with your site. You should avoid things such as poor navigation, slow site speed, excessive ads, 404 errors, excessive links, hidden text and cloaking, keyword stuffing and such things.
  • Promote page engagement – Even though Panda might not be vigorous enough to examine every part of your content for quality, Google can use what they refer to as “user signals” to take issues with what visitors to your website say. For instance, you may be in trouble if visitors do not spend time on your website or if your website’s pages have excessively high bounce rates.
  • Build trust and confidence – Trustworthiness, integrity and authority are important factors that Google look at. Therefore, your information should be genuine and trustworthy. You should ensure that your website is secure by incorporating HTTPS encryption, an appropriate privacy policy, genuine contact information, terms and conditions and ensuring that your site has no excessive ads.

Common Google Panda myths

There’s no doubt that Panda blew a lot of websites out of the water. From spammed articles, and keyword-stuffed content to affiliate links buyers, many website owners found themselves on the wrong side of Panda’s algorithm updates.

As a result, many myths started swirling around and some of them are still in existence. Some of the myths about Panda that you shouldn’t waste your time on include:

  • There will be another Panda update soon –While there were various Panda updates in the past, the last one was rolled out in 2016. Google chose to integrate Panda as a core part of its search engine and has never published another update. In essence, there is most likely no Panda update that will come about anytime soon. You should therefore focus your energy on making your website Panda-friendly by following the already existing guidelines.
  • Duplicate content filter is part of Panda – Even though your website can face a Panda penalty for duplicate content. Panda isn’t solely aimed at duplicate content. In fact, a duplicate content filter and Panda are two separate and independent tools.
  • Too much UGC will be penalised – User-generated content such as guest blog posts used to be and continues to be an important part of the web. So, do not be misled that publishing guest blog posts might attract Panda. All you have to do is to ensure that they’re of high-quality and actually possess information users would want to read.

How to find out if your website has been affected by Google Panda

The two ways that your site can be affected by Google penalties may either be Manual Action or Algorithm Penalty.

In most cases, detecting Manual Action penalties is much easier. This is because Google is nice and polite enough to send you a message to notify you about the penalty. Manual penalty notices are issued through Google Search Console.

On the other hand, algorithmic penalties are quite hard to detect because Google will not notify you about such penalties. You will have to find them by yourself, or better yet find a reliable SEO agency or consultant to do it for you.

These are 2 ways to determine whether your website may have suffered from a penalty:

  • Traffic & ranking drops – Head into your Google Analytics and take a look at your Google traffic and rankings. If you notice a massive sudden drop in traffic upwards of 75%, this might be an indication that your site has been subjected to a Panda penalty. You should, however, keep in mind that other things such as the rise of competitors, manual penalties and normal seasonal drop in consumer interest might also cause such drops.
  • A drop in phone calls & leads – If you’ve noticed a severe drop in email leads or phone calls in a short time frame then that may also be a result of a penalty. Most websites generate a large portion of their total traffic through search engines such as Google. If you’ve noticed a significant decrease in leads and calls, then you may have been impacted.

If either of the top two points applies to your situation, then apply the following steps to confirm whether it was Panda:

  • Identify – Check your website stats and jot down all major dates where you’ve noticed a significant decline in calls, leads or organic traffic.
  • Cross-reference – Google algorithm forecasting tools such as MozCast and Dejan SEO’s Algoroo may show big spikes in major SERP changes. Cross-reference this data with your own traffic stats to see whether they align. Additionally, Moz’s Algorithm Change History and Search Engine Land’s algorithm update page are also great resources to check whether a new update has rolled out.

How to recover from a Google Panda penalty

We understand, that there is nothing more demoralising than being penalised or losing valuable organic traffic.

We have worked with many clients to recover from the Panda penalty and have formed time-test strategies on how to do it effectively.

The fact is that recovering from a Panda penalty is difficult. If you haven’t properly done your due diligence then you may be wasting time trying to resolve issues that your website hasn’t even been affected by. It takes careful planning and expertise to recover from a penalty.

Here are just some of the avenues we recommend you look at to successfully recover if your website has been affected by Google Panda:

  • Revamp low-quality content pages – I know this has been said and repeated a thousand times. However, the reality is that Google’s ability to detect poor content is getting better and better. Conduct a full audit and update all content that is considered to be ‘decaying’.
  • Remove any duplicate content – Just like cutting through the bush with a machete, start slashing away and completely removing any content pages that are duplicated. If the existing URLs have backlinks pointing to them, make sure to implement 301 redirects accordingly.
  • Rethink ads and affiliated content – If you have affiliate links on your website, it’s time to reduce them and only promote content that will genuinely provide value to your users.
  • Ensure accuracy with page topics – Scan through your pages and make sure each page’s content closely addresses the main topic title. Keep information as targeted as possible. Use subheadings to break similar content into sub-topics. If you find that some subheadings don’t warrant their own section, consider sorting them into accordions. Clean up all pages that you think don’t meet strict content quality criteria.
  • Avoid auto-generated content – If your website previously accepted guest posts or sponsored posts, it’s time to enforce quality control. Remove any content pieces that don’t provide any sort of genuine to your users. Moving forward, ensure you have strict publication guidelines in place. By personally reviewing each copy or having an experienced editor in charge of your website, this should generally stomp out low quality.
  • Avoid over-optimisation – Keyword stuffing is a big no-no. Use natural language in your headings and content that capture the idea of your page topic well. Don’t stuff keywords, think about what your users are looking to find and craft your content around key terms that will directly address what they’re hoping to find.
  • Enhance user experience – The goal here is to improve your website’s existing bounce rate. Using best on-page and UX practices, comb through your web pages and ensure things are structured in a way that is both easy to skim and absorb for your users. Without a doubt, the above-the-fold section should be a core focus as this is the section users see first before all else.

Google Panda: focus on the content experience

To this end, it is important for website owners to realise that the Panda algorithm has more to do with enhancing the user experience through content than the technicalities that are involved in optimising a website for search engines.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the best way to make your website Panda-friendly and avoid any penalties is by using appropriate means to enhance user experience. In other words, everything that you put on your website should add value to the users in a genuine and honest manner.

Remember, doing anything that goes against user experience may jeopardise your website’s indexing and organic ranking, and may leave you vulnerable to very risky Panda penalties.

If you’ve been penalised by Google Panda or think you may have been affected, contact us today and speak to us about our SEO services. Our SEO specialists will be able to help you accurately identify what went wrong and formulate an actionable recovery strategy.

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