What Is Google Panda?

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Google Panda is the name of an update to Google’s search algorithm, one that has fundamentally changed the way SEO campaigns are executed.

What Is Google Panda — Why It Came About

Introduced in 2011, Google Panda was designed to stop rewarding low-quality content with high organic rankings. In the years leading up to Panda, the SEO industry had gone content-crazy. As SEO research was making it more and more clear that Google’s search algorithm rewarded domains that published a lot of content on-site and off-site, SEO campaigns flooded the Internet with articles, blog posts, press releases and every other form of HTML content it could dream up. 

Quantity, not quality, was the determining factor in getting content to rank, and SEO campaigns were taking full advantage by churning out articles on top of articles focused on every keyword under the sun. Not only did this lead to a situation where the Internet was awash in poorly written content with little, if any, value to the reader, it led to the creation and flourishing of so-called “content farms” — websites that published low-quality articles on every topic imaginable.

All of this low-quality content was becoming a real concern for Google. Its search engine users were looking for quality content — content that was relevant, useful and authoritative. Content-farm style content, which was beginning to dominate rankings for many keywords by 2011, had none of those qualities:

  • Often, the low-quality content was barely relevant or irrelevant to the keywords — the SEO campaign was just after rankings.
  • The low-quality content was useless, as it contained no research, no insight and no originality.
  • The low-quality content was not authoritative, as it contained grammatical errors, was incoherent and, in many cases, written by novices with little knowledge of the topic at hand.

Google had to stop low-quality content from pushing high-quality content out of its SERPs (search engine results pages). If that were to happen, people would stop using Google for search, and that would be game over! Google’s existence was at stake, and Google Panda was the search giant’s response.

What Is Google Panda — The Evolution 

Initially, Google Panda was a quality filter applied to content apart from its core algorithm. When the update was first introduced, it affected over 10 percent of its search results, which was a pretty big number that got the attention of the SEO industry in no uncertain terms. Communicating more openly about Panda than most of its updates, Google let it be known that poorly researched and poorly written content were out. Content farms were out. Duplicate content with no other purpose than to cover additional keywords — out. Websites with a high ad-to-content ratio and websites blocked by users — out.

The Panda update was great news for SEO teams that had emphasized quality content all along in their campaigns, and it was terrible news for SEO teams that had gone overboard in churning out thin content.

The SEO industry response to Panda was typical of this sort of thing: an abrupt shift from one extreme to another. For instance, SEO teams removed all client press releases from various online press release sites — even ones that had merit. They feverishly rewrote pages upon pages of on-site content to improve quality — even ones that were good enough already. Perhaps most significantly, any type of duplicate content set off alarm bells — when in fact, a lot of duplicate issues were not targeted by Panda and presented no SEO issues whatever.

Over the next few years, Google Panda went through several updates, and by 2016 was integrated into the core algorithm. No longer an extra quality filter, Panda technology, used to identify quality content, was woven into the base Google search engine.

What Is Google Panda — The Aftermath

 Google Panda was undoubtedly a successful update for Google, its search engine users and the SEO industry in general. 

From Google’s point of view, the company had taken a huge step forward in its ability to evaluate and rank quality of content — a very big step if you think about how hard it is to turn human, qualitative assessments of quality into mathematical formulae.

From the search engine user point of view, Panda was a giant win, as users no longer view the Google search engine as an exercise in looking for a quality needle in a garbage haystack. 

From the SEO industry’s point of view, it has been healthy to focus on producing quality content rather than relying on cheap shortcuts. While it does take more time, effort and expense to produce the quality content Google looks for, the result for the client is more conversions — because the content does more than just rank, it persuades readers to buy something. 

Poor content, like all other SEO shortcuts, doesn’t generate the kind of ROI that sustains SEO campaigns. Panda may have been hard medicine, but it certainly has led to a healthier SEO environment for agencies and clients. 

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