Panda was introduced in early 2011 as a way to prevent websites with bad content from rising to the top. Panda’s first update rattled the SEO community, impacting nearly 12 percent of all search results.
The most recent Panda update 4.1 (Sept. 2014) continues to find and eliminate low quality content from Google's index to provide users with the best available web content.
As of September 25, between 3 to 5 percent of search queries have been affected to this point. Some of the affected metrics include:
- Task completion. If you have a web page that is specifically designated to prompt a download, user engagement and downloading your digital product has a pull with Panda. You can help your case with task completion by creating strong, exclusive content that your audience is unable to find or download anywhere else.
- Quality off-site references. The higher quality, the better. You can score some high quality off-site references by guest posting or creating strong content on your own website. This can be anything from a standout blog post to a well-done whitepaper. The key is to get the big dogs to recognize you, and you can achieve that by regularly producing high quality content.
- Keeping content current. Adding new, fresh content on a regular basis is still a plus with Panda. Including a date with each piece of content is highly advised.
By the way, all the standard content penalties still apply:
- Outdated information. Old and outdated information is likely cause for concern. The way around this? Create fresh content on a consistent schedule and make sure that it is crafted to never expire whenever possible.
- Bad spelling, grammar, and spun text. Crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s remains a necessity for good rankings. If you aren’t the best speller, or grammar isn’t your thing, consider drafting your content in Microsoft Word and exporting when you are ready to publish. This can help catch errors that your browser’s spell check might not find.
- Main content is below the fold. Keep your audience informed as soon as they surf onto your website. Putting your content above the fold is best practice.
2014 Update Summary (US Mainstream only)
- Page Layout 3 (February 6, 2014): Also called "Top Heavy" penalizes websites with too many ads at the top of the page.
- Payday Loan 2.0 (May 16, 2014): Targets search queries with the most spammy results. I.e., Payday loans, Viagra, porn etc.
- Panda 4.0 (May 19, 2014): Major Google update, penalizes websites with poor quality content.
- Payday Loan 3.0 (June 12, 2014): Update and refinement to v2.0.
- Pigeon (July 24, 2014): Update that changed factors which influence local search rankings.
- HTTPS (SSL) Update (August 6, 2014): Instituted tougher security encouraging webmasters/webowners to move to SSL. Doing so will provide a slight ranking boots as incentive. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It provides a secure connection between internet browsers and websites, allowing you to transmit private data online.
- Panda 4.1 (Sept. 23, 2014): Affected 3-5% of queries to date, re-indexing is still in process.
- Penguin 3.0 (Oct. 17, 2014): Update to Penguin 2.1, with low impact.
- Pirate 2.0 (Oct. 21, 2014): Cracks down on software and media piracy, targeting websites marked for copyright infringements.
- Thin Content Update (Oct. 25, 2015): Largely unknown (unannounced) Google reclassifies thin content pages and penalizes soft 404's.
- Penguin 3.1 (Nov. 27, 2014): Part of the 3.0 update roll-out.
- Penguin 3.2-3.4 (Dec. 2-6, 2014): Due to fluctuation on sites impacted by Penguin, these updates make the filtering process continuous.
Traffic Patterns That Correlate With Updates
One of the easiest ways to determine if you were hit by a Google update is taking a look at your traffic patterns. Using Google Analytics, get an overview of your traffic report using the graph in your dashboard. You can make your date range extend back as far as you want, but one month should be good enough.
With your traffic graph in front of you, you are looking for significant (and sometimes dramatic) dips. You will definitely know it when you see it as it will appear like like a steep downward slop in an other wise wavy pattern in your normal traffic volume range.
Next, open the traffic drop down menu and look at "links to your site" these are pointing back to your site from other websites. Click the ‘more’ link to load the whole list. From there, visit several of these links and determine if they are spammy. If this is the case, there is a high probability that your website was hit by the newest Penguin update.
Note: If there are content overlaps between your page content and an offending spammer site, there is a chance that you are experiencing the penalties of Panda.
The next step is to identify the individual pages that are experiencing the biggest traffic drops.
This can be accomplished by copying part of the page’s content and paste it into Google search.
This will help you find pages that have similar or identical content. Keep in mind that you can do a direct quote search by simply putting quotation marks around your search phrase.
Sorting out and re-crafting your content will take some time and effort, but it is essential in order to remove penalties, improve your ranking and ramp up your web traffic.