Google Panda Algorithm Update – What Is It?

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The Google Panda Algorithm and Update 4.1

If you’ve been doing your SEO research then you’ve probably heard the terms Google Panda and Google Penguin. Our fluffy black and white friends have had a critical impact on search optimisation over the past few years, each in their own separate way. In this article we’re going to take a look at the Google Panda algorithm.

What is Google Panda?

Panda first appeared in February 2011 and its main purpose was to penalise websites with ‘thin content’ pages, while increasing the rankings of those with good quality content. It’s one of the major algorithm changes to be put into affect in recent years, with reportedly 12% of rankings initially affected. It came under criticism at first because it seemed to be targeting sites with a lot of ads while social media sites benefited, but many changes to the algorithm have been made over the past few years in order to improve its effectiveness.

Prior to the launch of Panda, Google had already managed to filter out a huge amount of spam from its indexing process. This update was focused on shallow content – content that is not quite spam but is not of much use to a user either. But how does a machine assess the quality of content? Google asked third party participants to perform a quality rating exercise on a sample of websites. Then, examining the ones that received low quality scores, they looked at what those sites had in common and created the Google Panda algorithm in response.

The truth is that nobody outside of Google knows precisely how it works, but what we do know is that it is very effective at distinguishing between low and high quality content. We also know that it penalises the two following types of content:

  • Duplicate content (either within or across domains)
  • Machine generated content

This means that a lot of personal ad sites were affected – websites where a user might want to sell something – because users had uploaded the same ads to multiple websites, creating duplicate content. The same can be said for lyric and gaming websites, while voucher sites and any other sites that typically have a high bounce rate were also affected. Those who benefited were the sites with original, quality content.

Google Panda 4.1

The latest (confirmed) Google Panda update was rolled out in September 2014. Good news for small-medium sized businesses, it allowed smaller websites with equally strong content to compete in the SERPs alongside the bigger websites. It also targeted websites that were over-optimising for keywords; repeating keywords or very similar keywords across pages. Similarly, those that were creating ‘SEO content’, (content created specifically for the task of ranking on a keyword) were also hit, along with sites who interrupted their users’ experience with ads.

What Can I Do to Recover from the Panda Update?

Through rigorous testing we have been able to identify a number of Google ranking factors detected by Panda and there are a few things you can do to recover rankings.

First and foremost, publish great quality content. Don’t publish content simply for the sake of creating – before you click ‘publish’ ask yourself if this is something that will provide genuine value to your users. Will it wow them? Once you’ve got your content strategy up to scratch, it’s time to audit your website. Scour it for any errors – spelling and grammatical errors, HTML and coding errors, 404 pages and anything else. Sites with lots of errors, no matter how minute, will not pass the Panda screening.

Another thing that Google Panda is looking for is references to your site. These might be customer reviews, mentions on social media, or other websites that have credited your site as a source for valuable content. Any positive mention of your website from a third party is deemed very desirable by Google – just don’t try to create these mentions artificially! Likewise, if you use any content on your site from an external source, make sure that you credit that source appropriately with a link. Google will know!

Even with all of the above knowledge, trying to negotiate the minefield that is Google Panda can be a bit like trying to solve an algebraic equation when all of the numbers have been replaced with pineapples. For help straightening your website and content strategy out, contact Premium SEO NZ today!

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Tom McSherry is the founder and chief strategist of Premium SEO NZ. Tom has been in the digital marketing industry for 8 years providing digital copywriting and optimisation services to businesses in New Zealand and around the world. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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