What Is Google Panda? The Update That Changed Everything

Aaron Haynes
Dec 30, 2023
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Commencing early 2011, the rollout of Google Panda began over a decade ago. Panda signified a seismic shift in the search engine’s approach to ranking web pages. In fact, it was so impactful it continues to influence search rankings and how marketing professionals engineer their SEO strategies to this day.

Fast forward to the present day, and it’s well worth exploring the enduring legacy of Panda.

To do so, in this guide, we

  1. answer the question, “What is Google Panda?”
  2. investigate its significance to SEO in a present-day context,
  3. and offer our predictions on how Google Panda will continue to affect search results in the future.

What Is Google Panda?

Spanning from February 2011 through July 2015, the update was rolled out in 28 separate iterations, predominantly engineered to tackle the ever-increasing issue of “thin content.” Thin content was being proliferated by what is now referred to as content farms—websites that produce large amounts of low-quality content—and scraper sites—websites that automatically pull content from other websites without permission—on a mass scale.

In response to the proliferation of low-quality and plagiarized content, the Panda update enabled Google to prioritize original, high-quality content and devalue websites known for rapidly producing substandard or plagiarized content, often through the exploitation of underpaid writers.

Google’s new approach with the Panda update established a benchmark for content quality in the SEO landscape.

Before we sign off on our Panda definition, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also briefly explore where the update got its name. In a Wired interview, Amit Singhal explains the name “Panda” came from Navneet Panda, the Google engineer who was largely behind the development of the technology that made the update possible. Navneet’s work enabled Google to use machine learning and algorithmic processes to assess the quality of content on a vast scale—something Google has previously tried and failed at.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Google Panda’s Impact

Beyond its unconventional name, Panda still stands as a major landmark in Google’s history. Unlike its algorithmic predecessors, Panda introduced a new dimension to the ranking process: the value and originality of content—adding a new layer of complexity to the SEO landscape.

Initially, the rollout of Panda sparked huge controversy. It affected an estimated 11.8 percent of all search queries in the US, a significantly higher impact than any other algorithmic update before it.

The consequences for sites that relied on substandard content were severe and wide-reaching. Some sites experienced a staggering 80 percent drop in visibility.

In a few notable cases, the impacts were so consequential that some domains lost a substantial amount of revenue. For instance, Demand Media, the parent company of eHow.com and Livestrong.com, reportedly suffered a $6.4 million loss in Q4 of 2011 due to the Panda update.

Other websites that were significantly affected include HubPages.com, About.com, and Jason Calacanis’s Mahalo.com. All of them saw a drastic decrease in their visibility on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), resulting in a decrease in traffic and, like Demand Media, a loss of revenue.

Some of these sites had to significantly shift their content strategies and improve their content quality to recover from the impact of the Panda update.

However, it’s important to note that the impact of the Panda update varied from site to site, and while some sites were negatively affected, others saw an increase in their visibility and traffic. For example, MotorTrend.com, which was initially hit by the Panda update, managed to recover and even improve its visibility compared to pre-Panda levels.

Why Is Google Panda Important?

Google’s Panda update placed user-centricity at the forefront of SEO. In other words, instead of simply adhering to traditional SEO practices that catered to Google’s on-page and off-page preferences, Panda highlighted the need to provide valuable, high-quality content that truly aligned with a user’s search query.

This shift in approach leveled the playing field in a significant way. For instance, smaller and mid-sized websites that were consistently publishing high-quality work saw their content climb up the SERPs, standing in stark contrast to some of the big-budget sites that focused their content efforts predominantly on quantity over quality—just like the ones we mentioned in the above section.

The influence of Google Panda extended beyond the impact of its initial rollout. The principles it introduced have, over time, become integral to Google’s core algorithm, setting the tone for future updates and continuing to define the outlay of the SEO landscape.

So, what does all of this mean for your website? Understanding the fundamentals behind Google Panda and its central focus on content quality is crucial for anyone looking to succeed in the world of SEO today. It stands as a reminder that the key to achieving and maintaining high SERP positioning is to provide real value to search engine users.

Google Panda: Present and Future

While the last Panda update rolled was completed in 2015, the principles of this update, and all the iterations before it, continue to shape Google’s algorithm updates into the future. A prime example is the recent Google Coati Algorithm update in November 2022. Google’s Coati, as unveiled by Hyung-Jin Kim, the Vice President of Google Search, represents the evolutionary successor to the Panda algorithm. Here’s how:

  • Coati continues to prioritize high-quality content, a principle at the heart of the Panda update.
  • Panda’s principles were absorbed into the larger core ranking algorithm and further developed in the Coati update.
  • Despite being an evolution of Panda, Coati is not considered a separate core update. Instead, it’s an integral part of the core ranking algorithm.

The principles set by Coati underscore the enduring relevance of Panda’s principles in today’s SEO landscape. It emphasizes the importance of quality, relevance, and user experience. So, while there may not be new Panda iterations, their spirits live on and continue to guide Google’s approach to ranking. As we look to the future, these principles are likely to remain at the core of SEO best practices.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Looking ahead, it’s evident that the emphasis on quality, relevance, and user experience will continue to be the cornerstone of SEO. A perspective that aligns seamlessly with Loganix’s SEO strategy—an emphasis on the creation of top-tier, pertinent content that delivers genuine value to users.

🚀 Don’t wait—contact us today to learn more about how we can help you succeed in the ever-evolving world of SEO. 🚀

Written by Aaron Haynes on December 30, 2023

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.