Google Panda Update Algorithm Rewards Good Quality Websites.
Since the launch of ‘Caffeine Update’ in 2009, there’s been much discussion surrounding the use of ‘black-hat’ SEO tactics and the rise of ‘content farms’ as a way to increase ranking positions in search engine results pages (SERP). The problem was however these practices existed because the techniques did in fact produce results. In essence, the Google Algorithm was rewarding poor quality ‘spammy’ sites by ranking them higher than better quality content pages and websites because it biased volume over quality.
Google Panda was launched on February 23rd 2011 to essentially eliminate black hat SEO tactics and web spam by assigning pages a ‘quality classification’ which was then incorporated as a ranking factor.
Originally dubbed the ‘Farmer Update’ by Danny Sullivan, Google announced the update was named after Google engineer Navneet Panda, who developed the technology that made it possible to create and implement the algorithm.
Affecting almost 12% of sites across the United States of America, the launch was felt by websites that contained large amounts of advertising and content farms.
Demand Media Inc (eHow and livestrong.com) was the epitome of a content farm and by far the largest example, pumping out 7,000 pieces of content per day back in 2009.
The company operated on a simple formula. Create thousands of niche, mostly uninspired content, which was cheap and easy to write targeted to search engines, then make it viral through software that targeted social media sites and make lots of money through ads visitors clicked on.
Note: Demand Media actually did better as a result of the changes to the Google search algorithm from this update, but was ‘hammered’ with the Panda 2.0 Update on April 11, 2011.
Websites that published ‘thin’ articles on wisegeek.com, ezinearticles.com, suite101.com, hubpages.com, buzzle.com, articlebase.com, etc. as a form of ‘link building’ were the ones hit the hardest.
News websites received a boost in rankings, as did ‘authority’ sites that were grammatically well written and full of technically correct information with supporting data.
So significant was the change in rankings, Google’s Amit Singhal (Google Fellow) and Matt Cutts (Principal Engineer) took to the official Webmaster Central Blog the next day to explain what was going on.
You can read the article ‘Finding more high-quality sites in search‘ which was posted on February 24th 2011.
The Google Panda Update is designed to reduce rankings for ‘low quality websites’, that is to say sites that provide little value to visitors. Websites with content copied from other websites will also be penalised.
Conversely, better rankings will be given to ‘high quality websites’, those sites that contain and regularly post fresh original content, especially sites that contain factually correct information, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis of a subject matter etc..
Other sites that did not fare well from the Google Panda Update were websites that had a poor design layout, intrusive ads appearing ‘above the fold’, inflated word count due to repetitive phrasing and hose sites that generally didn’t come across as very helpful or trustworthy.
It’s also worth noting that ‘Panda’ affects the ranking of an entire website or a specific section on it, like a category and not just individual pages on a site.
Starting with sending test documents to human quality raters, a comprehensive set of questions were asked of them when evaluating a website.
“Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card?”, “Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?”, “Do you consider this site to be authoritative?”, “Would it be okay if this was in a magazine?” and “Does this site have excessive ads?” were examples of questions the human ‘raters’ would have to answer when evaluating a site according to Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts from Google.
The Google Panda Algorithm was developed by comparing various ranking signals against the human quality rankings, then by using machine learning, make accurate predictions about how humans would rate the quality of content appearing on a webpage.
The result is that sites that fail to provide compelling, unique and engaging content will not rank as high as they used to. On the other hand, websites that have obviously taken more time producing content that’s grammatically well written, has a user friendly layout, is original and detailed will now rank higher in search engine results pages (SERP) as a result of this update!
Complete List & History Of All ‘Panda Updates’
Panda 2.0 (April 11, 2011)
Google rolled out the Panda update to all English language queries worldwide (not limited to English-speaking countries). New signals were also integrated, including data about sites users blocked via the SERPs directly or the Chrome browser.
It was also announced that Google will continue testing and refining the change before expanding to additional languages.
In an attempt to explain in more detail how the Panda Algorithm improved rankings for high-quality websites and to encourage more webmasters to build better content quality sites, on Friday May 6th 2011, Amit Singhal provided some ‘Guidance on building high quality sites‘.
By way of summary, 3 pieces of advise are worth paying attention to.
- “focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites”
- “low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages”
- “ask yourself the same sorts of questions we ask when looking at the big picture”
In releasing the ‘guidelines’ Amit included “some questions that one could use to assess the ‘quality’ of a page or an article”.
He then went on to say “These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality”.
Here is the complete list of 23 questions that “distinguish higher-quality sites from lower-quality sites” that would be affected by the Google Panda Update.
- 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?
It’s also noteworthy to remember this update is just one of roughly 500 search improvements to be rolled out for search in 2011. In fact, since first launching Panda, Google has rolled out over a dozen additional tweaks to their ranking algorithms, and some webmasters have incorrectly assumed that changes in their ranking positions were related to the Panda updates.
Search is a complicated and evolving art and science, so rather than focusing on specific algorithmic changes, the focus should be on delivering the best possible user experience for visitors with regards to the website design and content.
Panda 2.1 (May 9, 2011)
Initially dubbed ‘Panda 3.0’, Google appeared to roll out yet another round of changes. These changes were minor.
Panda 2.2 (June 21, 2011)
Google continued to update Panda-impacted sites and data, and version 2.2 was officially acknowledged.
Panda 2.3 (July 23, 2011)
Minor tweaks and ranking fluctuations were noticed.
Panda 2.4 (August 12, 2011)
Google rolled Panda out internationally, both for English-language queries globally and non-English queries except for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Google reported that this impacted 6-9% of search queries across the world.
Panda 2.5 (September 28, 2011)
After more than month, Google rolled out another Panda update.
Panda ‘Flux’ (October 5, 2011)
Matt Cutts tweeted: “expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks” and gave a figure of about 2% sites to be impacted.
Panda 3.1 (November 18, 2011)
After Panda 2.5, Google entered a period of ‘Panda Flux’ where updates would happen more frequently and would be relatively minor, affecting around 1% of websites.
Panda 3.2 (January 18, 2012)
Google confirmed a Panda data update, although suggested that the algorithm hadn’t changed.
Panda 3.3 (February 27, 2012)
just 3 days after the 1 year anniversary of the Panda Update, an unprecedented lifespan for a named update, Google rolled out another update, which was relatively minor.
Panda 3.4 (March 23, 2012)
Google announced another Panda update, this time via Twitter as the update was rolling out. Their public statements estimated that Panda 3.4 impacted about 1.6% of search results.
Panda 3.5 (April 19, 2012)
Google updates ‘Panda’ with minimal impact noticed.
Panda 3.6 (April 27, 2012)
8 days after Panda 3.5, Google rolled out yet another Panda data update. The impact was negligible.
Panda 3.7 (June 8, 2012)
Google rolled out yet another Panda data update, claiming that less than 1% of search queries were affect. Ranking fluctuation data suggested that the impact was substantially higher than previous Panda updates.
Panda 3.8 (June 25, 2012)
Google rolled out another Panda data refresh, data only, no algorithm changes and had a much smaller impact than Panda 3.7.
Panda 3.9 (July 24, 2012)
A month after #3.8, Google rolled out a new Panda update. Google stated about 1% of search queries were impacted.
Panda 3.9.1 (#18) (August 20, 2012)
Google rolled out yet another data update, but the impact seemed to be fairly small. Since the Panda 3.0 series ran out of numbers at 3.9, the new update was dubbed 3.9.1.
Panda 3.9.2 (September 18, 2012)
Google rolled out another Panda refresh, which appears to have been data-only. Ranking flux was moderate but not on par with a large-scale algorithm update.
Panda #20 (September 27, 2012)
Overlapping the EMD update, a fairly major Panda update (algorithm + data) rolled out, officially affecting 2.4% of queries. As the 3.X series was getting odd, industry sources opted to start naming Panda updates in order (this was the 20th).
Panda #21 (November 5, 2012)
Google rolled out their 21st Panda update, roughly 6 weeks after #20. This update was reported to be smaller, officially impacting 1.1% of English queries.
Panda #22 (November 21, 2012)
After some mixed signals, Google confirmed the 22nd Panda update, which appeared to have been data-only.
Panda #23 (December 21, 2012)
Right before the Christmas holiday, Google rolled out another update. They officially called it a ‘refresh’, impacting 1.3% of English queries.
Panda #24 (January 22, 2013)
Google announced its first official update of 2013, claiming 1.2% of search queries would be affected.
Panda Recovery (July 18, 2013)
Google confirmed an update to ‘Panda’ with the implication being a softening of previous penalties.
Panda 4.0 (May 19, 2014)
Google confirmed a major Panda update that included both an algorithm update and a data refresh. Officially, about 7.5% of English-language queries were affected.
Panda 4.1 (September 23, 2014)
Google announced a significant update, which included an algorithmic component. Google estimate the impact would effect at 3-5% of search queries.
Panda 4.2 (July 17, 2015)
Google announced a Panda update, saying it could take months to fully roll out. There were no clear signs of a major algorithm update.
This was to become the final confirmed Panda update.
On January 11, 2016. Google confirmed that Panda Algorithm had been incorporated into the core Google algorithm, evidently as part of the July 17, 2015 rollout. In other words, Panda will no longer be a filter applied to the Google algorithm after it does its work but is incorporated as another of its core ranking signals.
This means that any core updates that focus on quality and content are theoretically ‘Panda’ related.
Moving forward, it’s important to understand that while the Panda Algorithm has been retired, its effects as a core ranking signal remains and is one of the most important to keep in mind when writing content for websites if you’d like to rank high in SERPs.
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