Rolling Panda Updates
When Google’s Panda update went live in 2011, it had a tremendous impact on the marketing industry. The first roll out of the change impacted nearly 12 percent of all queries in the United States. Another update a few months later impacted an estimated 6 to 9 percent of queries in many non-English languages. This change saw many established websites take tremendous hits in their rankings while other websites receive much needed boosts in SERPs.
Although it has been over four years since that first rollout, the results of Panda can still be felt across the marketing industry. The regular updates continue to impact existing sites. Countless websites have also had to change their entire content development strategies. Here is what all marketers should know.
The focus of the Panda update
The Panda update was introduced to weed out weak and thin content. Google understands that when people use the search engine to find information about their particular topic, they want sites that help them answer their questions completely and thoroughly. Users want authoritative content that they can trust. Google’s tries to deliver the most appropriate content to those customers.
When Panda rolled out, sites that managed to rank well despite having poor or thin content were generally hit hard. Panda is a filter that runs periodically through the entire web to find content that manages to beat the algorithm itself and ranks higher than it really should. The filter needs to be run on a regular basis to catch any new content that does not meet the desired quality standards as well as to see if any of the penalized websites have improved. It is also necessary to check for false positives.
The filter itself is regularly updated to better search through the Internet to sort quality content from poor content. Each of these updates tends to be the focus of regular conversations among webmasters trying to evaluate if their websites were hit by the updates.
Panda looks for content that does not seem to serve much of a purpose on its own, such as affiliate sites. These sites exist solely for the purpose of encouraging people to click through to other websites. Countless affiliate sites, even the veteran ones that have been around for years, have seen their rankings suffer with the Panda updates.
The Panda updates
Panda updates have been a source of confusion and frustration for many site owners. There were 25 confirmed updates, including the original launch, between the original rollout date in the beginning of 2011 and March 2013. These different updates were aimed at refining different parts of the filter and often targeted different aspects of the web, such as international English-language websites.
After the early 2013 update, however, Google announced that they were unlikely to confirm future Panda updates. Around the same time, Google also announced that the process of rolling out the Panda updates would be changing. Now the update would not be happening all at once. Instead, it would be rolled out slowly over the course of several days.
In March 2013 Matt Cutts said that Panda updates would also be integrated into the search algorithm itself and therefore the updates would be happening in real time and would not be pushed out manually. With the integration, webmasters would no longer see sudden changes in search engine rankings and would be able to test their Panda-friendly fixes without having to wait for the next update.
Google has now gone back on that announcement and has admitted that as of 2015, the updates were still being pushed out manually. Gary Illyes also announced in the beginning of June 2015 that there would be another update in 2-4 weeks, which means that it has likely just taken place in July.
How webmasters can make their content Panda-proof
For website owners who want to make sure that their content is prepared to weather any upcoming Panda updates, there are a few steps to take to ensure that everything has been optimized for success.
- Make sure that all content on the page is high quality. The Panda update was specifically designed to root out weak, uninformative content. Google wants to see that every page of your website provides value for the user and is not just a placeholder or an attempt to rank for new keywords. Pages with thin content often do not focus on the needs of the user but instead serve to point the user towards particular links or advertisements. Other times site owners use spun content or machine-generated content to fill space. Every page should focus primarily on the person arriving on the website, so take the time to develop the page correctly.
- Watch out for duplicate content. Although it is possible for errors to cause duplicate content, such as a malfunctioning CMS, Google knows that it is often because the site is trying to create multiple pages just to rank better for certain keywords or just to spam people. Make sure that your website does not have duplicate content under any circumstances.
- Watch your ad ratio. Google is also watching for websites that have a high number of ads relative to their amount of content. This tells the filter that your content might not have the best intentions and really just wants to serve as a landing page for ads. It also detracts from the user experience and therefore will be negatively impacted by the Panda.
- Regularly monitor your site to make sure it is functioning well. Use Webmaster tools to carefully watch how your website is performing. Watch for broken links, redirects and other factors that will hurt the user experience and therefore the website ranking.
The Panda update caused significant changes in how site owners manage their website content and strategize their optimization efforts. The ongoing Panda updates remind us all that the quest for rooting out spam and poor content is an ongoing fight. Make sure your content is Panda-proof and watch closely to see how your site performs to avoid getting caught in a bear trap on one of the regular updates.
To review a timeline of other significant Google Updates, view our blog post: Google Algorithm Updates.