Google Panda is one aspect of the search engine’s ranking algorithm. First released in February 2011, it’s entirely about content. Specifically, Panda was introduced to prevent low-quality, spammy, and overly ad-heavy websites—particularly the “content mills” dominating search results at the time—from rising high in search results.
This was primarily a punitive measure, designed to penalize sites publishing low-quality content. And thus it indirectly rewards sites offering high-quality material for users.
For the first few years, Google Panda was updated about once per month, but after that, updates became fewer and farther between. In the beginning of 2016, Google announced that Panda updates would no longer be introduced. Instead, Panda had been integrated into the company’s core ranking algorithm, and updates are made on a slow, continuous basis.
Today, Panda—named after Navneet Panda, the Google engineer who developed its technology—is considered an important aspects of the search engine’s ranking algorithm. Its purpose is still to directly penalize sites publishing poor-quality content and indirectly boost those providing the good stuff.
Characteristics of Panda-Friendly Content
Regularly publishing quality original content on your website is an effective (but gradual) way to drive your site higher in search engine results for your target keywords. By ensuring your content doesn’t displease Panda, you avoid one of the significant factors that get sites penalized by Google.
Here’s a look at some of the main things that do and don’t matter from the Google Panda perspective:
- Content doesn’t have to be any particular length. Many people believe content must be at least 250 or 350 words to be considered quality. But Google has said that word counts aren’t what count, and that content should just be as long as it needs to be to address its title and topic in a valuable way.
- User-generated content isn’t a big concern for Panda. Another popular misconception is that user-generated content (e.g., blog comments, forum posts, user reviews, testimonials, guest articles, etc.) may hurt your site’s rankings because it’s often not all that well written. But genuine, relevant user-generated content won’t negatively affect your site.
- Content should address the search query it’s organically attracting traffic for. Use Google Analytics to keep an eye on the search phrases people are entering that lead them to your page. Make sure the content provides the information they’re seeking.
- The title should tell the reader what they’ll get and the content should deliver it. This goes along with the above entry. A strong title makes it clear what the content is about and what the reader will take away from it. But setting expectations only pays off if you actually meet them.
- High-ranking content is high-quality content by Google Panda standards. It’s worthwhile to periodically search Google for your long-tail keywords and see which content ranks well. This is content that pleases Panda. Take a close look at it and try to duplicate its format, style, and approach whenever it makes sense to do so.
- Technical SEO doesn’t affect Google Panda. This isn’t to say technical search engine optimization doesn’t matter, but it’s not relevant to Panda. It has nothing to do with H1 tags, backlinks, page load times, responsive design, etc. This part of the core algorithm is focused solely on the words on the page and how much value they provide human readers.
- High-quality content sounds natural. The best way to check your content in this respect is to read it aloud. Is it easy to read? Does it flow? Is it wordy or awkward? Are you getting tripped up by grammar issues? Are the sentences simple? Do you keep hearing the same words over and over again?
- Value to the reader should outweigh value to the site operator. That’s the way Google’s own Gary Illyes addressed the question of ads and affiliate links in and around content. In other words, ads and affiliate links don’t automatically offend Panda. However, the quality and usefulness of the content should definitively outshine attempts to make money off visitors.
What About Poor-Quality Content?
Bad content gets your site penalized by Google Panda, meaning lower rankings in search results and significantly less organic traffic. If you have it on your website, it should be improved or removed.
In general, it’s better to improve low-quality content, assuming it’s salvageable and on a topic that’s relevant to your target audience. Updating content to make it better helps your SEO and prevents losing any “seniority” you’ve earned just by having the page published for a while. However, bad content that’s poorly written, that isn’t focused, that doesn’t answer a specific search query/user question—or all of the above—drags your site down from a Panda perspective.
If you can’t fix it, nix it.