Google debuted its Panda algorithm on February 24, 2011, as part of its goal to improve the quality of its search results and show users quality content. Since the initial launch, Google has implemented eight updates of varying degrees aimed at perfecting the algorithm to ensure search queries always produce results most likely to satisfy the user.

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Panda is just one of the algorithms used by Google to rank web content in its search results. However, of all the recent Google initiatives, Panda has certainly had the biggest impact on SERPs in terms of eliminating websites that contain low-quality content. Almost immediately after launching the first Panda iteration, content farms and other websites with poorly written, keyword-stuffed information lost rank or disappeared completely from Google search results.

Following the first Panda update, Sistrix came out with much discussed list of the biggest Panda losers based on its own Visibility Index. As the company’s chart suggests, the sites that suffered the most seemed to lack a clear, niche focus in their content, instead offering shallow information on various topics.

The Development of Google Panda

The name “Panda” comes from Google engineer Navneet Panda, who developed the technology that made it possible for Google to create and implement the algorithm.

The technology Navneet Panda pioneered allows the search giant to algorithmically assess websites by many of the same quality categories (including site speed and content’s uniqueness and value) initially used by Google’s human website testers. Additionally, marketers and site developers believe the Panda algorithm factors visitors’ site interactions into search rankings. This suggests high bounce rates,low dwell times and related factors are all signals to Panda that a website is low quality.

Google distinguished engineer Matt Cutts gave an in-depth interview with Wired magazine talking about the development of Google Panda.

Google Panda and Quality Content for SEO

Since Panda was launched, Matt Cutts has been adamant in saying that the easiest way for websites to avoid negative consequences is to focus on creating strong content. In fact, Google came out with a blog post that essentially gave marketers the SEO tip to focus on content. In it, Google posed a series of questions marketers should ask themselves to determine whether their content is Panda-proof, including:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

Writing content that focuses on informing website visitors, rather than trying to achieve search rank by using shallow content filled with keywords, will likely generate higher SERP standings. Common SEO concepts, such using keyword-rich URLs (that are relevant to specific web pages), opting for exact match domains, cultivating inbound links, etc, are still likely to help a company boost their its rankings. The difference, however, is that Panda is programmed to decipher between natural, effective keyword use as part of a quality content marketing campaign and forced keyword placement designed solely to force a company up rankings.

Signs of a Panda-healthy Site

There are certain metrics marketers can look for to ensure that their websites are not being negatively impacted by Panda. Signs of a Panda-healthy site also indicate that the content being published is effective for SEO.

Panda-healthy indicators include:

  • Growth in the number of cached pages over time as more content pages are added
  • Organic traffic levels remain steady or (ideally) increase over time and through Panda updates
  • Keyword rankings remain fairly steady or increase over time and through Panda updates
  • The number of referring keywords to a site remains steady or (ideally) increases as more content is added to a site

Google Panda-proof Resources

Marketers looking to learn more about how to protect their websites from Google can check out these resources:

The existing Panda updates have been rolled out as follows:

  • Panda – February 24, 2011
  • Panda 2.0 – April 11, 2011
  • Panda 2.1 – May 10, 2011
  • Panda 2.2 – June 16, 2011
  • Panda 2.3 – July 23, 2011
  • Panda 2.4 – August 12, 2011
  • Panda 2.5 – September 28, 2011
  • Panda 3.0 – October 19, 2011
  • Panda 3.1 – November 18, 2011
  • Panda 3.2 – January 18, 2012
  • Panda 3.3 – February 27, 2012
  • Panda 3.4 – March 23, 2012
  • Panda 3.5 – April 19, 2012
  • Panda 3.6 – April 27, 2012
  • Panda 3.7 – June 8, 2012
  • Panda 3.8 – June 25, 2012
  • Panda 3.9 – July 24, 2012
  • Panda 3.9.1 – August 22, 2012
  • Panda 3.9.2 – September 18, 2012
  • Panda 20 – September 27, 2012
  • Panda 21 – November 6, 2012
  • Panda 22 – November 21, 2012
  • Panda 23 – December 21, 2012
  • Panda 24 – January 22, 2013
  • Panda 25 – March 15, 2013 (unconfirmed)
  • Panda 26 – July 18, 2013
  • Panda 4.0 – May 20, 2014
  • Panda 4.1 – September 23, 2014
  • Panda 4.2 – July 28, 2015