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Everything You Need to Know About the Latest Panda Updates

Google Panda Latest Updates

Google has promised that many changes will be made in the following years, and it did not fail to deliver. Last month, the Hummingbird algorithm was announced, and according to senior vice-president and software engineer Amit Singhal, it is the biggest update of its kind. But this is not all. Google uses hundreds of parameters in order to correctly rank websites. The most popular ones are undoubtedly Panda and Penguin, which have caused waves of commotion among entrepreneurs and SEO specialists with every update. Considering that you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably already know what Panda is, and how much it has affected search queries.

In early 2011, the Panda update literally obliterated low quality websites, content farms and black-hat practitioners. Obviously, since then there have been hundreds of updates for various algorithms, that made searches more accurate and relevant for the average internet user. The only way to make it in the business world nowadays, and to surpass your brick-and-mortar status is by investing in an online presence. This also translates in playing by Google’s rules. As a wise man once said, you must understand thy enemy. Granted, Google is not really an enemy, but it is still an impediment that you must overcome in order to make your online business visible.

So before we start talking about the Panda algorithm, let’s take a step back, and see why Google makes the changes that it does. As you can probably imagine, the big G doesn’t like it when people try to manipulate their system in order to rank low quality content that is not useful to people. In order to provide with the good value for its visitors, it implements the algorithms that you already know.

In a recent blog post Amit Singhal of Google said: “Panda was just one of roughly 500 search improvements we expect to roll out to search this year. In fact, since we launched Panda, we’ve rolled out over a dozen additional tweaks to our ranking algorithms.”

Amit Shinghal

Maybe these changes alone are worth a second thought, because it might help us better understand how to grow our websites.

What is the Google Panda Update?

The Panda Update, is as Matt Cutts likes to say:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.” (extract from Matt Cutt’s personal blog)

The initial Panda rollout occurred on February 24, 2011. It was called the Panda 1.0 and its main target were content farm sites that promoted low-quality links and user generated pages. It was initially called the “Farmer’s Update” because it destroyed all content farms online, but later, a Google official acknowledged that its internal name was Panda. According to them, 11.8% of search results were affected by this update.

Article directories were also not spared (at present there are certain article directories with stricter guidelines). We are not going to reinvent the wheel here, especially considering that Moz has already create a great Google Algorithm Change History, but we would like to mention a few notable changes that were made to the Panda Algorithm. At the moment, Panda has received 28 notable updates, but we will not talk about all of them.

History of Panda Updates:

PANDA UPDATE

RELEASE DATE

PANDA UPDATE

RELEASE DATE

1. Panda 1.0

February 24th

15. Panda 3.5

April 19th

2. Panda 2.0

April 11th or so.

16. Panda 3.6

April 27th

3. Panda 2.1

May 9th or so.

17. Panda 3.7

June 9th

4. Panda 2.2

June 18th or so.

18. Panda 3.8

June 25th

5. Panda 2.3

around July 22nd.

19. Panda 3.9

July 24th

6. Panda 2.4

August

20. Panda 3.9.1

August 20th

7. Panda 2.5

September 28th

21. Panda 3.9.2

September 18th

8. Panda 2.5.1

October 9th

22. Panda #20

September 27th

9. Panda 2.5.2

October 13th

23. Panda #21

November 5th

10. Panda 2.5.3

October 19/20th

24. Panda #22

November 21st

11. Panda 3.1

November 18th

25. Panda #23

December 21

12. Panda 3.2

January 15th

26. Panda #24

January 22, 2013

13. Panda 3.3

February 26th

27. Panda #25

06/11/13

14. Panda 3.4

March 23rd

28. Panda #26

07/18/13

It is true that the release of Panda 1.0 attracted the most media attention, but other updates have continued to rollout and they brought with them several major changes. The Panda 2.0, on April 11th, 2011 expanded the reach of the algorithm from only US search queries to all English Language results across the globe. It was the first time that Google admitted to using data on blocked sites through its Chrome extension, and page “block-link” feature to influence rankings.

Panda 2.1 followed soon after, on the 10th of May 2011, and then there was also Panda 2.2, on June 16th 2011. These were basically minor adjustments to the initial algorithm, and they affected a small number of queries. They were focused basically on combating spam, and low-quality sites that outrank high-quality ones. Nevertheless, these updates weren’t all they were cracked up to bem and this lead to the release of Panda 2.3 on July 2th 2011, an update which incorporated some new features.

On January 22, 2013, Google announced Panda #24 which claimed to have affected 1.2% of queries. Another interesting update for the algorithm was made on March 14, 2013. It was the number #25 update, and it was actually pre-announced by Matt Cutts. Who also stated that it would be the last update before Panda would be integrated in the core algorithm.

Panda Recovery: July 18th, 2013

According to recent news, Google has decided to no longer inform people about their latest Panda updates, but there has been a lot of chatter on the WebmasterWorld forums. It seems that on July 18th, a softer Panda algorithm was released, a Panda that has alleviated some of its harsher penalties. 

Although many people refer to it as an algorithm, the panda can be viewed either as a new ranking factor or a penalty. The later is much more encouraging for sites to implement ethical SEO strategies to please the big G. Just because the Panda meant a few changes in SERPs, and it affected several low quality sites doesn’t mean that it is a major algorithm like the Hummingbird.

According to CNET, the vast majority of sites that had too many adds, thin content or too many bad links were severely punished, while websites that were active on either social networks, or focused on news, registered an increase in traffic. It seems that certain Panda refreshes pointed to the general direction in which Google was now heading: optimized mobile sites, and focus on local keywords and ranking factors.

Latest Panda Updates

Panda Updates over time (Image Credit)

Notable Changes Made by Panda:

  • On March, 2011, Google launched +1 and incorporated social sharing into their algorithm. This was a huge step for SEO, because it finally started to pay attention to actual human interaction with different pages. From that moment forward, social networks became an essential part of every online strategy. It also coincided with Google’s attempt to get back into the social world (in 2011 Google+ was pretty much deserted). Since then, Google’s adolescent social platform has grown significantly (it is the no.2 most active social media network at the moment, outclassing Twitter and Youtube).

  • On August 2011, Google launched expanded site links and it also starts encrypting search queries. The expanded site links help users pinpoint what they’re looking for on a site, despite vague search phrase. For example, if somebody searches for the Moz Site, they will see six short links for the About page, recent posts, or whatever it is that they want to highlight. Encrypted search queries, on the other hand, will protect data entered by logged on Google users.

  • Since November 2011, Google started to reward Freshness of Content, and this change has impacted 35% of search queries. If you want to pontificate this advantage you should be among the first to publish certain news, or to offer unique insights on a matter. Not only will your site and brand reap the benefits, but readers will also appreciate the boost in quality.

The Panda Algorithm at a Glance

Before we get into any details about this algorithm, maybe it would be wise to first understand a few things:

  • Rather than concentrate on the ranking of just the individual page of a site, Google Panda focuses on specific sections and the overall performance of a page.

  • It hates spam, spun, duplicate, and low-quality content → will punish it accordingly.

  • It requires that sites work on their SEO aspects, but over-optimization is also penalized by the algorithm.

  • Content is still king, and high quality, unique articles will always rank better than thin pages mean only for creating back-links. 

  • Panda is pretty much a content quality filter, and the best way to deal with it is prevention. You should avoid low-quality content at all costs, focus on unique content, concentrate on clout and authority, keep a healthy advertising ratio and keep track of all future updates. 

Will the Panda Update Affect Your Site?

As far as the Panda is concerned, if you get hit by it, there is pretty much nothing you can do to recover lost traffic. However, you can ensure that you correctly optimize your page for the future, and thus show up better in SERPs. Most internet marketers felt somewhat vindicated by the fact that their legitimate SEO efforts were finally paying off, but most gray-hat and black-hat specialists were severely punished. 

The thing with Google Panda is that it is somehow forcing business people to become good internet marketers. 

Latest Panda Updates

After Effects of the Panda Algorithm (Image Credits)

I have read a really funny (yet very useful) article on SearchEngineWatch, that talks about the killer combo known as Phanteguin (Phantom algorithm + Penguin algorithm). Glenn Gabe was eager to analyze the way that the three algorithms interact with one another and he refers to them as “Pandas helping penguins and exorcising phantoms”.

The truth is that we can no longer consider only one algorithm when optimizing our websites, because we have a ghostly new friend on the horizon, the already well-known penguin, and the brand new Hummingbird. Either way, it seems that all of these parameters are linked to one-another, and if you read the article from Search Engine Watch you might understand more about how you can fix your website if it has been hit by multiple algorithms. For the best results you should check Google’s Guide to High-Quality Websites.

In an interview for the Wired Magazine, Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal gave obvious hints about Google’s process of identifying low quality websites:

Wired.com: How do you recognize a shallow-content site? Do you have to wind up defining low quality content?

We used our standard evaluation system that we’ve developed, where we basically sent out documents to outside testers. Then we asked the raters questions like: Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids? “

According to these surveys Google engineers were able to quantify specific metrics that indicate whether or not the site was high quality. In other words, Matt Cutts has stressed the importance of the human factor in the search engine queries. Furthermore, the recent updates prove that certain criteria will become essential in the future. Mark Nunney has actually listed a few criteria that might negatively impact your page:

  1. Page content and meta-tags that do not match search queries, and are not relevant to the content on your page.

  2. A high amount of inappropriate adverts. This means adverts that have nothing to do with your page, are annoying, or slow down loading speed.

  3. A low amount of original content on your website or pages.

  4. A high amount of duplicate content. Only press-releases and news-sites are safe from the wrath of Panda.

  5. Spam, spun or low-quality content.

Google Panda Latest Updates

 

There are also a few extra questions that you should ask yourself in the eventuality that you were slapped by the Google Panda algorithm:

  1. Do you have redundant articles on similar topics, or with keyword variations?

  2. Is your content mass-produced by outsourced work, is it spread across a large network of sites, or are the individual pages not optimized enough?

  3. Are your articles short, unsubstantial, boring, or lacking in helpful specifics?

  4. Do you have grammatical, spelling or factual errors?

  5. Did you conduct enough qualitative search to find out what good sites write about?

  6. Does your site have one of the following: high bounce rate, low visit times on page, low % of visitors returning to page?

  7. Do you have a high percent of boilerplate content (same on every page).

  8. No social shares, likes, comments, tweets, +1s?

  9. Do you have unnatural language on a page, including heavy-handed on-page SEO over-optimization.

In conclusion Panda is focused on high-quality, insightful and informative content. This means that bloggers who write well are spared, and high-quality guest-posts are also rewarded. I have always been of the opinion that one amazing guest-post on a high-authoritative site is better than twenty articles on obscure pages.

Another thing that I found interesting in the interview for Wired magazine, was Cutt’s statement: “We are lucky enough to have the criticism, because that means people care enough to tell us what they want”. In other words, as much as we may be criticizing certain algorithm changes, especially those of Panda which hit the world wide web with full force, the truth is that Google engineers are doing all they can to show the most relevant results in search queries.

How Exactly Does Panda Slap Sites/Pages?

From what we understood from Matt Cutts, Panda takes a look at each individual page, and ranks it accordingly, so does the same rule apply when you are about to be slapped by the algorithm? Apparently, if a Panda Slap is site-wide, then all the pages will experience a similar drop in Google Organic traffic. This article on WordTracker will give you in-depth data on how the Panda Algorithm works.

Either way, if your traffic, page rank, or domain authority has dropped, it’s safe to say that you’ve been slapped. But before you file your complaint to Google, try to determine which pages have been hit, and why (check the points on the list above). The truth is that there are no one-sided answers here. Thousand long articles can be hit even worse than thin content, and this usually happens for different reasons.

Another question you might ask yourself is if the Panda penalty was applied at a keyword level. In order to find out you will have to ind a page that gets results for different keywords, and determine if Panda has had different effects on traffic for those keywords.

It is really difficult to determine what exactly went wrong if you’ve been slapped by Panda, and Google’s advice on the matter is this:

“If you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

Wordtracker also advises webmasters to identify the pages that were hit the worst by Panda, isolate the differences between them and the ones that were not hit, change those factors on hit pages after careful analysis, and make a list of different types of pages.

It would require a whole article all-together in order to discuss about the best ways to escape a Panda slap, but the major aspects of a fix include editing of “over-optimized” pages, making content language more accessible, building brand awareness across social media networks, re-checking every page and editing content to make it suitable. If none of the above work, you should let Google know about it.

Wrapping Up:

Panda is definitely one of the most difficult algorithms to please, especially because it is focused on high-quality content and social media promotion. Although it has been rooted in the core-algorithm, it is still a huge part of SEO at present. With so many resources available online, we are pretty sure that you will be able to protect your pages from any penalties. Obviously, this also means making use of SEO tools for data monitoring and competitive analysis. 

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