Understanding The Google Algorithmic Animals – 1) Panda

27th July 2015


The Google Panda update was one of the most prominent updates in the recent history of the search engine. Panda was released in February, 2011, and it targeted sites with low-quality content. The update marked a significant shift in the way the Google worked – instead of simply assessing the popularity of a website, it looked at the content. Websites that were ‘thin on content’ or that had nothing other than duplicate product descriptions, duplicate content or poorly spun articles were the hardest hit.

Ongoing Updates

Panda was more than just a one-off update. Because of the complex nature of what Google is trying to achieve, the search engine regularly publishes updates to the Panda algorithm. Minor updates, or refreshes, tend to go relatively unnoticed, but the major numbered updates, which affect a significant percentage of websites, generate a lot of discussion in the SEO world, and can have a huge impact on the businesses that are affected.

Recovering from Panda or Avoiding the Penalties

One notable website that was hit by the Panda update was RetailMeNot. This website is a directory for coupons and discounts for online retailers. The website has a narrow focus – people search for a store name and are presented with a list of money-off coupons and discount codes. Because of this, it could be viewed as a ‘thin content’ site. The site navigation and the discount codes were the only content. This meant that the site was hit by penalties for duplicate content (the site navigation) and low-quality content – even though the content provided a valuable service.

Shortly after Panda 4.0, RetailmeNot’s traffic and search visibility fell by more than 50 per cent.

However, in Panda 4.1 the site began to recover. It is unclear whether this was because of a change to Google’s algorithm or something that the site owners did.

RetailMeNot’s case is an unusual one in that the purpose and design of the website meant they had a legitimate reason for thin content. Most websites exist to entertain and inform, and need high-quality content. The good news is that as long as you are providing that content – and it is well written and unique (not syndicated from other websites) – you should be able to avoid penalties from Google. If you run an online store, rewrite all your product descriptions rather than using the manufacturer-supplied ones. Add a blog, and post regularly to keep your content fresh.