How to stay on the right side of Pandas and Penguins

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Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

Panda and Penguin. If you’re in any way connected to the world of SEO, these are two animals you need to know about. You’ll probably have heard about these cute, fuzzily-monikered Google algorithm updates (which change the way the search engine ranks websites) at some point. Especially since every time another algorithm update hits, online marketers everywhere descend into a frenzy.

How new algorithms unfold can impact enormously on any online marketing you have in place. That’s why it’s important to have at least some understanding of what it all means for the SEO work connected to your business – so here’s a brief summary of what Panda and Penguin were all about, and what you need to be aware of…

About Google Panda

Panda first hit in February 2011 (US) with Panda 1.0 (also known as the ‘Farmer’s Update’) targeting websites with low quality content, in particular content farms and second rate article directories. Google had enough of these clogging up the search results so took action. It’s estimated that Panda 1.0 affected almost 12% of US search terms when it first emerged.

Following this initial rollout, Panda continued with updates every few months (we are currently on Panda version 25) , taking the update global and targeting spammy, low quality, thin content, as well as duplicate and keyword heavy content, in order to improve the experience for web users and to improve the search engine results.

Websites that were hit particularly hard were content aggregators. The way Google sees it, sites that gather and store articles from other sites don’t add much value to the web, so were penalised for the heavy amount of duplicate content on them. When they launched Panda, Google said that they were: “evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content … attention has shifted to ‘content farms’ which are sites with shallow or low-quality content”.

Unfortunately for webmasters and online businesses the world over, there was a tonne of collateral damage. Ecommerce sites in particular, were hit too. The reason being that they often have the exact same product descriptions as other sites, often passed straight from the manufacturer and uploaded to the site. Google saw a lot of these Ecommerce sites as copying other content so they failed the Panda test and rankings plummeted.

About Google Penguin

Penguin waddled onto the scene and first caused waves in the SEO world in April 2012; Penguin made its entrance by penalising questionable SEO tactics and hitting sites that were violating Google’s Webmaster guidelines by using manipulative or ‘black hat’ SEO techniques to improve their rankings. Whereas Panda was about content and on-site SEO, Penguin zoned in on off-site SEO, in particular low quality links and over-optimised anchor text. It delivered a slap to any sites that appeared guilty, which at the time saw a large number of sites fall.

Lots of businesses that had been outsourcing their SEO on the cheap (i.e. either by responding to one of those “We guarantee rankings. We build thousands of links for $99 a month” type emails or by using an agency that outsources to these people) got hit, even when they had been ranking well off these dodgy tactics for months or even years. The reality of Penguin is that it put many people out of business, as the rankings penalties were often so huge that sites would go from thousands of visitors a day to none. Read more about 2016’s Penguin 4.0 update.

How to stay out of trouble

If you want to stay on the right side of the Google Panda and Penguin updates and keep your site safely at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), you need to understand what makes them tick and what they love. Adhere to their preferences and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Panda hates content thin pages, content farms, duplicate content and has set out to penalise these in order to increase the relevancy of pages and show users pages that have high quality, unique content. Therefore, you need to focus on producing strong, engaging content that is relevant and that your users will find useful. If you can ensure that your site copy is unique, of a high quality and provides useful information to your audience, then you will have one happy Panda!

Penguin is effectively a link filter and doesn’t like sites that try too hard to cheat the SERPs; it hates low quality links and too many keywords being used in the anchor text, so what makes Penguin happy? Well Penguin loves websites that appear to be naturally good without having to overdo it; it likes to see natural links based on quality, Panda-friendly content. If you are building links then you need to ensure you have a varied link profile, with hyperlinks pointing in from authoritative, relevant websites and when you have the option to choose anchor-text, make sure you vary it and don’t always make it keyword focused.

Panda and Penguin check-list

Follow this quick check-list to ensure you’re not in the Panda or Penguin firing line:

  • Keep content relevant and engaging – write for users, not for search engines
  • Make sure your backlink profile is natural and doesn’t contain many spammy links, paid links or links from sites that Google would consider low quality
  • Ensure that content is unique and not taken from other websites
  • Don’t over-optimise your anchor text
  • Avoid link building from rubbish websites that only exist for the purpose of manipulating search engines i.e. general directories with no quality control, article submission sites that publish any old thing, link farms, etc.

What’s coming next?

But don’t rest on your laurels: there are new updates every few months. Google changed over 500 times last year and there were many other changes on top of Panda and Penguin. The word on the web is that another major Penguin update is on the horizon; Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, revealed last month that they are working on Penguin 4, cryptically stating that the way Penguin works will be changed. So, while we all sit and wait for this next big Penguin update in anticipation, it’s worth clearing up that backlink profile, refining your content, and checking that you’re not currently stepping over the line!

Alternatively, see what our Cardiff SEO services can do for you by getting in touch with our SEO team today.

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Owen Whitcombe

Senior SEO Specialist

Owen has worked in primarily Ecommerce since leaving University. Many years spent in the online sports retail arena before gaining experience in the online catering business then becoming digital marketing manager for national toy company before finding his feet in SEO. As a results driven individual Owen loves nothing more than when we can give…

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