You may have heard about Google Panda and Penguin updates and penalties, but what do they really mean and why should you care?
Panda and Penguin are both filters and penalties in the Google algorithms that adversely affect the rankings of what Google considers to be low-quality websites. Panda is mostly about low-quality content on a website. Penguin is mostly about webspam, especially low-quality links pointing to a website (a.k.a. inbound links or backlinks). Some sites suffer from downgrading for both practices.
These algorithms are often refreshed (re-run), and updated (changed and re-run). Google also gives each refresh a version number, to make each update easier to identify. It is helpful for people who work in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to know about specific updates: for example, the Penguin 2.0 update, which took place in May 2013.
Google says this about Panda:
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, 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.
Google says this about 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.
The criteria Google uses to make determinations of quality is not a mystery. Google has been telling us for a long time what it expects to see in a good-quality website, including not only the type of content, but the kind of links which direct users to good-quality pages.
The Panda updates target low-quality content.
Signs of low-quality content:
- Duplicate or near duplicate content: This includes articles that have been distributed to multiple sites across the web. Changing a few words or sentences or rearranging their order is not enough for content to be considered unique.
- Not enough content: Pages with insufficient content are not considered meaningful, and therefore are not much use to readers.
- Keyword-stuffed content: We all feel the pain when we try to read this stuff. It was obviously written for the Search Engines and not for humans.
- Irrelevant content: Content on a page that is off-topic and not related to the rest of the website.
- Content that’s not useful: Content that Google cannot decipher is not considered to be useful enough to humans to appear in search results.
- Content shared with other websites is considered not useful.
- Pages that are just lists of links are not useful.
- Pages full of images or videos with little or no explanatory text are considered not useful.
In the past, this type of web content only hurt the rankings of the individual pages where it was published. Now, it negatively affects the rankings of the entire website on which it appears. The more low-quality content a site has, the more it is likely to be demoted in the rankings.
The Penguin updates target webspam.
The target of Penguin is webspam, which is indicated by unnatural or unearned incoming links, and keyword-stuffed internal links which direct traffic from one pages to other pages on the same website.
Signs of low-quality links:
- All or most links go to home page: Google contends that if a site is full of quality content, it will attract links to different pages and not just to the home page.
- Off-topic links: Links from forums, blogs and websites that are unrelated to what you do, do not help your pages rank. If a link doesn’t make sense to humans, it doesn’t make sense to Google, either. Good links come from pages that are about your industry and/or your location, or are from other websites in your location or industry.
- Links from bad neighborhoods: This includes free-for-all directories and sites participating in links schemes. (See Google’s definition of a link scheme here.)
- Too many links from other sites you own or control.
- Sitewide links: These are links from all the pages on a site, and are usually found in the page footers or sidebars.
- Too many exact match links: These are links with text that exactly matches the term(s) for which you wish to rank. This can hurt you if it appears on your site, as well as on other sites.
- Too many links of the same type: such as forum links, article links or blog comment links.
- Linking out to off-topic pages and low-quality websites rather than to good ones that naturally segue from your pages.
Unnatural Link Notices
The surest sign of a link-related penalty from Google is a written warning from Google via your Webmaster Tools account. The warning will state there are unnatural links pointing to it, although websites that receive these are often egregious offenders. However, having even one link from a site that is being targeted by Google might be enough to get a formal notice.
These notices are sent out after a human review of a site’s links. In order to get this penalty lifted, all the bad links need to be removed, and you must file for reconsideration. Most business owners should avoid trying to sort this out themselves. If you’ve received a warning from Google in Webmaster Tools, get professional help fast.
Panda Detection and Recovery
If you’ve been hit by Panda, there’s no point in pussyfooting around: Google thinks your entire site is of low quality. Unless you take drastic steps to improve it, your website will sink further in the rankings as additional updates and refreshes appear.
First, evaluate all of your pages for quality and usefulness. If you think they are good quality pages, you may need more objective eyes to take a look. Then, make sites more useful to readers by eliminating pages with little value, and combining shorter pages about similar topics. Remove any content that is not unique to your website, and avoid presenting the same content on more than one of your URLs. Create new, more useful content and promote it on social media, so that it attracts viewers (and tweets, shares or +1s). Make sure you are not overusing keywords in either your text content or in the links pointing from one of your pages to another.
Penguin Detection and Recovery
Although you may have not received a notice from Google, you may not have escaped the consequences of a manipulative-looking link profile. The websites that Penguin demotes do not receive these warnings: they simply become adversely affected by the algorithm. No reconsideration request is needed to recover from an algorithmic Penguin hit.
If it looks like you suffered from a Penguin update, a thorough examination of the website’s backlink profile is in order. Obviously, bad and iffy links should be removed in a process known as link pruning. At the same time, good-quality links need to be gained to get the backlink profile back on track towards a good balance. Before the site will regain its rankings, Google will need to re-crawl your site, find and index your new, good links, and prove that the bad links have disappeared.
Free Tools to Help You Tell
It’s fairly simple to tell if you’ve taken a hit from either Penguin or Panda by using the Panquin Tool. It’s free, easy-to-use software that overlays known Google quality updates on your traffic as recorded by Google Analytics. You need to have Google Analytics installed on your website and you must give the tool access to your account.
If you see a precipitous drop coinciding with an update, that should be proof enough to spur you into action. Here’s an example of a site that was slammed by Panda last October and has not yet recovered:
You may find little to salvage on a site that has been badly damaged by either or both of these penalties, and decide to start over completely. When this is the case, take a long, hard look at your online goals and design your new site to support those goals and to be valuable to searchers. Then, you must not do anything where the primary purpose is to manipulate the Search Engines. This is the best way to Panda-proof and Penguin-proof your site for the future.
If you find that your site has taken a few hits and not recovered, you may want to find expert help. Sixth Man Marketing is dedicated to helping to make your website work better for you. Please call us if you need assistance!