Since the early 2000s, Google has been updating and changing its algorithm to better suit their customers’ needs … as well as laugh manically in the background as website owners watched their traffic burst into a ball of flames. Or, so we believe. From index overhauls, to complete algorithmic changes, Google has been updating itself for years, but one of the biggest algorithm changes that still affect websites today is the ‘Panda Update.’
To understand why the panda update emerged back in 2011, you have to go back even farther, into 2010 with the ‘Caffeine’ update. This update not only allowed Googlebot to crawl the web faster, but it also produced a much fresher index than ever before, as explained in Wired interview with Matt Cutts in 2011. The result ended up meaning that more recent content began to appear in search results, some good and some bad.
Though Google was no longer ranking websites that contained nonsensical mumbo-jumbo high in the results, it was still not showing enough content that gave value to searchers. So, Google came up with another plan that would actively devalue (and punish) what it considered websites with shallow content. To help its customers find the most valuable information available, Google promoted the best content in search results and punished the content it deemed bad.
What Is Panda, Exactly?
Google’s Panda update is primarily an update that seeks out and investigates the content on your website to see if the content is unique, well-written, and interesting.
Panda, named after one of the engineers working on the algorithm, first rolled out over several months in the beginning of 2011 and was believed to have affected 12% of all search results across all industries. This algorithm isn’t just a one-time rollout. It is believed to update itself once every 30 days over the course of a 10-day time frame. Therefore, don’t believe your website is safe just because it was created after 2011. With more than 25 known updates to the algorithm, there is no way to avoid getting hit by it if you’re a perpetrator of bad, duplicated, or shallow content. Remember, Panda will devalue your whole website, not just individual shallow pages.
How Did Panda Affect Websites?
Before webmasters knew that Google named it Panda, they began calling the new algorithm change ‘Farmer,’ because it seemed to first attack content farm websites and quickly devalued them. Over the coming months, Google would roll out additional updates to Panda in attempts to tweak the original algorithm to block more bad websites, to prevent good websites from being accidentally hit, as well as expand the update to hit websites in other languages. Over the course of the updates, many popular websites were hit, meaning that the updates were taking on newer signals.
After some more analysis, webmasters began understanding that many of the sites hit had several things in common, such as:
- Intrusive/large/annoying advertisements
- Old/messy/not user-friendly UI designs
- Low quality/generic content
- Blocked websites by searchers
- Duplicate content
- Useless pages such as 404s
What Did Panda Teach Us and Google?
The Panda update taught webmasters that Google has, and always will, have its customers’ (searchers) best interest at heart. As a business, Google is going to try and offer what it thinks is the best website to answer its customers’ queries so that they will continue to use Google as their preferred search engine. If the search engine believes that you aren’t one of the best viable options for its customers, then you’ll get kicked to the bottom of the stack.
Therefore, you need to take the content on your website seriously and try to view it from a potential customer’s or client’s perspective. Today, with large advertisements and old-school UI design falling off the grid, content has become the main concern. If you can provide new, interesting and unique content continuously on your site, then you should be able to side-step a Panda attack in the future. Though Panda has been able to do its job pretty well, and seems to be getting better all the time, there are still ways for bad websites to game the system and that is where the Penguin update comes in. That, of course, is a blog unto itself…
Stay tuned for Google Updates Pt. 2!