Beware of the Panda!

I’m sure you’re already aware of Google’s many updates aimed at ensuring only the best websites are delivered in its top search results. One of those updates is the famed ‘Panda’ release, which was unleashed in February 2011. To Google’s credit, the Panda update was specifically designed to improve user experience by demoting websites with low quality, thin, or duplicated content. Basically, if you’ve got a pile of rubbish on your site, Panda would’ve definitely hit you…and hard.

So how does this whole ‘Panda’ thing work?

Well, unlike the adorable cuddly black & white bear you would normally think of, Google’s Panda update is a very different beast. It’s actually an algorthim known as a ‘document classifier’ which runs at the page level of a website. It classifies each page as either: high quality, low quality, or spam. These classifications are manually allocated by Google’s team, who base their findings on certain factors which can be found in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines.

The Google Quality Rater Guidelines is no easy read. It’s a mammoth 161-page document used as a basis to rate websites, and contains the ‘do’s and don’ts’ that all website owners should follow. What’s more, the guidelines emphasize what we shouldn’t do, such as: keyword stuffing, sneaky redirects, hidden text and links, and so on.

Furthermore, when evaluating the status of a website, Google’s team asks themselves a number of questions regarding the site’s legitimacy and relevance. For example, if it’s an e-commerce, they may ask whether the site seems legitimate enough for a user to provide sensitive information, such as credit card details. Or if it’s a medical website, they would look to see if it contains relevant medical advice.

This logical ‘question and answer’ process is what truly drives the Panda algorithm. Google’s team of quality writers classify each page, look at the answer patterns across the data, draw conclusions, and then spit out the overall site quality score.

How can Google do this at scale for so many websites?

With billions of websites online, obviously Google’s team can’t manually rate every single one, so they do it algorithmically and over time. That’s where Panda comes in. Panda is a filter that’s run externally to the main algorithm by quality raters. But because it’s expensive for Google to do this, the Panda update isn’t yet part of their regular algorithmic functions. At the moment, it’s only performed periodically, in a batch processing cycle, where sites are manually appraised from time to time.

So, knowing all this…where to from here?

It may seem that Panda is just one of Google’s ways to make your life difficult, but it’s actually their way of helping to promote high quality sites which deliver original and quality content. Even though it may be hard to see right now, there is a bright side: Panda may actually improve your site, given it’s full of good content and provides a great user experience.

If you’ve been hit by the Google Panda update, I really recommend you review Google’s humongous 161-page guideline and make changes accordingly. But, if you don’t have the time to become an expert in SEO yet need help recovering your site, we can help (because that’s what we do!). Click here to know how we can get you back on track with Google.

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