The Renaissance of SEO
To combat the issues of early SEO, which included such methods as keyword stuffing and spammy backlinks, Google released the Panda Update in stages, beginning in 2011. The goal was to create a better experience for Internet users, as finding high-quality sites was difficult when poor-quality sites won out in search rankings because of black hat SEO techniques. With the addition of Panda, such techniques would be penalized, encouraging ‘white hat’ SEO tactics and allowing good-quality sites to gain the search rankings they deserved.
Panda 1.0 – Panda Begins
The first release of the Panda Update occurred on February 24, 2011. It was the first major update and had an immediately noticeable affect on up to 12% of Google’s search results. Google changed its algorithm to decrease page rankings for low-quality sites that copied content from other sites, were content farms, had too many ads, or otherwise provided low value to users so that high-quality sites could earn the page ranks they deserved.
Panda 2.0 – Panda Takes Off Internationally
Panda 1.0 was released only in the U.S. On April 11, 2011, Google applied the Panda Update for all English-speaking users worldwide. This update also saw Google begin to use data from search blockers to affect page rankings. In 1.0, the search blocker results had only been used to confirm that the algorithm was working as intended.
Panda 2.4 – Panda Translated
After a few minor updates that didn’t warrant an announcement or release notes (but were confirmed) by Google, on August 12, 2011 Panda 2.4 expanded the Panda update to work in other languages, excluding Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. This update affected between 6 and 9% of sites in other languages.
Panda #20 – Panda Comes of Age
The next major update to Panda came on September 12, 2012. Called #20 because it was the twentieth update to Panda, it was a rather major update compared to many of the minor tweaks and refreshes that had come before it. It only affected fewer than 3% of all searches, but was considered major because it was an actual update to the algorithm.
Panda 4.0 and 4.1 – Panda Evolution
The latest two major updates to Panda, 4.0 and 4.1, targeted sites with thin content, broken links, too many affiliate links, and sites that were otherwise just not providing useful information to users. Content farm sites such as Ebay and Ask were hit hard by 4.0 while sites that provided high-quality unique content were rewarded with higher search results. Google announced with Panda 4.1 that they had made some tweaks to Panda that would allow it to better identify low-quality content more accurately.
Panda Promotion – Part of Google’s Core Algorithm
In 2016, the Panda update received a promotion – it was no longer an update and was officially incorporated into Google’s algorithm. What this meant was that Google considered Panda thoroughly tested – they knew that it worked and trusted it to run by itself. Panda wouldn’t require any major updates, so there wouldn’t be any further announcements about it by Google.
Panda Is Here to Stay
What Panda’s promotion to core algorithm means for SEO is that the changes Panda brought to search rankings are a fixed part of Google now. Sites whose rankings were lowered by Panda must focus on increasing the quality of their content if they want to improve those rankings in the new SEO landscape. Search rankings can no longer be manipulated by spammy backlinks, keyword spamming, and other user-unfriendly SEO tactics. Google has made it clear that its focus is providing a high-quality experience for users, so SEO should be focused there as well.