The Heart of a Panda: Google’s Panda Update Becomes Part of the Core Algorithm

The Heart of a Panda: Google’s Panda Update Becomes Part of the Core Algorithm

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Google Panda Updates

Ever since Google announced the first Panda update in 2011, Panda has been changing the Internet for the better. Using lower search rankings to punish sites that engaged in spammy behavior, so-called ‘black hat’ SEO tactics, and that generally just didn’t provide quality content or a good experience for users, Panda rewarded high-quality sites with higher rankings. Panda was rolled out in a series of updates every few months for several years until it was eventually incorporated fully into Google’s core algorithm in 2016.

What Does this Mean for Panda?

Being a part of the Google’s core algorithm means that no future updates will be released. Google now considers Panda to be pretty much perfected. There won’t be any more major changes to it, only minor tweaks that don’t justify an announcement. On the user side of things, this means that the changes made by the Panda update will be permanent and they won’t be seeing any more announcements about it.

Panda in 2018

Panda has now been a part of Google’s core algorithm for two years. In terms of SEO, this means that Google considers Panda’s functionality to be fully integrated into its algorithm. So, all of the things that Panda punished sites for with low rankings still stand:

  • Thin content – not enough content on your page
  • Keyword stuffing – hiding keywords within your page or forcing too many keywords in an attempt to increase rankings
  • Content farms – sites that have large amounts of content solely for SEO rather than for users
  • Non-optimized pages – pages that just aren’t optimized for SEO at all
  • Poor grammar and spelling – spelling and grammar errors that make the content difficult for users to understand
  • Irrelevant content – content that is irrelevant to your site’s focus and is different from what your keywords, titles, etc. are optimized for
  • Machine-generated content – poor-quality content that is software-generated
  • Duplicate content
    • On-site – duplicate content within pages of your own site
    • Off-site – duplicate content with pages external to your site, or plagiarism
  • Broken links – links that don’t go where they’re supposed to, or go anywhere at all
  • Deceptive content – content that is meant to deceive users, for example ads that look like regular content with the aim of generating more clicks
  • Too-broad topics – sites that don’t have a focus and cover too many topics that aren’t necessarily related to each other

At the Heart of It All

Google incorporated Panda into its core algorithm not just because it wouldn’t have any more major updates. It also did so because Panda isn’t considered experimental anymore. It’s at the heart of how Google’s algorithm is perceived.

SEO in 2018

Optimizing for Panda, now that it’s been established as part of the core algorithm, is as important as it was in 2011. However, just as Panda itself won’t have any major updates, the SEO tactics needed to keep the Panda happy won’t be changing much, either. To keep your website Panda-happy, focus on these five things:

  1. Have high-quality content. Make sure that it’s not thin, duplicate, auto-generated, filled with spelling and grammar errors, or otherwise poor content.
  2. Pay attention to user signals. If your bounce rate is high, you have low rates of click-throughs, users are spending short amounts of time on your site, or you have few return visitors, that’s a sign that your site isn’t at the level of quality that users want.
  3. Don’t over-optimize your site. This means no hidden text, no keyword stuffing, no internal link stuffing. In other words, don’t go overboard on the optimization and think about what would be useful for users and what would be annoying.
  4. Keep your site trustworthy. Use https encryption, don’t have too many ads, provide contact information to Google, and have a privacy policy in place for your users.
  5. Most importantly, keep the user experience in mind. UX, or user experience, is the primary focus of Google’s updates and is why the Panda update was released in the first place. If your site has too many ads, is difficult to navigate, has 404 errors, redirects users to another domain, or otherwise provides a low-quality user experience, your site will suffer from both low user retention and in Google’s search ranking.

Panda & User Experience

Google wants to direct users to the highest-quality sites and if your site isn’t high-quality and doesn’t provide a good user experience, then Google won’t rank you highly. If you as a user wouldn’t want to visit or stay on your website, then that’s a sign that you should make some changes. High-quality content and user experience go hand-in-hand. The better your site’s content, the better experience users receive when visiting.

Focusing on UX actually helps future-proof your site as well. Google’s ultimate goal is to provide users with the best possible experience. Therefore, all of its updates so far have been aimed at improving UX by requiring higher-quality content for higher-ranked pages. Any future updates will most likely have the same purpose, so making sure your site has high-quality content and provides a good user experience is the best way to make sure that you won’t have many changes to make to your site the next time Google makes a major update to its algorithm.

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Google on Caffeine

Google on Caffeine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Google Gets Faster

While the Panda update may be the most well-known of Google’s algorithm updates, it certainly wasn’t the first. Two years before the first Panda update was released in 2011, Google issued what would prove to be one of its most important updates: the Caffeine update. Caffeine affected primarily Google’s web indexing infrastructure, making it more efficient and allowing it to return 50% fresher results to users.

What Does the Caffeine Update Do?

As its name suggests, the Google Caffeine update increased the speed, size, and accuracy of Google’s website indexing. It was first announced in 2009 as a way to better perform the following tasks:

  • Crawling the web
  • Indexing the resulting web pages
  • Calculating how reputable those pages are
  • Ranking those pages
  • Returning the most relevant pages as quickly as possible in the form of search query results

Google Analytics

That First Cup of Coffee

When Google first announced the update, they asked for feedback from developers and power searchers to compare the new algorithm to the old way of indexing sites. It wasn’t intended for the average user to really notice a huge difference in their use of the Internet, instead operating behind-the-scenes. The feedback from early testers of Caffeine was meant to determine the difference between the new and old indexing systems as well as determine which types of sites might be affected in the rankings with Caffeine.

Crawling at the Speed of Light

With Caffeine, Google gained the ability to crawl the web, collect data from websites, index those sites, and make them available for searching, all within a few seconds. Before the Caffeine update, it could take up to a week or more for a site to be indexed, depending on how ‘fresh’ Google’s bots had considered it. This did benefit users, whether they noticed it or not, as Google was able to provide more relevant results across a wider range of websites, faster than ever before.

Why Was the Caffeine Update Needed?

Unlike Panda, Caffeine wasn’t an algorithm update. It wasn’t meant to affect page rankings, instead overhauling the system for site indexing. When Google was first founded in 1998, the Internet was a much smaller, much simpler place than it is today. The site indexing system was designed around fewer pages with fewer different types of media. By 2009, the Internet had grown 100-fold and also incorporated maps, videos, images, and other media that just hadn’t been common in the early stages of the Internet.

How Did Caffeine Affect Websites?

Some websites did see a drop in rankings with the release of Caffeine. But this wasn’t because of a change in the search algorithm. Before the Caffeine update, sites were indexed only once every few weeks, unless they were categorized as ‘fresh’. Caffeine, however, leveled the playing field by indexing all sites quickly. Any site that had been ‘fresh’ under the old indexing system and used that to its advantage could have seen a drop in rankings as other, less ‘fresh’ sites caught up.

How Did Caffeine Affect Users?

While a lot of Caffeine’s effects were behind-the-scenes, users of Google search did see several improvements. The ability to search by voice, use RankBrain, have videos and maps returned in your search results, find relevant news on your search topic, etc. All of these have their origin in the Caffeine update. Despite these improvements, the update was subtle enough that many users might not have even noticed that something changed if Google hadn’t made the announcement about it.

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