Sean Butcher

Google Core Algorithm Updated to Incorporate Panda


It’s been confirmed that Google has made some major changes to its core ranking algorithm.

Part of this change is the incorporation of Panda – the content quality-based algorithm first launched in 2011. In a highly in-depth article published on The SEM Post, a Google spokesperson said:

Panda quote from Google

You can read the rest of Jennifer Slegg’s  fascinating post, which has numerous quotes from Google contained within it at:

There has since been a lot of confusion around this update and its relation to some major changes in traffic that were seen over the last week. I’m hoping that below I will be able to clear up some of that confusion, as well as provide some tips on what to do next.

A weekend of algorithmic fluctuations – not related to Panda (or Penguin) says Google

The tail end of last week saw unprecedented chatter and high speculation in the SEO community that Google were making some big changes to the way they ranked websites. Many reported major shifts in rankings and traffic figures, and with the much-anticipated Penguin 4.0 algorithm update now long-overdue, initial thoughts turned to this as the possible cause.

The below screenshots from Mozcast and AWR show a peak in algorithmic activity on Friday January 8th.

Mozcast Weather History

AWR Algorithm Activity

However, after a number of SEO experts pressed Google’s team on the subject, Google Trends Analyst John Meuller finally confirmed on Twitter that we weren’t seeing anything related to Penguin.

John Mueller Twitter Conversation

Obviously, we now know that it is Panda, and not the Penguin algorithm that Google has been giving its most recent focus to. We also now know that the high algorithmic activity and the addition of Panda to Google’s core algorithm are just a coincidence, and not part of the same update.

As you can see below, Google’s Gary Illyes later confirmed in a Twitter conversation that the two events were unrelated.

Gary Illyness Twitter Conversation with Jennifer Slegg

So what exactly were Google up to? At this stage this is still unclear, but given the huge reaction that the Panda news caused, it seems they have successfully managed to divert the major focus of their activity last weekend.

What do the core algorithm changes mean?

Panda had, until now, been a separate entity from Google’s main algorithm – a filter relying on pushed manual updates occurring once every year or so. The last update (Panda 4.2) came in July 2015, whilst Panda 4.1 was released way back September 2014.

The frustration of this approach for many webmasters was that, if they ended up with an algorithmic penalty due to breaching Panda’s guidelines, there would usually be a long wait until the next manual update to see any sort of recovery.

The fact that Panda is now part of the core algorithm is likely to mean that this is no longer the case. Instead, content quality will be taken into account when Google decides what websites to rank in its search results on a far more frequent basis.

It is worth noting however that Google has not confirmed that this change will result in the “real-time” Panda updates that many were expecting.

What can you do to avoid a Panda attack?

So following the recent news about Panda becoming part of Google’s core algorithm, what are the things you should be aware of?

Panda is an algorithm based on the quality of the content on your website, and the experience it offers. Therefore, it’s now more important than ever to consider the quality of the content on your website.

Most importantly – is your content really delivering value for your users? This is especially important when it comes to answering their search query in the most accurate way possible.

Here are a few tips to help you in your attempts to stay on the right side of the Panda algorithm.

Don’t end up removing useful content

Many who are affected by Panda are quick to remove content that they believe is impacting their website’s performance. However, this hasty approach can often lead to having a negative effect, as the content is being used by Google in the ranking of the website.

The most important thing to do when assessing which content could potentially cause any problems is to check its current performance.

Use Google Analytics and Search Console to check how much organic traffic Google is driving to the pages that you think may be a problem. Also consider engagement metrics – for example, are users spending a very short amount of time on the page, or is the bounce rate particularly high?

Either of these things could provide an indication that the pages are not providing the information that your users are looking for.

Focus on improving existing content

Back in October, Google advised that making improvements to affected content, rather than removing it completely, was a better approach for recovering from a Panda-related penalty.

Gary Illyes Twitter Conversation

Making improvements to what is already there allows you to add higher quality information that benefits users in the long-term.

Panda only affects the low quality pages on your website, as opposed to the website as a whole. So if you do want to stop Google from seeing particular web pages then NoIndexing the page, rather than removing it completely, is a better bet.

Whilst a NoIndex prevents the content from appearing in Google’s search results, users will still be able to find it within the site. You can also still track whether visits are coming to the page once they have landed on your website if you want to keep measuring its performance.

Don’t worry about ‘word count’

Google’s Panda guidelines say to avoid ‘thin’ or ‘shallow’ content, and it’s easy to associate this terminology with having a low word count. Many therefore believe that purely adding more words to their content will help them avoid/escape a penalty.

However, trying to achieve a specific word count can often be part of the issue. Writing words for the sake of it can lead to the very thing that you need to avoid – fluffy content that isn’t offering value to users.

Rather than worrying about writing a certain number of words on each page, try to ensure that your content accurately and succinctly provides the information that your users will find helpful in answering their search query.

Keep an eye on comments

Comments on a website are generally a great thing, and shows that there is a high level of engagement with the content on offer. However, even back in 2014, comments were discussed as a potential issue when Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz asked John Mueller about a previous Panda penalty that he had experienced.

You can see that particular discussion starting at the 8 minute 37 second mark on the above video.

As a general rule, comments are great when they are adding further information to the topic, or generating further debate, but not so much when they offer little value, or could be considered “spammy”.

It is therefore important to monitor the quality of the comments coming into the site. Whilst quick approval times for comments are important to keep the conversation flowing between your commenters, any contributions which look suspicious, or offer little in the way of relevancy or quality, should not be published.

Final thoughts – Help visitors, rather than focus on numbers

Whilst the Panda algorithm has been around for almost five years now, the announcement that it has been incorporated into Google’s core algorithm has definitely brought it to the forefront of people’s minds once more.

It seems that with this change, Google are telling us that content quality needs to be a key strategy for anyone running a website or an SEO campaign moving forward. A change of perception to helping your visitors, rather than focusing on numbers of visitors is now the key to continued success.

It’s more important than ever, if it isn’t already, that time is invested in making your content the very best it can be.


If you would like to develop your content strategy in 2016, contact Torpedo to see how we can help you.


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