This guide explains everything you need to know about the Google Panda algorithm.
Below, you’ll get the background and history of the Google Panda Update as well as details on how the algorithm works today. There’s also a set of Panda SEO guidelines you can follow to conduct an objective analysis of your website content to recover from a Google Panda penalty and to make sure it meets the Panda algorithm quality standards for higher rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Consider this your ultimate guide to Google Panda, which is an important algorithm to understand for digital marketing and search engine optimization purposes.
What Is Google Panda?
Google Panda is a ranking algorithm that rewards high-quality websites in the search engine results pages and filters out low-quality websites with thin or poor-quality content. The Google Panda Update was first launched in 2011 and was named after Google Engineer, Navneet Panda.
Originally Google Panda was called the “Google Farmer Update” by Internet marketers because Google had announced that it was going to update the ranking algorithm to take action against content farms that were gaining top-ranking positions in the SERPs with shallow and low-quality content. The update was reclassified as the “Google Panda Update” after it was discovered that Google referred to the algorithm internally by this name.
What Did the Google Panda Algorithm Target?
The Google Panda algorithm targeted thin on-site content, poorly written content, duplicate content, copied content, pages with excessively general information, and pages with a poor content-to-ad ratios. Google’s Panda algorithm assigned pages with a quality classification to target and penalize low-quality content and reward high-quality content in the SERPs.
On the surface, Google Panda seems to target similar types of content as the Google Helpful Content Update; however, Google officials confirmed that the Helpful Content Update has a new set of algorithm signals that work in addition to Panda in real-time.
When Was the Google Panda Update?
The Google Panda Update was on February 23, 2011. Over the next two years, Google’s Panda Updates were rolled out about once a month, and then on January 11, 2016, Google announced that the Panda algorithm had been incorporated into the core ranking algorithm.
During its initial rollout, the Google Panda Update made a significant algorithmic improvement to the search engine index. According to Google, Panda had a noticeable impact on 11.8% of search queries. Below is a timeline for various Panda Updates. You can also visit the main Google Algorithm Updates page to see how Panda changes have fit without the other algorithm updates throughout the years.
Panda Update Timeline
- February 23, 2011: Initial Panda Update
- April 11, 2011: Panda Update 2.0
- May 9, 20111: Panda Update 2.1
- June 21, 2011: Panda Update 2.2
- July 23, 2011: Panda Update 2.3
- August 12, 2011: Panda Update 2.4
- September 28, 2011: Panda Update 2.5
- October 19, 2011: Panda Update 3.0
- November 18, 2011: Panda Update 3.1
- January 18, 2012: Panda Update 3.2
- February 27, 2012: Panda Update 3.3
- March 23, 2012: Panda Update 3.4
- April 9, 2012: Panda Update 3.5
- April 27, 2012: Panda Update 3.6
- June 8, 2012: Panda Update 3.7
- June 25, 2012: Panda Update 3.8
- July 24, 2012: Panda Update 3.9
- August 20, 2012: Panda Update 3.9.1
- September 18, 2012: Panda Update 3.9.2
- September 27, 2012: Panda Update 20
- November 5, 2012: Panda Update 21
- November 21, 2012: Panda Update 22
- December 21, 2012: Panda Update 23
- January 22, 2013: Panda Update 24
- March 14, 2013: Panda Update 25
- July 18, 2013: Panda Update 26
- May 20, 2014: Panda 4.0 Update
- September 23, 2014: Panda 4.1 Update
- July 18, 2015: Final Panda 4.2 Update
Note: The numbering system for Google Panda Updates changed on September 27, 2012. Initially, Panda data refreshes that only updated the search results were numbered like typical software updates (e.g., 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5) and major updates to the core algorithm were labeled as version numbers (e.g., 2.0, 3.0). But then there were so many data refreshes for Google Panda version 3 that were both major and minor updates that the standard naming convention was abandoned by the SEO community and they started referring to any update as the total count. Eventually, Panda version 4 was announced on May 20, 2014, and the standard naming convention was resumed.
How Does the Google Panda Algorithm Work?
The Google Panda algorithm works by looking for signals on a web page that indicate low-quality content. The Google Panda algorithm then assigns a classifier to the page that indicates if it’s high-quality or low-quality content so it can be processed correctly by the core ranking algorithm.
According to a Wired interview on March 3, 2011, with Google Search Engineers Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, the Panda algorithm was first developed by a standard evaluation system in the form of a set of questions that was sent to a group of outside Quality Raters. (These questions can be found in the next section of this page.) A core group of websites was then given to the Quality Raters to review the sites based on those questions, which helped divide the sample of sites into high-quality and low-quality websites.
The purpose of this work was to come up with a set of quality signals for the Panda algorithm that recreated the same intuition as the human Quality Raters. That process is what led to the development of a classifier that could be applied to web pages that had noticeable signals that were considered to be low-quality content to be filtered out of the SERPs.
Does Google Still Use the Panda Algorithm?
Google stills uses the Panda algorithm and it has been a part of the core algorithm since 2015. Google incorporated the Panda algorithm as a core ranking signal, making it no longer a filter applied to the algorithm system after it does the initial processing work.
Google Panda SEO Guidelines
Google Panda guidelines include avoiding low-quality content, irrelevant content, thin content, duplicate content, auto-generated content, redundant content, content with grammatical errors and poor spelling, and content with factual inaccuracies.
Google also published this list of questions on the Search Central Blog that can be used as a helpful set of Google Panda SEO guidelines for building high-quality sites that can be rewarded by the core ranking algorithm. These are the same types of questions that were given to the Quality Raters during the initial development of the Panda Update that resulted in the on-site signals that assess content quality for Panda.
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- How much quality control is done on content?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
How to Recover from a Panda Penalty
If your website has been affected by the Google Panda algorithm, then the solution to recovering lost search engine rankings and traffic is to develop Panda-friendly content for SEO. The steps below are good guidelines to follow for how to recover from a Panda penalty.
- Remove or update articles with thin content to be more in-depth and useful for the visitor.
- Remove duplicate content from your site that was published only for SEO purposes (i.e., web pages that target keyword variations where the only difference in the content is the target SEO keyword).
- Remove content that was copied or paraphrased from other websites.
- Make sure there is a clear organization of the content with proper headings (e.g., H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) in the HTML markup.
- Include original reporting, research, and analysis so the content states more than just the obvious.
- Remove low-quality user-generated content (UGC) such as blog comments or user-submitted reviews. Or make sure editorial guidelines are put into place to restrict the type of UGC content that gets published.
- Remove ads that are above-the-fold.
- Remove any use of keyword stuffing.
- Fix grammatical mistakes.
- Fix factual inaccuracies.
- Remove outbound links to low-quality sites.
- Include internal links to other relevant and helpful content for the user.
Additionally, here’s a video by Matt Cutts who answered this specific question about how to recover from Google Panda penalties.
Matt Cutts says that you should be honest with yourself as you’re assessing your content if it has been hit by the Panda algorithm. You can ask yourself questions like, “Is your content something that could be published in a magazine or book?”, “Is the content good enough to send to a friend?”, “Would you refer back to this content as a helpful resource?”, Is the content just a derivative of something else, scraped, or duplicate?”
Essentially to keep your website safe from Google Panda, you should work hard to come up with original content that people will enjoy, share with others, and want to come back to at a later date. Putting those factors at the forefront of your editorial guidelines can help ensure you’re publishing high-quality content that is rewarded by the Panda algorithm and not demoted in the SERPs.
Google Panda Update & Algorithm Summary
I hope you enjoyed this guide on the Google Panda algorithm.
As you discovered, Google Panda is a ranking algorithm that rewards high-quality websites in the SERPs and filters out low-quality websites with thin or poor-quality content based on a set of on-site signals. The Google Panda Update had a long history of changes with each iteration making better improvements in the ranking systems. It’s now part of the Google core ranking algorithm. There’s also a list of Panda SEO guidelines you can follow to conduct an objective analysis of your website content to make sure it meets the standards for being considered high-quality and not low-quality content.