SEO 101 series: Google Panda

Continuing with my SEO101Hydra series sharing SEO fundamentals as I learn them, I’ll be looking at Panda, one of Googles’ topic classifier algorithms. In this blog I’ll cover the history, how it works and what to watch out for.

What is Panda?panda_image_150x160

Panda was first launched in 2011 and is Google’s most advanced attempt to codify a subjective human opinion of what makes a page “good” into an algorithm. Panda was the first of Google’s algorithms, however a further two, Penguin and Hummingbird, have been launched since and I’ll be covering both of these in the coming weeks.

Why is it named after a bear?

In fact, Google Panda is actually named after Navneet Panda, the engineer who led the team which designed this clever algorithm that scores websites on their content and user experience.

How does Panda work?

Panda is what is known as a ‘topic classifier’ (or a webpage scorer). It’s too complex to integrate fully into the algorithm so Google has to periodically run the index through the classifier periodically to score each page in the index. This score then becomes a ranking factor in the algorithm – and in the case of Panda it is a very important ranking factor.

These given scores for a webpage can affect how high that webpage ranks. Duplicate content, poor spelling or grammar and the number of ads on the page can all imply poor content and user experience, which will therefore be scored lower (and consequently ranked lower) thanks to the Panda algorithm. The below diagram provides a visual of where the Panda algorithm sits within Google’s overall complex system of ranking:

Overview Of Google's Infrastructure

Panda will also use metrics such as click through rates (CTR), bounce rates, time on site, repeat visits and other user and social signals to identify whether a page is of high or low quality. The results of the algorithm are validated by a manual quality rating and feedback from users blocking sites from showing in their personal search results (through the “personal blocklist” extension on chrome). Back in 2011 when Panda was released in the UK it was primarily comparison sites and content farms like about.com that were hit hardest, with some sites losing almost all visibility.

What to watch out for

Because of the Panda algorithm, it is essential for webmasters to pay close attention to the quality of their content and user engagement. In a rare occurrence, Google have given a hint to determining what ‘quality’ is by publishing 23 questions webmasters should ask themselves when looking at the quality of their content. Thanks Google!

The search engine giant has also recommended removing low quality content from pages as this can impact an entire site’s rankings. The Panda Patent gives more of an insight into how this works. To put it simply, Google seems to assign each page/URL a value, which is then reordered in search results for a particular search query when a refresh of Panda takes place, which is based on the quality of the group (which could be a website e.g. a group of webpages).

Whilst Google previously refreshed the Panda classifier around once a month, it is now rolled out silently across a 10 day period each month, which makes it difficult to identify when ranks have changed because of Panda. With this in mind, it is essential for site owners to concentrate on producing high quality content and to encourage users to engage, rather than bounce from a page. This will help to ensure they are not “Kung Fu” slapped by the Panda algorithm which leads to a reduction in rank, and ultimately revenue!

Points to remember

  • Panda scores webpages on their content and user experience. The lower this is deemed to be, the lower that page will rank in Google’s search results. On the other hand, producing very high quality content and a good user experience will be rewarded with higher ranks.
  • When Google gives out hints, use them. Spending time acknowledging the 23 questions Google published will ensure websites are living up to the high standards of quality that Google is after.
  • Keep an eye out for low quality content pages. These can have an effect on the entire websites’ rankings so they are important to pick out and fix before Panda “Kung Fu” slaps them!


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