November 3, 2014 | Holly Yalove

Panda and Penguin: Understanding Google's Latest Updates

Google Updates: Penguin and Panda

To the average website owner, talk of pandas and penguins just evokes images of cute animals. To SEO professionals, Google's latest Panda and Penguin algorithm updates mean possible impacts to keyword rankings.

There are over 200 signals that impact search engine ranking, and the Panda and Penguin updates monitor signals related to content quality and webspam. After the latest round of algorithm updates, webmasters are either breathing a sigh of relief for a job well done, or are scrambling to fix an unexpected drop in website traffic.

If you were wondering what the heck Panda and Penguin are, or worried that your site may be impacted, this post will help. Read on to learn what the Panda and Penguin updates are, and what to do if your site was negatively affected.

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What Are Panda and Penguin?

Google constantly changes its search algorithm, to the tune of 500+ times per year. In the last few years, some of the more significant changes have been named after animals, like Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, and Hummingbird.

Although rankings constantly fluctuate with smaller changes and competitor activity each week, SEO professionals and search marketers keep a close eye on the bigger updates, which can explain significant gains or losses in search engine ranking.

  • Panda updates focus on content quality, penalizing sites with low-quality content. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far, Google has discovered signals to help Panda more precisely identify low-quality content. According to Far, "This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice." The latest Panda update (Panda 4.1) was Google's 27th release, and it began rolling out slowly on September 25th, 2014, continuing into early October.
  • Penguin updates are focused on filtering out spammy websites. webspam tactics are those aimed at manipulating search results via practices against Google's quality guidelines such as link building schemes. Penguin 3.0 was Google's 5th update of this type, and was rolled out late at night on October 17, 2014.


What to Do if Your Page Rankings Dropped

Panda 4.1 affected 3-5% of queries and Penguin was reported to have impacted fewer than 1% of queries in US English search results. Although Google never shares details of their algorithmic secrets, they do provide guidance for building high-quality websites.

If you are an SEO novice lost in the sea of animal talk, don't worry - you don't need extensive technical knowledge to make the most of these updates, or to address a drop in search engine rankings. Here's a list of things you can do to improve your page rankings:

Panda and Penguin Checklist

Does your website have "thin" content?

If your website is content-rich and offers pages of unique and relevant information for your visitors, you can give check this off your list. If you aren't blogging or creating content regularly, or if most of your pages are pretty skimpy, you likely have some work ahead.

According to initial research after the latest updates, there were several types of websites that will be most affected. These include "content farms," low-quality affiliate websites, broad informational websites that cover a bit about everything, and sites that are heavy in affiliate links. For a deeper analysis, Marketing Land has a great post with all the details.

What to do:

  • Add more valuable content to thin pages
  • Start blogging and give your visitors great content they can use and share
  • If there is very little text on a page for a legitimate reason (like if a plugin is handling the major functionality of the page), exempt the page from indexing
  • If you have ads or affiliate links on your website, make sure there aren't too many placed above your main content area


Does your website have keyword-stuffed pages?

If your website content is built around your buyer personas and written in natural language, you are probably not guilty of keyword stuffing. If you have paid for on-site SEO services years ago (when keyword stuffing was common), or had SEO services provided by questionable sources, it's time for a content audit.

What to do:

  • SEO professionals use various tools to monitor keyword use and overuse. For WordPress users, the SEO Yoast plugin is a great option for checking yourself against the "rules," and there are both free and paid versions available.
  • If your site is built with HubSpot, use the built in reporting tools provided to monitor keyword use.


Does your website have duplicate content?

If your content is original, unique, and does not plagiarize other websites, you are off to a good start. You also want to ensure you don't have duplicate pages within your site, and there are tools you can use to check for duplicate content.

What to do:

  • Use the "HTML Suggestions" in your Google Webmaster Tools to ensure Google isn't picking up on content duplication.
  • Google's Matt Cutts provides some great video tips to avoid duplicate content in specific situations, such e-commerce websites that sell a product sold elsewhere on the web.


Can Google find your website's content?

Basically, the easier you make it for Google to index and efficiently crawl your website pages, the better off your site will be. This is where it gets tricky if you aren't a techie. Including a sitemap will offer search engines a detailed list of URLs you would like them to crawl.

Google recommends using both XML sitemaps and RSS/Atom feeds for optimal crawling. Specialized XML sitemaps help search engines crawl websites more intelligently, and RSS/Atom feeds ensure that new and revised content are discoverable.

What to do:

  • Make sure your website has an XML sitemap and RSS feed, and submit your sitemap to Google (and Bing) using their webmaster tools.
  • If you want to know more about getting the most out of sitemaps, here is a great primer.


Do you have questionable backlinks to your website?

If your efforts to get inbound links to your website are focused on creating great content targeted to your buyer personas, you're doing the right thing. If you are trying to trick the search engines with backlink schemes, you can expect to be found out and penalized. Websites that appear to be "over-optimized" using unnatural backlinks can actually harm your search engine rank. Being penalized for this is not new, but the latest Penguin update went deeper than the previous releases.

What to do:

  • Keep everything above-board in your SEO efforts and avoid "black hat" SEO techniques that violate Google's quality guidelines.
  • Focus your efforts on creating great content your website visitors will love and share.
  • Monitor your backlinks to ensure you don't have sites linking to yours which are harming your rank. There are great posts on Moz that go into details on link earning vs. link building, and a step-by-step guide on how to do backlink audits and remove unwanted links.

I hope this post has helped you understand the latest Panda and Penguin updates, and what to do if you think your website was impacted.

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Holly Yalove

Holly Yalove

As VIEO’s chief strategist and one of our principals, Holly Yalove serves as the head digital and inbound marketing strategy for our clients. She has used her extensive management, sales, and marketing experience to dramatically increase our digital marketing business, helping us become the well-rounded agency we are today.

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