On February 24, 2011, Google introduced the Panda update to its algorithm. Aimed at penalizing sites that offered only thin content, it set many SEOs and site owners to scrambling in the hope of saving their rankings. But it made many more think about what they really offer their visitors. Here's a look back at its effect.
Search Engine Land created a great infographic to cover the topic. In case you didn't know, Panda works like a filter that Google runs on its algorithm periodically to catch sites that don't offer substantial content. Each time Google runs it, website standings change. If you got caught by the filter the first time, but have improved your content, you may escape the filter; otherwise, you'll get caught again.
While Panda is only one of more than 200 factors Google uses to rank pages, its first use scared many sites; indeed, before Google announced the filter, many referred to it as the “Farmer” update, because it seemed tuned to catch content farm websites. These sites, sometimes also known as “scraper” sites, copy content wholesale from other websites. Some of these sites employ many writers who create articles specifically geared to match popular searches. Article quality is often uneven at best. At Panda's first use, Google noted that 12 percent of searches performed in the US were affected. That's a lot of searches – but not too surprising, since there are also a lot of content farms online.
In April 2011, Panda 2.0 improved on the original by covering more than just United States English. All English language queries came under its paw. These included queries from British and Australian versions of Google, as well as English language queries from non-English-speaking countries (for example, google.fr). At this point, Google began to make some minor tweaks to Panda on a monthly basis.
Panda 2.4, rolled out in August, brought the biggest change yet. Panda learned to speak other languages, and went international. The only languages not affected by Panda at this point were Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Interestingly, Panda wreaked less devastation on these sites; it affected 12 percent of US searches when it first came out, but only six to nine percent of non-English searches felt Panda's claw. In all likelihood, these non-English language sites took warning from the havoc caused in February, and realized Panda might be coming for them next. This knowledge gave them some time to prepare before the international onslaught in August.
Interestingly, another major update of Panda occurred in October – major enough for it to be referred to as Panda 3.0. But few people seemed to notice. Even so, Google continues to use Panda, tweaking and running the filter about every month.
What can you do if you believe you've been caught by the filter? The first thing you need to realize is that Panda's filter affects your entire website. As Search Engine land notes, “If enough pages are tagged as poor, the entire site is subject to Panda, though some good pages will continue to rank.” If you want to escape the filter, you need to remove or improve poor quality content. Then you'll need to wait until the next time Google runs Panda. Judging from the frequency of previous updates, this could happen in as little as three weeks or as long as two months. Good luck!
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