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Panda UpdateThe complete guide to the Google Panda Update

Panda History

Google is constantly making changes to the algorithm which determines where a website will be ranked in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages).  Starting on February 23, 2011, a very large change that affected 11.8% of search queries was released by Google.  They eventually named this algorithm change, the Panda Update1.  

The goal of the Panda Update was to increase the search engine rankings for high quality sites and decrease them for low quality sites.

So, what makes a site a “high quality site?” The Google Webmaster Central Blog2 lists a large number of things that they look for when assessing quality. Here is a summary of that list:

  • Are the articles on your site full of good detailed information, or very shallow?
  • Do you have duplicate content? This could mean that content is duplicated on multiple pages or that you have content that is duplicated on other sites across the web.
  • Do you have spelling errors?
  • Do your articles provide original content that can’t be found elsewhere on the web?
  • Would people want to bookmark and share your content?
  • Are there a distracting number of ads on your pages?

Panda Diagnosis

Sites that have been affected by the Panda algorithm tend to have a very distinct drop in traffic that happens immediately after a Panda update. Here is an example of analytics for a site that suffered a Panda hit:

Panda update Google Analytics

Sometimes it is not as super obvious as the chart above. Here are the analytics for a site that I believe had a drop on a known Panda date. They had problems with a duplicate version of their site being online. Shortly after they cleaned up that site they appear to have had a recovery. (The site has other Panda issues to be addressed, so it’s not a full recovery at this point, but we’re getting there):

Panda Recovery Analytics

The key is to look at each of the known dates of Panda refreshes and see if they correspond to a traffic drop on your site.

Known Panda Update dates:

If your site was directly affected by Panda, then the drop has to be immediately after one of these dates. These are the dates of the Panda updates3:

Here are the dates of the known Panda updates

  • Februrary 23, 2011
  • April 11, 2011
  • May 9, 2011
  • June 21, 2011
  • July 23, 2011
  • August 12, 2011
  • September 28, 2011
  • November 18, 2011
  • January 18, 2012
  • February 27, 2012
  • March 23, 2012
  • April 19, 2012
  • April 27, 2012
  • June 8, 2012
  • June 25, 2012
  • July 24, 2012
  • August 20, 2012
  • Sep 18, 2012
  • Sep 27, 2012
  • Nov 5, 2012
  • Nov 21, 2012
  • Dec 21, 2012
  • Jan 22, 2013
Important Facts about Diagnosis of a Panda hit:
  • If your traffic drop did not happen immediately after one of the dates above, then you likely were not hit by Panda.
  • Panda tends to be a sitewide penalty. If you only have certain keywords that are declining, then this is probably not a Panda problem.


Panda Recovery

There have been many reports of sites recovering from a Panda Penalty. The key is to improve the quality of your site. (See the tips below). But first, here are some important things to know about Panda recovery:

  • Panda is not about backlinks, anchor text or other types of linking spam. Cleaning up your backlink profile will not help you recover from a Panda algorithm hit.
  • There is no need to file a reconsideration request if you have been hit by Panda. It won’t help.
  • Once you have cleaned up your site, you won’t see recovery until there has been another Panda refresh. Approximately once a month (sometimes longer or shorter), Google will roll out another Panda update. If your site has improved in quality enough, then the penalty will be lifted.

Here is the official word on Google on what needs to be done to escape from Panda2:

low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.

Recovery involves the following:

  • Scour your site for content that is thin. This would be content that offers little value to the reader, or would not be likely to be shared by people. This could also mean pages that only have one or two sentences of content. If you find pages on your site that fit this description you can either remove them, improve them, or add a meta robots tag to the head of this page so that Google does not include it in their index:

  • Look for duplicate content on your site. You may find that you have some pages that are duplicated across your site, or, you may find that you have content that is taken from other sites on the web. If you have scraped or stolen content, then get rid of it!
  • You may also get some ideas by reading these stories of Panda Recovery from other webmasters.
  • Once you have made the changes to improve your site’s quality, you’ll need to wait for the next Panda Refresh to see if you have recovered. A refresh tends to happen approximately every 4-6 weeks.