Panda Algorithm Update Guide


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The Google Panda algorithm update initially rolled out in February 2011, and it impacted around 12% of search results across the globe. In April of 2011, it was released to the majority of the English-speaking world, and in January 2016, it became part of Google’s core algorithm.

Google is continually updating its algorithm on a daily basis. Although most of these updates are very minor, from time to time, Google will release a core algorithm update that has a significant impact on rankings.

The Panda algorithm update was the first of these significant updates to be released. The Panda update kicked off Google’s battle against ‘black hat’ SEO tactics and spammy content and to this day, remains one of the most significant changes to happen in the world of SEO.

Why is it called Google Panda? The update was named after the Google engineer, Navneet Panda, who developed the technology behind the algorithm.

Google Panda – what does it target?

The Google Panda update was intended to tackle the issue of poor quality or deceptive content that was appearing the search engine page results (SERPs). The Panda update rewarded high quality content, but how does the algorithm differentiate between poor and high quality content? Google chose the following ranking factors as indicators of poor quality content which should not appear in high positions in SERPs.

  • Keyword stuffing: Unnecessary and unnatural cramming of keywords into the content to improve search ranking.
  • Thin content: Sparse pages with hidden or dynamic content which Google bots could not read.
  • Irrelevant content: Content which did not match the relevant keywords.
  • High ad to content ratio: Content which included ads above the fold and prioritized ads over content.
  • Lots of poor quality user generated content which was not relevant to the page’s topic.
  • Lots of promotional and/or affiliate links with very little else.
  • Websites which publish a lot of poor quality content and/or republish content originally hosted elsewhere with no original content to offer (often called content farms)
  • Lack of authority, i.e. a website with a high level of authority would naturally attract inbound links from others websites indicating that it is a trusted website (hence the importance of a healthy backlink profile).
  • Content which is intended to deceive visitors by making adverts appear to be standard content to get them to click on links.
  • Links which do not take the visitor through to where they promise to.

Google Panda update list

Since its first rollout, the majority of the updates to Panda have been minor tweaks or data refreshes, but there have been significant updates. All refreshes and updates are listed here.

February 23rd, 2011: Panda 1 – the initial rollout of Google Panda

April 11th, 2011: Panda 2

May 9th, 2011: Panda 3

June 21st, 2011: Panda 4

July 23rd, 2011: Panda 5

August 12th, 2011: Panda 6 – Google Panda release a.k.a. international rollout of Google in all English-speaking countries, and in non-English speaking countries excluding Japan, China and Korea.

September 28th, 2011: Panda

October 5th, 2011: Panda 8 – Flux – Google added some new signals into the Panda algorithm and recalculated how the algorithm impacted websites.

November 18th, 2011: Panda 9

January 18th, 2012: Panda 10

February 27th, 2012: Panda 11

March 23rd, 2012: Panda 12

April 19th, 2012: Panda 13

April 27th, 2012: Panda 14

June 8th, 2012: Panda 15

June 25th, 2012: Panda 16

July 24th, 2012: Panda 17

August 20th, 2012: Panda 18

September 18th, 2012: Panda 19

September 27th, 2012: Panda 20

November 5th, 2012: Panda 21

November 21st, 2012: Panda 22

December 21st, 2012: Panda 23

January 22nd, 2013: Panda 24

March 14th, 2013: Panda 25

June 28th, 2013: Panda 26

May 20th, 2014: Panda 4.0 – major Panda update affecting 7.5% of queries

September 23rd, 2014: Panda 4.1 – major Panda update affecting 3-4% of queries

July 18th, 2015: Panda 4.2 – Google announced a substantial Panda update which would roll out gradually over several months

January 16th, 2016 – Panda became part of Google’s core algorithm

How to optimize for Google Panda in 2020

Since August 2018, there have been several updates that have affected how Google assesses the quality of content, including Google updating its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. These guidelines make it clear that Google prioritizes E-A-T when determining where to rank a piece of content, i.e. expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Specifically, the update devalues content that is thin, irrelevant, deceptive, inaccurate, lack authority or uses a high amount of affiliate links.

We have all heard the term ‘fake news’ in some context, but it has become an important enough concern that Google is taking steps to reward factual and accurate content and devalue content deemed to be unreliable. This is particularly relevant when the content is on a potentially serious issue such as law, finance or health. Many medical websites and their affiliates, as well as websites offering legal or financial advice, were hit hard by the August 2018 update (which was subsequently called the ‘Medic Update’).

The fact that the 2018 update echoed and reinforced the quality signals which the Panda update first targeted in 2011 is evidence that Google is likely to continue to use the same ranking factors for the foreseeable future.

Because Panda is now part of Google’s core algorithm, it is difficult to differentiate between general updates and those which are related to the Panda criteria and the way content is judged and ranked. Keyword stuffing, spammy or ad-heavy content are widely accepted as poor SEO tactics.

Instead, Google is continuing to improve its algorithm’s capacity to recognize quality content, natural language patterns and to place search queries in context through BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) which is Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training.

Trying to create website content that is relevant to your topic, useful and engaging to readers and will also perform well under the Panda algorithm update can be a confusing task. If you are struggling to improve your search engine rankings or would just like some advice about SEO in general, get in touch with our team of SEO experts who specialize in creating content to showcase your brand’s authority, expertise and trustworthiness.

Author: Alexis

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