Panda Updates / Penalties & What To Do

Panda was rolled into Google's core algorithm in early 2016. It's effects on search engine optimisation for Irish businesses hasn't gone away but now there are no tweaks every 6 months or so. It is believed to run in real time and the same advice that applied before is still essential to ranking well today.

If you think you've been negatively effected by this part of Google's core algorithm, then get in touch for a penalty assessment.

Google Panda Penalties

From Wikipedia – Google Panda is a change to Google’s search results ranking algorithm that was first released in February 2011.

This update, like many other Google updates, was aimed at removing low quality web pages from the search engine results pages. And it did a pretty good job at that, instead rewarding higher quality sites with a focus on unique valuable content.

Panda Penalty Factors

Like all updates, it has evolved over the years and now an Irish site can be hit by a panda penalty for any of the below reasons.

Security Related Problems – The site is secure and does not contain malware.
Page Load Times – Excessive page load times will cause the penalty.
Bad UX – Clear and intuitive site navigation.
Duplicate Content – Copied content from other sources internal or external.
High Bounce Rate – Rate at which users decide the content is not suitable.
Ads to Content Ratio – No over use of advertising.

One aim of this update was to punish content farms that were producing huge amounts of low quality content. So the focus of any review should begin with a review of the quality of on site content.

Recovering From A Panda Penalty

Recovering from a Panda penalty is by no means impossible and like most other SEO related things begins with an audit. Below you can see an embed of a checklist to perform when reviewing your site.

Review Content Quality

The first step is always to review the quality of content that you have on your site. The decision on whether a piece of content should stay or go can be made by asking yourself a few basic questions. 

Is the information in the article truthful?
Is it well written and does it show expertise on the topic?
Are there any factual or stylistic errors on the page?

Not the most extensive list and you could sum it up with the much simpler question: Is this a bit sh!t?

Very often a piece of content doesn't have to be binned and just needs some updating to improve the value to the user. 

Thin Content & Wordcount

Thin content could be defined as content that has zero value but many people think of it in terms of wordcount. Which is to say, how many words are on the page.

There is no exact number of words that can sufficiently cover a topic as all topics are different but an excepted number is about 300 words.

Spelling & Grammar Do Matter

One major outcome of the original Panda update was that many of the content farms based overseas got hit quiet badly. One reason for this was poor grammar, spelling and punctuation. No joke.

So check your content for these issues and make the necessary changes.

Broken Links

This is a something that all web masters and business owners should keep an eye on due to the fact that a large number of broken links show Google that the site is not being maintained actively.

A quick look in Google Webmaster Tools will give you a good indication if this is a problem for you.

Internal broken links should be prioritized over external links.

Outbound Links To Low Quality Sites

​This is really just an extra step for the truly OCD folks out there as this is usually not an issue. But checking your outbound links are going to relevant, high quality sources can be worthwhile on the possibility that you are linking to de-indexed sites.

Review Google For Duplicate Content

This is probably the biggest issue when dealing with Panda penalties. Duplicate content is writing that appears elsewhere on the web. This can be internal on your site or on another site on the web. And there are several reasons why this might have happened.

Lazy content creators can essentially steal content from other sources and pass it of as there own. And several tools have sprung up to fight this type of plagiarism including Copyscape.

Another reason for duplicate content is quoting an article. This is acceptable when the source is cited, but without a link to the original, it's just stealing.

Anyway for whatever reason it occurs, duplicate content is a major issue and making sure that all the content on your site is original and unique will go a long way toward improving your SERP positions. The first step is checking your site for content that is duplicated on different pages.

Internal Duplicate Content & CMS's Like WordPress

Out of the box WordPress posses numerous problems with generating duplicate content. There are tag pages, author archives and date based archives that are set to "index". This causes problems because the first paragraph is mirrored on several different pages across the site.

Google sees this repetition of content and devalues your site. All these archives and tag pages should be set to "no-index". 

Another think to look for is content copied and pasted from one service page to another. If a company has 3 locations, to they give their different services unique descriptions for each of the locations or is the content just copied and pasted?

This can be soul destroying work! Get a trusted staff member to do it or look at finding a reliable outsourcer

External Duplicate Content

Duplicate content from other sites happens all the time. A quick way to search for it is to highlight a paragraph copy it into Google "with quotes at both ends" and search.

If multiple results come back and your site is not on top , it means that you have a duplicate content issue.

Unique Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are the short excerpts that appear in the search engine results pages. User of course use them as a quick filter to decide if the page is relevant to their search or not. They are very important in that it is how you sell the click to the user.

But it is also another place where duplicate content issues can arise and they should be unique and descriptive.​

SEO, Rel Canonical & Redirects

Duplicate content can be solved via the Rel Canonical tag which is used to indicate to the Search Engines that the original page is located elsewhere. 

Page Load Time

Panda is said to have effected sites that loaded slowly but over the years this has become it's own issue and sites that load slowly will see a boost in rankings from minimising load time.

Anything above 4 seconds is unacceptable to modern users and the aim should be to get a page to load as quickly as possible with under 2 seconds being a reasonable aim.

Using a Content Distribution Network or CDN and lazyloading your images can make a huge difference. ​

Over Optimisation

Over optmisation of a site is a problem with many companies inadvertently overusing their target keywords. This is partly down to how WordPress and Joomla are set-up out of the box. 

A simple way to avoid or lessen the chance of over optimisation is to use the rule of threes. Only include your target keyword in 2 of the 3 most important on page factors. The URL, the meta description and the ​H1 tag.

Clear Site Structure

Your site structure should be easy to navigate for users and clearly separate the topics of your site. The topics could be the services or products you offer. But they should be sectioned carefully together​ so that the search engines understand the main topics and themes of your site.

XML & HTML Sitemaps

The sitemap is more important than many realise. It should be clearly accessible to the major search engine spiders.​

Advertisements To Content Ratio

In ​2012 and then again in 2014, Google introduced penalties for sites that had too many adverts above the fold, or initially visible to the user. Sites which had little or no content on the screen when it loaded were hit with a penalty.

Above The Fold Adverts

Whilst this is not really a part of Panda as we know it, it's a good idea to have content visible above the fold to avoid any issues with this page layout algo update.​

Bounce Rates & Behavioural Factors

Google has incorporated many different factors into the way it places sites in the SERPs over the years. One area which has not really been talked about that much ​is the behavioural aspect of visitors.

User Bounce Rate Or Pogo Sticking

'Pogo sticking' or 'bouncing' back from a website after it loads is a sign that the page content did not meet the searchers requirements or expectations.

Whilst there is a lot of argument as to how much of a factor this is, there is agreement that boosting user interaction and time on site can only be a good thing​

Panda Algorithm & Irish Businesses

Irish businesses can avoid being penalised by Panda by following basic SEO advice and not over optimising the content. It goes without saying that in this day and age that content should be written for people and then optimised for the search engines second.


About the Author

Foley has been helping businesses increase their revenue and boost their online presence for 4 years. He enjoys jogging, beer and tinkering with the web.