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A Complete Guide to the Google Panda Update

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On 23rd February 2011 Google deployed it’s latest algorithm - Panda. The stated purpose of this was to reward high-quality websites and decrease the visibility of low-quality and spammy sites within Google organic search results. This algorithm assigns websites with a ‘quality score’ which is used as a ranking factor within SERP. This was one of the first steps Google really took to ensure that sites were being ranked based on their quality and not spammy links or other forms of manipulation to the initial algorithms. 

An SEO Timeline 

To really understand the purpose of Panda, it is important that we discuss why it was introduced in the first place by examining how SEO used to be deployed.

Google, as we know it today, has some of the most advanced AI systems and algorithms, however, it has not always been this way which is what made manipulating the technology and ranking much easier. Before these algorithms were really in place (between 1998 and 2001) people would achieve their rankings by ‘keyword stuffing’ which is effectively repeating the same keywords and phrases to the point it does not read cohesively. Thereafter, Google began to introduce more complex crawlers which would pick up and penalise those who were ranking by keyword stuffing so specialists began to spam other websites blogs by including links to their own sites regardless if both had any relevance to one another. 

What is Panda?

Panda was then introduced to rank websites based upon their rich content creation, use of targeted keywords in metadata, page quality and website authority and trustworthiness. By introducing Panda in 2011 those who had previously ranked by keyword stuffing and duplicate content began to see a massive decline in website traffic as they received penalties from Google for doing so. However, this did not address the issue of toxic backlinks which is why not long after Penguin was introduced. 

Triggers for Panda

The main factors which trigger Panda are: 

  • Thin content; pages which include very little or no content at all.
  • Duplicate content; content which appears on more than one page, title or description. To avoid this on pages which have multiple products and have to spill over into a ‘page 2’ etc. you should have canonicals put in place so that Google does not see this as copied content. 
  • Low-quality content; does not provide any or little value to human readers because it lacks information.
  • Lack of authority/trustworthiness; content which has been pulled from untrustworthy sites. 
  • Content farming; a large amount of low-quality pages within a website, often aggregated from other sites. 
  • Low-quality user-generated content (UGC); for example, blog posts which are short, are not grammatically correct, contain multiple spelling errors and offer very little information to the reader. 
  • High ad-to-content ratio; pages which are mostly made up of paid adverts instead of rich content. 

As long as you are ensuring that all content on your website is relevant and of high relevance to the user, you are avoiding duplicate content and you have not spammed your website with ads then you should not be hit with a Google penalty. 

How to Identify if You Have Been Hit by Panda and How to Recover

Much like all Google penalties, there is no clear answer given to why exactly you have been penalised so you must inspect the traffic coming to your site and establish what changes have been made that have resulted in a penalty. Firstly, it is important to compare dates and find where traffic began to drop, if it was around March 2011 there is a high chance that you have been hit with the Panda update. However, some websites may not have been hit until after the roll-out of Panda as strategies may have been implemented thereafter which went against Google guidelines which have resulted in a penalty. 

To recover from a Panda penalty it is fundamental that you examine all content that is on your site and identify any duplicate pages of content to ensure each page is unique. Additionally, you must examine all metadata (titles and descriptions) and make sure that these too contain unique content as the Google crawlers will pick up on this too. Lastly, it is important that you make all content on your website relevant to your business and avoid pop-up ads and an overwhelming amount of display ads so that users are able to navigate throughout your site easily and access all information and products with ease. 

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