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What is Google Panda?

Google Panda was a major algorithm update that demoted the rankings of sites with low-quality content and boosted the rankings of sites with high-quality content.

Google rolled out the Panda update on February 23, 2011. The update was originally released in the United States but was expanded to include all English language search queries on April 11, 2011. 

On August 12, 2011, the Panda update was further expanded to include other languages except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

At the time, Google said the update would affect between 6 and 9% of non-English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean searches. This contrasted with the initial Panda update, which Google expected to affect 11.8% of English language searches. 

Google released monthly updates to the Panda system until July 17, 2015. That same year, Google added Panda to its core ranking algorithm.

How Google Panda Got Its Name

Google did not announce a name for the Panda update when it was originally released on February 23, 2011. So, Dan Sullivan of Search Engine Land called it the “Farmer” update since it primarily targeted content farms.

Google would later confirm the update was called “Big Panda” in internal documents. Google said the update was named after one of its engineers, Navneet Panda, who played a major role in its development.

Importance of Google Panda

A month before releasing the Panda update, Google published a blog post about the increased amounts of spam on search results pages. Unlike traditional webspam, which was more or less gibberish and mostly irrelevant to the search query, this new spam content was mostly low-quality content. 

Google then released the Panda update to demote sites publishing low-quality, spammy content.

According to Matt Cutts, who was on Google’s Web Spam Team, the affected sites published content that was good enough not to be considered “pure webspam.” However, the content was still webspam even though it was not pure webspam.

These low-quality content were typically published on content farms, that is, sites that publish large amounts of content within a short period of time. Many of these articles were published with the intent to rank on Google search results pages and were not typically helpful to the visitor. 

Many popular sites that published large amounts of content, including Answerbag, Buzzle, eHow, EzineArticles, HubPages, Mahalo, and Suite 101, lost significant traffic to the Panda update. The loss of ranking was controversial in a few cases, particularly in instances when the site published high-quality articles. 

Sites That Lost Rankings to the Google Panda Update

Content farms were not the only types of sites that lost traffic to Google Panda. Many other non-content farm sites also lost traffic. We have listed the types of sites that lost traffic to the Panda update below. 

  • Content farms
  • Article directories
  • Ad-heavy sites
  • Scraper sites
  • Affiliate sites
  • Türseiten
  • Low-quality user-generated platforms

Content Farms: These sites contain many low-quality, thin, or duplicate content. Their content is typically written to rank on search results pages and drive ad revenue to the publishing site. 

Article Directories: These sites publish numerous articles without stringent editorial standards. They have little editorial oversight over their content or authors, causing them to publish low-quality articles.

Ad-Heavy Sites: These are sites with excessive advertising that disrupt the user experience of their visitors. The ads either prevent the visitor from accessing the content or are so high up the page that visitors have to scroll to access the content. 

Scraper Sites: These are sites that copy and paste content from other sites. Such content is considered duplicate content since it is available elsewhere on the web. 

Affiliate Sites: These sites primarily contain affiliate links with little original or helpful content. They are intended to rank on search results pages and drive revenue for the affiliate.

Doorway Pages: These are pages created solely to rank for specific keywords and funnel visitors that click to another page. Sometimes, these pages were owned by an affiliate trying to get the visitor to purchase a product.

Low-Quality User-Generated Platforms: These platforms have poorly moderated or low-quality content submitted by their users. These sites are often used to organize link schemes with the intent of manipulating the Google Search algorithm.

Sites That Benefitted From the Google Panda Update

Many sites saw their rankings go up as Google demoted the rankings of other sites. Some of the sites that saw their rankings improve during the Panda update include:

  • High-quality content sites
  • Trusted news sites
  • Educational sites
  • Niche blogs and specialty sites
  • Reputable content aggregators
  • Reputable health and medical sites
  • High-quality user-generated platforms

High-Quality Content Sites: These sites have original, well-researched, and valuable content. Their content is high-quality and helpful, causing them to rank higher on Google search results pages. 

Trusted News Sites: These are established news sites with authoritative and reliable reporting. They provide visitors with verifiable and trustworthy information. 

Educational Sites: These are platforms that provide in-depth, informative, and well-organized educational content to visitors. They are typically authoritative and high-quality.

Niche Blogs and Specialty Sites: These are blogs and websites that focus on specific topics with deep insights and high-quality articles. The authors of these sites are typically experts and authoritative sources in the field.

Reputable Content Aggregators: These are sites that curate content from various sources but include significant value through quality control and editorial oversight. Such content is not considered duplicate and is typically helpful to the visitor. 

Reputable Health and Medical Sites: These are authoritative health and medical information platforms with expert contributions and evidence-based content. These sites are owned by governments and highly authoritative healthcare outlets.

High-Quality User-Generated Platforms: These are platforms that maintain high-quality user contributions through strict moderation. Examples include question-and-answer platforms like Quora and Stack Exchange. 

How Google Panda Determined Quality Content

Google used human raters to identify content targeted by the Panda update. The questions typically revolved around whether the rater trusted the site enough. 

For example, Google asked raters if they could give their kids drugs recommended on a site, whether they considered a site authoritative enough, or whether they thought the content could be published in a magazine. 

Google further confirmed the effectiveness of the Panda update by comparing the sites affected by the Panda algorithm with the sites Chrome users blocked from appearing in search results. They discovered an 84% overlap between the sites that lost rankings and sites blocked by the Chrome Site Blocker. 

While Google does not provide the specific algorithm used by the Panda update, it mentioned a few qualities it looks out for when determining whether an article is high-quality. They include:

  • Visitors trust the information on the site
  • The content was written by a person with deep knowledge of the topic
  • The article is not a duplicate or near-duplicate of another article on the site
  • Visitors trust the site enough to give it their credit card information
  • The content is well-written without spelling, style, or factual mistakes
  • The article was written to provide answers to reader’s questions and not with the intent of ranking on search results pages
  • The content is original and provides original information about the topic
  • The content provides visitors with helpful information when compared to other content on the search results page
  • The site maintains high-quality editorial control over the article
  • The content covers both sides of a story
  • The site is an authority on the topic 
  • The content is not mass-produced
  • The content is well-edited
  • Visitors recognize the site as an authority from just its name
  • The article provides detailed and in-depth information on the topic
  • The article contains clear and interesting information that is not obvious
  • Visitors are likely to bookmark, share, or recommend the page
  • The article does not contain several ads that block or distract the visitor from interacting with the content
  • The article can be published in a magazine, book, or encyclopedia
  • The article is not short, irrelevant, or unhelpful
  • The author paid attention to details when creating the article
  • Visitors will not complain when they encounter content from the site
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