The complete guide to Google Panda

Haley Carroll

  | Published on  

September 29, 2023

Google is the world’s top search engine, holding 92% of the market share for all search traffic. It’s probably the search engine you used to find this article.

However, do you know how Google actually works? Did you know that there have been many improvements and modifications made to the search engine since it launched in 1998?

While we can’t go through Google’s entire history in one blog post, we will be looking at one of its most significant additions: Google Panda.

What is Google Panda?

Launched on February 23, 2011, Google Panda is a major update to the search engine’s algorithm. The purpose of this update was to raise the rankings of unique, high-quality pages and decrease the amount of low-quality, thin content that would appear in search results.

Around the time before the update, many users were complaining that their search queries were showing results that had little to no value. It had become a strategy for some websites to produce as many articles as possible with little to no effort going into those pages, in order to rank high on popular searches and get more traffic to their site. These articles would be filled with ads and contain very little information that was actually relevant to the user’s original search query.

This practice led to less-than stellar-results for users, and a big problem for Google. Thus, Google Panda was created.

The update had very clear goals, it was aimed to reduce rankings for sites that:

  • Offered little value
  • Copied content from other sites
  • Were considered untrustworthy
  • Weren’t very useful
  • Had a high ad-to-content ratio
  • Were irrelevant to the search query
  • Provide better rankings for sites that:
  • Provided high-quality content
  • Contained original information, like research, reports, and analysis

So how did the update accomplish these goals? In order to understand that, first we need to break down how Google Panda actually works.

How does Google Panda work?

Google started the development of this algorithm by first doing research on their target customer: search engine users. People were asked various questions about websites they were presented with that would help determine the website’s value. From there, the algorithm was developed by taking these human quality signals and using them for comparison against various ranking signals from websites.

To better understand this from a non-technical point of view, there is a helpful list of questions that the algorithm is based on. The answers the algorithm determines for each question about a website will decide where the site is ultimately indexed and displayed in search results.

Here is what can be considered Google Panda guidelines, or what the algorithm looks for with each website:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Why is Google Panda important?

The release of the Google Panda update actually affected almost 12% of English-language websites, which is a significant amount. If the algorithm recognizes a website as being low-quality for one reason or another, the website can experience a substantial loss of organic traffic and lower rankings. Being penalized by Google Panda can be difficult to recover from.

Therefore, the algorithm cannot be ignored when thinking about your website’s content strategy. You need to create content that is unique and valuable in order to pass through Google Panda unscathed. This is easier said than done, but with a little hard work and help from resources such as the Centori blog and software, creating great content that both search engines and users will approve of is possible.

What is the benefit of Google Panda?

While Google Panda made our job as SEOs a bit more difficult, it had many benefits as well.

Google Panda creates a better experience for users and web creators alike. Users will be able to trust and actually glean knowledge and valuable information from the results of their search queries. Web creators can rely on the true merit of their website and the quality of their content to get them ranked on Google, without worrying about content farms and shady websites ranking higher than them.

The chief aim of Google Panda was to rank high-quality websites above low-quality websites, so this (in theory) makes Google that much more valuable as a search engine and gives you a clear path to ranking - just create good content!

Of course it's not quite so simple as that. You need to create content with authority, and build trust with your users.

How to avoid Google Panda penalties

If Google Panda is about ensuring only quality-content ranks, then the best way to avoid a penalty from the Panda is to create high-quality, original content on your website.

Here are a few best practices you can follow that will help you avoid penalties from the Panda update (or reverse a penalty if your website has been hit)

  • Create high-quality, original content. Low-effort or thin content will not rank, and can even hurt your website's ability to rank.
  • Remove duplicate content, duplicate content confuses Google and will negatively impact your rank.
  • Carefully vet any user-generated content, ensure it is original and good quality.
  • Avoid content farming, or AI-generated content, this content is usually paraphrased or lifted from existing content and can contain subject matter or grammatical errors.

Is Google Panda related to Google Penguin?

The Panda update wasn’t the only move Google made to diminish low-quality sites in their search results. One year after Panda’s launch, Google released another update, this time calling it Penguin.

In short, Penguin’s purpose was to keep black hat link building from helping a website rank higher. Before the update, many websites would use link spamming and manipulative link building practices because Google used link volume as a heavy factor in determining where a site would be ranked.

To prevent any backlash from Google on your own site, you should perform a link audit. This involves going through all of the backlinks on your website and making sure they are coming from quality and trustworthy sites. You should do your best to remove any backlinks that appear to be spammy or low-quality, since this can negatively impact your own site’s authority.

Use Google Panda to your advantage

Google’s primary goal is to connect users to reputable sources that will provide unique value to them. Its algorithm updates work to improve the operations of the search engine, so Google can better serve its users. Google Panda and Google Penguin are two shining examples of this in action.

The important takeaways from these updates are that Google will not allow websites to rely on thin content and spammy backlinks to rank in search results. Google continually modifies its algorithm to try to imitate human judgement, so people are able to see what they want to see. This means that you need to create content with your users in mind, and you need to rely on your own expertise and knowledge of your industry to create value for your users, rather than employing shady SEO techniques.

Panda is one of many updates to Google, and there are sure to be many more in the future. Staying informed about these updates will help you identify causes to any irregularities as you monitor your website’s performance. Keeping track of how your website is performing in Google is the key to an effective SEO strategy.

10x your traffic with our proven SEO strategy framework

Get the same strategy framework we teach every single client. Follow these 4 steps to outsmart your competitors on Google and rank your website higher than ever.