Google Panda is an algorithmic update or search filter to Google search engine that targets websites with low quality content that violate Google’s guidelines. It was first released in February of 2011. Google has always targeted webspam in their core algorithm, but this update targets specific factors within websites in an effort to improve upon search engine results. This Google update was one of the most shocking updates for SEO’s, as it targeted 12% of all Google search queries. To put that in context, most other updates only affected about 1% or even less.
From 2011 until 2016, Google released a handful of Panda updates. Some of them were major updates that rocked the SEO and webmaster community, others were more minor updates that only targeted a small amount of queries. On or around January 2016, Google casually announced that Panda has been merged into the core Google algorithm. This means there will be no more formal “Google Panda Updates” as it will be running in conjunction with the core Google algorithm.
Here are a few examples of tactics webmasters and SEO’s might use, that are targeted by Google Panda:
- keyword stuffing – adding lots of keywords into an article, blog post, or any web page to increase the “density” of that keyword in hopes Google will reward it in the search engines
- ads and advertising – ads placed on a page that detract from, interfere with, or obscure the content could yield a Google Panda penalty. Too many ads “above the fold” has also been known to be a factor.
- affiliate links – affiliate sites aren’t inherently “bad” for SEO or a Panda factor in and of itself, but many affiliate sites tend to be low quality and can have a tendency to yield a Panda action
- low quality user generated content – i.e. 100 spam blog comments on a blog post or a forum with 20 spun comments, all containing OBL’s to affiliate sites.
- “thin” pages – while a site or page with low word count isn’t necessarily a Panda factor, it may be part of a larger problem
Despite common misconceptions, duplicate content is not part of Google Panda. It won’t even yield a penalty, it will just be filtered appropriately. 404 errors also do not have an effect on Panda.
Sometimes these tactics are unintentional. We’ve seen scenarios where a webmaster allowed a 3rd party to make changes to a site, and added ads above the fold. Other times we’ve seen websites which aren’t monitored get pummeled with spam comments on pages that aren’t monitored, only to find that it has been hit by Panda months or years down the road.
If you think you’ve been hit by Panda, the best thing to do is to take a deep look at your site analytics, and perform a site wide content audit. For larger sites with 10’s or 100’s of thousands of pages this is a tall order, and can take weeks if not months to carry out. Remember, Google Panda is an algorithmic action so Google won’t send you a notice in Google Search Console, although you might have received a message in the past with a warning. For the most part, you have to figure this out on your own. To get a better idea about the process, Matt Cutts posted a video on YouTube about Panda recovery.
Identify which pages were penalized
The easiest way to figure out which pages were hit by Panda, is through your analytics. Wait a few days, preferably a week and pop open your analytics. Compare 2 date ranges of your top entry pages with search traffic:
- Pages from the week prior to getting hit
- Pages from the week after getting hit
Identify which pages are receiving a lesser amount of traffic from Google after the action was applied. In some cases, this might only be 1 or a small handful of pages. In other cases it can be quite a lot. If you’ve found that your entire website has been “hit” you may want to take a long hard look at your overall strategy, and think about hitting the “reset” button on your site, and starting from scratch.
While you are looking at your analytics, there are other metrics you should be looking at on these pages such as low engagement rates, high bounce rates, etc.
Save these pages to an Excel spreadsheet, you are going to need this for later.
Once you’ve identified which pages have been hit, we can now start the cleanup process. Now is also a good time to take a more thorough inventory on these pages and cleanup other factors as well. Start by examining the first page and perform a quick Panda audit:
- are there too many ads on my page?
- is there a large amount of keyword stuffing?
- does my content make sense?
- is my content helpful?
- is my content grammatically correct / spelled properly?
- are there spammy comments?
- are there other signs of SPAM?
- does the overall design of your website favor ads?
- does your website load slow due to ads?
Remember, Panda is all about content. Now is not the time to think about your inbound links. We also recommend asking a 3rd party to audit a few of your pages. Ask them to check these pages out, and if they consider this page to be high quality content, or not. It is always a good idea to ask a non-SEO or non-webmaster to view these pages to get a “real world” opinion of your website. Take this advice to heart, even if you think they are wrong.
Example 1: Lets say you’ve identified 20 pages, all of which have thin content, that isn’t helpful and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Go back to the drawing board and improve upon and add to this content. Do some proper research and make sure your content is helpful. Do the same thing for each
Example 2: In another example, your website might have too many ads. Consider removing some of these ads or pushing them below the fold. Also run a site speed audit and see if they are causing load issues. Google has nothing against ads on a website, but they don’t like
There has been a lot of discussion over whether removing pages completely is helpful or not. This is really a tough decision, and really a case by case basis. If you have 1000 pages that were auto-generated by spintax, we can’t recommend going back and fixing each one of these pages. That would be a tad ridiculous, in that case we recommend deleting the pages completely and restructuring your site map. If it is a handful of pages with minor issues, those can definitely be repaired.
Sit and Wait
This probably isn’t the answer you are looking for, but it is really just a waiting game once you’ve made the fixes. You can do a “fetch and render” in Google Search Console to help move things along, but it won’t change the fact that Panda only comes around when it comes around.
When Panda has been lifted from your site, you should start to see some of these pages get some of their traffic back. They may not pop back to where they were in the search engines right away. We’ve seen instances where sites have come back with greater results, other times with lesser results. Remember, there are many factors that determine where your website ranks, not just Panda.
There are many types of Google penalties. Sometimes, your entire website has been hit, other times it is more of a granular penalty and only is applied to a few pages.
There is another way to think about Google Panda in a positive light. Here are a few examples of factors that may be considered a
Remember with every rule, there is an exception. Low quality UGC (user generated content) can be a huge Panda signal, but high quality user generated content can show that your content is engaging and something that people like.