Understanding the Google Panda algorithm update is something that many beginners miss, but even advanced Webmasters sometimes don’t fully understand what it means. The truth is that, while all updates might have funny animal names, algorithm updates are what makes SEO so important and so constant. You always hear about how SEO is ever changing, and this is why.

The first thing to understand about algorithm updates is that Google updates its algorithm nearly 500 times per year. However, not every algorithm change is large enough or affects enough queries to actually be given a name. Panda along with Penguin, which will be discussed in tomorrow’s article, are the largest and most significant updates. Other updates have been significant (such as Pigeon or Hummingbird), but Panda and Penguin are the ones we see come about most often.

Google Panda Overview

How the Algorithm Updates Work

Whenever you hear of a Google Panda update, it means that Google made a change to the way they analyze and search for quality content. If a site has poor or duplicate content, this update, or refresh as the industry calls it, will ensure that those websites do not make it to the top of search results. Below is a list of what constitutes an update:

  • Again, a website with low quality or “thin” content.
  • A website that works as a content farm, or pushes out too much poor content too fast. A website full of useless pages that Google is indexing also applies here.
  • A website with poor SEO structure.
  • Duplicate content and/ or poor grammar.
  • Too many advertisements or flashing ads.
  • A slow website load time.
  • Over-optimizing your website using black hat SEO tactics such as cloaking, doorway pages, keyword stuffing, and more.

There have been quite a few updates since Panda’s introduction in 2011, and the reason is because Google is constantly adding different parameters to what constitutes quality. For example, sometimes they update their algorithm to focus on content farms, while other times they put a focus on poor structure.

Past Panda Updates

There are quite a few, so brace yourself! Some of these past updates may not seem significant now, but understanding how Panda has affected the web over the years and how frequently can help you understand the importance of being ready for any future updates. The following came from a great resource called the Moz Algorithm Change History webpage and lists how many search queries were affected by the update, meaning they either lost or gained significant rankings:

  1. Panda Update 1, Feb. 24, 2011. 11.8% of queries; English in US only.
  2. Panda Update 2, April 11, 2011. 2% of queries; rolled out in English internationally.
  1. Panda Update 3, 4, and 5. May, June, and July, 2011. No change given.
  1. Panda Update 6 (Panda 2.4), Aug. 12, 2011. 6-9% of queries in many non-English languages.
  2. Panda Update 7, Sept. 28, 2011. No change given.
  3. Panda Update 8 (Panda 3.0), Oct. 19, 2011. 2% of queries.
  4. Panda Update 9, Nov. 18, 2011. Less than 1% of queries.
  5. Panda Update 10, 11. Jan. and Feb. 2012. No change given.
  6. Panda Update 12 (Panda 3.4), March 23, 2012. 1.6% of queries.
  7. Panda Update 13, 14 (Panda 3.5 and 3.6). April, 2012. No change given.
  8. Panda Update 15, 16, 17, 18. June, July, and Aug, 2012: 1% of queries.
  9. Panda Update 19, Sept. 18, 2012. Less than 0.7% of queries.
  10. Panda Update 20, Sept. 27, 2012. 2.4% English queries.
  11. Panda Update 21, Nov. 5, 2012. 1.1% of English queries in US; 0.4% worldwide.
  12. Panda Update 22, Nov. 21, 2012. 0.8% of English queries.
  13. Panda Update 23, Dec. 21, 2012. 1.3% of English queries.
  14. Panda Update 24, Jan. 22, 2013. 1.2% of English queries.
  15. Panda Update 25, Mar. 14, 2013. No changes given.
  16. Panda Update 26 (Panda 4.0), May 19, 2014. 7.5% of English queries.
  17. Panda Update 27 (Panda 4.1), Sept. 23, 2014. 3-5% of queries affected.

If you’re interested in more than just the small blurbs above, I would recommend researching a few of the write-ups about all of the Panda updates to get a feel for what kinds of changes Google has made over the years. Again, it’s not important that you understand the details of all of the updates; just that you can see how updates work in general and can make sure that your content never suffers.

So why are some of the updates called two different names? You may have noticed that, for example, the 26th Panda update is also referred to as Panda 4.0. Many of the other updates also have names like that, but I simply plugged in a few to give you an idea of where they start. The truth is that Search Engine Land oftentimes names these updates (as opposed to Google). Updates that are 3.0 or 4.0 generally affect more queries and are more significant, and the rest just go in order. This is simply for organization purposes.

How to Recover from Panda Updates

As with any algorithm update, if you are “hit,” then you have the opportunity to make changes and then make it back up to the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages). This is a big topic and how you recover may differ slightly based on what the algorithm update focused on (was it duplicate content, or was it keyword stuffing in content?), but the best way to fix your content is to simply go through and delete anything that is using black hat tactics, duplicated, or is poor quality.

Again, analyzing which Panda update just occurred can help you identify where your problem lies, but a content or SEO audit performed regularly can help you avoid the problem altogether, which you can learn more about here. Once you make changes, wait for the next update to see if they worked.

Finally, it’s important to make sure that you were actually hit by Panda before panicking. You should worry about all of the things listed above regardless, but just because you see a drop in rankings doesn’t mean you were hit with an algorithm update. For example, if you are building poor links, over time this will affect your standings. Always check to see if a Panda update just occurred to see if your drop coincided.

Do you have any questions about Google Panda updates? Feel free to let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you right away.