The Google Panda update is a filter in Google’s algorithm that is used to evaluate websites in the Google search index. It devalues websites that have poor quality content and promotes the ones that have high-quality content.
Since early 2011, Google has dedicated the Panda update solely to fighting poor quality web content. In 2013, Google announced that the versions of the Panda update will no longer be rolled out on specific days but that they will instead be integrated in the search index over longer time periods. This should help avoid major changes on specific days, which makes it difficult to recognize a software update or data update, as well as permanently ensures the quality of websites.
Figure 1: Changes in the number of users of a website after the Google Panda update (Google Analytics)
A decrease in the impressions on your website in the Google Search Console can be an indication of Panda. You should compare with the data on Google Analytics and check if the traffic has also gone down. If Google Analytics shows that the number of organic visitor references has gone done, your website could probably have landed in the filter. Figure 1 clearly shows that the website has certainly lost its visibility in Google search results.
Important: Google does not refer to devaluation of an inferior quality website as a penalty. Therefore, this does not mean that the website will be removed from the index. All that happens with Panda is algorithmic filtering of the search results, i.e. inferior content is filtered out and dropped in the rankings. Since the filter is now part of the ranking algorithm, there no longer are any explicit warnings in the Search Console. It is up to webmasters to find out if and why their website has slipped to this filter.
User signals make it possible for a search engine to quickly tell if the content of a website meets the expectations and needs of its visitors. The bounce rate and dwell time can provide information on whether the website is thematically relevant and useful to users.
Figure 2: Google Analytics – URL-based user signals
This example shows the Google Analytics values of a website with a high bounce rate and short dwell time.
A "bounce back" is a situation where a user enters a search query on Google, ends up on a website via the search results, and then goes back to the Google search after a few seconds. This is often a sign that the website did not meet the requirements and expectations of the user. The user appears to want to continue searching since he/she probably did not find what he/she was looking for. However, this bounce back cannot simply be equated to the general bounce rate of the website.
Figure 3: Google Analytics – Bounce rate of organic references
You can find these data in Google Analytics under Acquisition > Channel > Organic search. The bounce rate of organic search traffic is much more important to search engines for the quality of the website than the bounce rate of users who were redirected to the website via social networks or other links. You can find an approximate of the actual bounce rate in the organic exit rate at the page level in Google Analytics.
Figure 4: Google Analytics – Exit rate of organic references
You can view the exit rate of the organic search engine traffic in Google Analytics under Behavior > Website content > Exit pages. Here, the standard channel grouping with the "Organic search" filter is used as a secondary dimension.
A website’s bounce rate and the associated dwell time are not always an indicator of poor quality or insufficient user-friendliness.
For example, if a user searches for the weather report of a specific region and quickly finds the information on the destination page, the bounce rate will be relatively high even though the user requirements were fulfilled. The same also occurs with information about famous people, buildings, and other entities. Normally, Google should be able to directly provide the user with such information in answer boxes or the Google Knowledge Graph. However, the example clearly shows that a high bounce rate and low dwell time do not necessarily mean that the website does not meet the needs of users and that it’s therefore inferior.
The Google Panda update automatically results in the meta data and hence the SERP snippets becoming more important. A high click rate in the search results is, on its own, not an indication of a website’s quality. What is more important is the actual user behavior on the website. You should therefore think carefully about the information you want to present in the meta description and webpage title in order to avoid arousing false expectations. Misleading users and click baiting have a bad effect on the user signals of the websites. Websites that use click baiting techniques to massively raise the click-through rate in the search results usually have a very high bounce back rate.
In order to prevent your website from landing in the Panda filter, you should avoid the aforementioned properties of poor quality content. The following negative attributes can lead to loss of traffic through the Panda filter:
In particular, you can degrade the quality of your website through repeated use of similar content, such as through text spinning, copied content from external websites, or texts with excessive use of the same keyword.
The "Near Duplicate Content" in OnPage.org enables you to identify all your webpages whose content may not be exactly identical but their text is rather very similar. You should try to avoid frequent duplications of your content.
Figure 5: Identify Near Duplicate Content using OnPage.org
In addition, constantly checking the content of your website can help prevent a potential Panda update. In particular, webpages that have little content and short texts are often more likely to be seen as "Near Duplicate Content" than those with detailed texts. The word count report in Onpage.org helps you identify short texts that have many, partially stilted repetitions of words.
Figure 6: Word count in OnPage.org
The recovery time of a website that has been affected by the Panda update cannot be generalized. It depends on how fast you identify the changes as well as how fast you improve the quality of your website.
Google has to first reevaluate your website once you remove the poor quality content. Only then can these changes help improve the traffic and position in the search results.
To avoid falling victim to the Panda filter, you should preemptively check and improve the following signals on your website:
User signals via the organic search:
A very short dwell time on the landing page of organic search referrals and a relatively high bounce rate most likely indicate that the user navigated back to the Google Search (bounce back). You should continuously counteract these signals by improving the content quality and usability on your website.
If you identify a decline in the organic search traffic in Google Analytics, you should use the changes in ranking as a basis to find out the main cause of the decline. The following are some of the aspects you should take a closer look at:
Position changes in the search results
Impression changes in the search results
Changes in the CTR in the search results
Figure 7: Google Search Console – Search analysis
In addition to user signals and changes in the visibility, it is also important to regularly check the quality of your website. Below are some of the aspects that you should check, especially after technical changes (e.g., redesigns and relaunches):
Appearance of duplicate content
Frequency of "similar changes" (Near Duplicate Content)
Anzahl unnatürlicher Worthäufigkeit und -wiederholungen
Thin content and word count
If you regularly analyze these criteria and preemptively avoid negative quality features, your website will certainly stay clear of the Panda filter!
Published on 06/27/2016 by Daniel Herndler.
Daniel works as senior SEO manager at Get On Top GmbH in Salzburg. His favorite topics are conversational and semantic search. Daniel also admits to being a true TV series junkie – as a huge “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” fan, he is already plotting his move to the Seven Kingdoms.