Pandas and Penguins and Penalties, Oh My!

By Alan Eggleston

You may have heard of Google Panda and Google Penguin. Both are algorithms, ways of filtering content to decide how pages get ranked for search returns. As a content provider, you are probably wondering if either affects your website and of which of the two you should be most concerned.

A Search Engine Marketing – SEM – Glossary worth consulting for SEO terms.

Panda Filters for Low-Quality Content

Panda was the first to launch. It looks for low-quality content and its first go-round was said to have affected approximately 12 percent of searches in the U.S. Officially called an “update,” Panda is a filter that runs periodically. When it catches a site with content it considers to “lack substantial substance,” it penalizes the site’s search rankings. The next time Panda runs (six times so far), it looks to see if the site has improved its content. Sites with poor content are penalized. The only way to get off the pissed-off-Panda list is to improve content.

What is low-quality content? Most poor content is that which is created for its SEO value instead of its substantive value. It is written around targeted keywords to position high in search engine results. The target audience is the search engine, not an Internet reader. It is often also poorly written, quickly produced, and cheaply bought.

The initial Panda update was for English but other languages have been added, all but some in Asia.

Penguin Filters for Web Spam

Penguin was launched to catch Web spammers. Google has complained about spammers for years and now Google is doing something about them. Google’s effort is expected to affect only about 3 percent of search queries.

Web spammers create Web pages designed not to communicate but to place high in search engine results. They pull tricks like keyword stuffing, unnatural linking schemes, cloaking schemes, sneaky page redirects, and unnatural doorway pages. Another trick is to purposely duplicate content either that they own or that someone else owns but which they pirate. None of these tricks is new, by the way.

Most Sites Have Nothing to Fear

Most website editors don’t need to fear either of these algorithms. The people who need to fear them are those whose efforts are to play the system to get an unfair advantage. They ignore posted search engine best practices – in fact, flaunt working around them.

Panda penalizes those who put their effort into posting garbage content. If as a content provider you produce content users seek out and will find useful, it’s very unlikely Panda will affect you. Produce to please your reader rather attract Google, and you should be all right.

Penguin penalizes for so called “Black Hat” techniques, pulling behind-the-scenes tricks to fool the search engines but that add no value to the reader. Focus instead on providing value to the reader, and you should be all right.

What to Do if You’ve Been Penalized

If you find your site affected by either of these algorithms, you can take action.

First, focus on well constructed, value-laden content. Make sure it’s well written, well edited, and provides value to the reader. Don’t duplicate content and if you find that someone else has duplicated your content, demand that they take it down. Fair use attributes is one thing, flat out plagiarism and copyright violation is entirely another. Report them to Google.

Second, remove any spam. If you’ve been tempted (or been told) to play games with your site to fool Google or game the system, eliminate it. See my list of Black Hat no-no’s above and avoid them. Work with search engines instead of against them.

Third, if you use Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools, pay attention to any flags they raise about your site. Correct any problems. If you don’t use these tools, I highly advise that you do.

Next Up – Headlines and SEO

For some online publications, there exists a tension between writing creative headlines and writing for optimization. Join me for my next column on how to win both ways.


10 thoughts on “Pandas and Penguins and Penalties, Oh My!

  1. Excellent article Alan. It really highlights the differences between Panda and Penguin which can be confusing. I’m wondering if you’ve used any tools to find out if your content has been plagiarized?. I’ve heard good things about I’ve yet to try it.

    • Hi Gazalla. Thank you for the comment and glad you like the article.

      I haven’t tried, but I’ll take a look – thanks for the recommendation. I often do searches for sections of text to see if I can locate duplicates. I should do an article on other programs and apps that aid searches, too.


  2. Pingback: Google Filters Out Low Quality Content with Panda | A Web Content Development Blog

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  7. You could definitely see your skills in the work you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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