Google’s Panda & Penguin 101

Google penguin and panda updatesWhat are they and why should you care?

Google constantly tunes its algorithms in its quest to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. In a given year, Google typically makes 500 to 600 algorithm tweaks, most of which have cutesy codenames like Porky Pig or Old Possum. A little more than a year ago, the SEO community started buzzing about two particular updates codenamed Panda and Penguin. These updates intend to provide the end user with a better online experience, but some website owners that were affected noticed a loss of traffic and ultimately revenue, so it’s important to understand what these updates are.

According to Google’s official announcement of Panda:

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites…copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

We’ve all stumbled across a web page that offered absolutely no value to what we were searching for. Panda was the first-ever penalty that went after sites with low-quality, keyword-stuffed or scrapped (republished without permission) content that offers little value to readers. Online publishers (often described as content farms) could submit the same article to dozens of sites just to get a back link. Panda looks for sites with “thin content” like this and penalizes the entire site, pushing it further down in the search engine results page or, in the worst case, keeping it from showing up at all.

Penguin, on the other hand, targets what Google considers webspam. Tactics that don’t comply with Google’s quality guidelines are considered webspam, including keyword stuffing and cloaking.

According to Google’s official announcement of Penguin:

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.

Of course, Google is tight-lipped about exactly what signals Penguin picks up on, but the Internet is abuzz with speculation about what may trigger this penalty, including aggressive exact-match anchor text, overuse of exact-match domains, low-quality article marketing, blog comment spam, and keyword-stuffing your links.

So how do you know if these updates have affected your site? First, look at your analytics to see whether any drops in traffic align with release dates for Panda (February 23, 2011) and Penguin (April 24, 2012). Additionally, check your Google Webmaster Tools account for any messages about SPAMMY looking activity on your site. There could be any number of contributing factors, but if your decline in traffic corresponds to the release dates, or if you were notified by Google, chances are you were hit by Panda or Penguin. The folks over at SEOmoz and Search Engine Land offer some tips and advice for recovering from these updates, but the important thing to take away is that any type of recovery must happen naturally. Fix what you can instead of getting mad at Google. Then partner with an SEO consultant who can help develop a long-term SEO strategy specific to your needs.

Still have questions? Sound off in the comment section below.