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Author's profile photo Jason Lax

SEO: Google Panda and You

“Panda” was an update to Google’s search results ranking algorithm that was first released in February 2011 and was followed up with numerous updates.  It was also rolled out globally in April 2011.


Google Panda Update 2011

The goal of the Panda update was to boost the rank of good quality sites in search results and push down low quality websites.


What exactly is Panda?

The question isn’t actually what but who: “Panda update” wasn’t some user friendly name chosen by a Google marketing guru rather is was named after Navneet Panda who made the update possible. Let see how.


The foundation of the Panda update are the results of a massive survey Google performed with ten thousand human testers that were asked to evaluate thousands of websites based on several pre-determined (and non-disclosed) signals, including: trustworthiness, performance (speed), if they would return to the site, and about content quality. (Google hints at these evaluation factors in their blog More Guidance on Building High Quality Websites)


After gathering all this information, Navneet Panda’s machine-learning algorithm was then applied to find similarities between websites said to be high and low quality. Once the results of the human testers and adjusted Google algorithm were aligned, the Panda update was released changing search and SEO forever. 


The Thin Content Problem

What drove the need for this massive update was a blind spot in the previous algorithm.  On one hand, one part of the old algorithm was evaluating the freshness and relevance of the page content.  On the other, another part of the algorithm was trying to assess how much spam was tolerable.  The blind spot was hundreds of sites containing thousands of targeted pages that made sense but didn’t bring any value to the users: these pages were targeted and informative but just enough to get users onto the page in order to bombard them with advertisements and links to follow. These thin, poor quality pages clogged search results and were making it increasingly difficult for users to find really useful, good quality search results.


Reconciling the different parts of the algorithm required a convergence that was only made possible by introducing the human factor into the mix: something dependent on the technology available and availability of trust worthy signals.  In the run up to the Panda update, that’s exactly what became available: Moore’s law was (is) still ticking along while the explosion in social media—the sudden sharing publicly of links and content by hundreds of millions of unique users—provided Google with another dimension for its search algorithm that was previously considered to spammable to rely on, such as blogging.


It’s easy to see that Google’s foray into social media over the past year is to some extent its way of gathering social signals directly from users without having to rely on other social media sites. 


What this means for SCN and Your Content

If I had to sum up what Google Panda means to content creators on SCN and elsewhere, I’d say quality and legitimacy.  While reviewing the tips below, keep in mind that the penalties under the Panda update are harsher than before: entire website can be penalized in search result rankings instead of just individual web pages.


  • Content duplication, intentionally (syndication) or not (content scrapping, duplication) is the biggest thing to watch out for:
    • Don’t post the same content in multiple places, such as on your personal blog and also SCN
    • Help prevent duplication by reporting duplicate content, whether malicious or not
  • Avoid thin content
    • Just don’t create content for the sake of creating content.  Unless your offering some new insight into something or adding your own personal experiences, don’t bother rehashing what’s already out there in your own words: just link to the original source instead with a brief explanation.
    • At the same time, report any thin, poor quality content you find: redundancies, broken links, repetitive information, etc.
    • Similarly, do update your published content with new insight and details as they become available.
  • Don’t forget the human touch!

Final Note of Warning

With the Panda update and subsequent tweaks, there really isn’t much room for gamming the system anymore. Some harbingers say that this is the end of SEO but I like to look at it as a new phase in search that will benefit users and quality content providers, and we can look forward to even more intuative search results in the near future, perhaps even before we know we need them…

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      Author's profile photo Gali Kling Schneider
      Gali Kling Schneider
      Quality and legitimacy are topics near and dear to the heart of many SCN content contributors and especially to our Moderators.
      Having community rate content - if you like content say so, is very much the path of the future in the new SCN.

      Thanks for summarizing so well, Jason. I learned a lot.

      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed
      Jason, nice job on this.

      I agree to a large extent on the "implications for SCN" from Panda.

      When you say, "Help prevent duplication by reporting duplicate content, whether malicious or not"

      It's interesting, because even legitimate use of duplicate content can get you in trouble with Panda.

      One example of something to avoid: if you have your own blog with an RSS feed, truncate the feed items so that you aren't syndicating the whole article. That makes it easier for "thieves" and "spammers" to take that content and run with it.

      One challenge with Panda is that if Google judges your site to be using duplicate content, a site wide, as opposed to page specific, penalty is typically imposed, meaning that if folks post duplicate content to SCN, SCN runs the risk of a site wide search penalty as a result which impacts Google search visibility.

      I've long maintained that duplicate content on SCN isn't the best idea, but this is one more argument to post original content here, or at least heavily customize what you post here which is what I do sometimes when I am posting a podcast summary and writeup here on SCN for example.

      One thing to point out is that Panda isn't universally considered a success. It's been criticizes for several reasons, including:

      - Panda seems to struggle with determining which version of a duplicate piece of content is the original and which one is the syndicated version. I know site owners of original content who have been punished by this unfairly.

      - Panda seems to emphasize big brand name sites, whether or not the quality of the content on that big brand site is deserving (that's good for SAP and not as good for 🙂

      - Panda seems to prioritize discussion based sites in search, and I've seen that leads to increased visibility to "faux discussion" sites like Yahoo Answers, which got a big boost from Panda and is a really horrible site with plenty of careless and bogus results.

      It will be very interesting to see how the new Jive SCN site fares in Panda. I'm guessing based on the overall criteria of Panda it will fare pretty well.

      - Jon