How does Google Panda work? How to avoid its sanctions?

Google Panda – what's this?

Never heard of Google Panda? Is it an all new Google product? A mascot panda for the web giant? A secret society devising means to hack Google users' personal details? Well, Google Panda is nothing out of these. Let's start with the basics; Google is a search engine built upon the values of simplicity and relevance, and is dedicated to providing the best possible web content results to users in response to searches made using the search engine. What logically follows is Google's maniac dedication towards not letting low quality content find its way to the top of its search results and that's why it continues to revamp, reinvent and improve the algorithms it uses to filter out and present web content. Google Panda is the cute sounding yet no-nonsense and revolutionary search algorithm update affected on 24 February 2011, aimed at reducing the web ranking of low quality websites that provide worthless and copied content, are dotted with irrelevant advertisements and are not useful for readers and viewers in general. At the same time as it tries to penalize low quality and useless websites, Google Panda is also about providing better rankings to top quality websites that present well researched and original content with reports, analyses and more. However, it might not be wrong to take more than a single viewpoint on what Google Panda actually is. Here are three ways to look at it:

  • An algorithm update - Purely based on the number of websites that experienced considerable changes in their original rankings after the Panda update, it's fairly justifiable to call it an out and out algorithm update.
  • A temporary penalty - Despite the fact that the Panda update was severe on thousands of websites, it also allowed them to cover the lost ground by correcting the mistakes that Panda is designed to penalize, which makes Panda a temporary penalty doled out on defaulting websites
  • An all new ranking factor - A website's Panda Score is instrumental in deciding as to where its web pages are ranked, and this makes Panda stand in the light of ranking factors such as PageRank and Meta Tags.

Google's Panda update is meant to target web pages that are low in quality, although they might not be spam. Before Panda did the clean up act, it was a common strategy for webmasters to publish several low quality articles that were mindlessly stuffed with keywords, to content farms. In fact, webmasters used to submit these low quality articles to several content farms to increase their backlinks, at the cost of Google's search results' quality and worth. Panda went after thin content and made sure that such useless websites with very little originality were penalized. The Panda penalty is site-wide and affects the entire website if enough web pages are deemed useless by Panda. Also, Panda made sure that websites that just copied their content from other websites were not able to outrank the original creators of the content. No wonders it was launched with the name of Farmer, because of its clean up jobs on content farms!

How does Google Panda work?

Of course, there will never be 100 percent information available in the public domain about the intricacies of how Google Panda works, there is still enough known to satiate inquisitive webmasters. Panda is an algorithm based on heuristics that doesn't depend on too many complex calculations and instead tries to categorize websites into categories such as 'low quality' and 'high quality' after allotting their web pages a score known as the Panda Score. Now, this score depends on several quality attributes with their different weights, and this selection of these attributes with their weights is what Google's engineers would have done after diligent analyses and studies of hundreds or thousands of websites. So, once a website's web pages are allotted Panda scores, the cumulative impact on the website could be a decrease or increase in its ranking. Since the selections of quality attributes and their weights in order to calculate the Panda Score are always improving, we have already seen several updates to the Panda algorithm and can expect the same from the future as well.

In more practical terms, Google Panda's working is best understood in terms of identifying the website aspects it evaluates. Among the most integral of these are:

  • Originality of content- Websites that copy content from multiple sources and pack their web pages with what seems like really worthwhile content are at the receiving end with Panda, and that's because of the prime importance of original content. Content duplication is severely dealt with by Panda, whereas original content with reports, tables and analyses is rewarded.
  • Substantiality of content – Panda does not go well with websites that have many web pages but not much content on the pages. Websites with just a few lines of mediocre content on their pages end up in the bad books of Panda and are penalized.
  • Worth of content – How does Panda successfully make out worthwhile content from merely copywriter quality content? It uses parameters such as author authority and website's credibility to adjudge upon the same, and ensures that informative and worthwhile content laden web pages get better Panda scores.

Apart from all these, there are other deficiencies that Google Panda identifies and penalizes. Web pages with loads of advertisements creating a chaos and the ones with thoughtless and reckless designing are not really appreciated by Panda. Also, web pages that are not updated for long times are penalized, as are websites that index useless pages on Google.

Which errors on a website will cause to sanctions of Google Panda?

Good, bad, evil or cute - Google Panda is here to say, and considering indications from Google, it's going to be a vital cog in Google's search engine experience improvement drive for the future. So, nothing is more important than identifying as to what invites the fury of Google Panda for webmasters. It's after diligent analyses of websites that have gone down after Panda updates and the possible content and quality deficiencies they suffered from that a suggestive list of aspects that can be serious reasons of Panda sanctions has come up. Here's more on all that does not go well with Panda.

Thin content – You've heard it before, but it makes all the sense to hear it again. Among Panda's most obvious victims are websites that have loads of web pages but not much content on them. Such websites often inflate themselves with advertisement pages and thin content pages, which leave users wanting for more. Google wants its users to be served only really useful web results, and that's why it chases away thin content websites.

Compromised content to chase keywords – How irritating is it for you to surf a website that is laden with web pages links that seem useful, but only serve the same content over and over, with minor keyword variations. This irritates Panda no ends! Webmasters often compromise website quality to be able to target keywords with minor variations.

Duplication is a sin – Content duplication is a certain turn down for Google Panda. Whether you copy content from your own web pages to other pages, or copy anybody's content to use on your website, Panda will be tough on your website. Even if you're providing multiple pages with remarkably similar content in the form of printer-friendly, single-page (instead of multi-page article), or stripped down pages targeting mobile devices, Panda will identify and correspondingly penalize you, unless you no-index these similar content pages. Dynamically generated URLs pointing to the same source URL need to be accompanied by Rel='Canonocal' tag for Google to not treat them as deliberate attempts to duplicate pages.

Ad laden websites – Panda has cracked down on websites that serve a lot of advertisements to users. In fact, among the prominent traffic losers after Panda updates are websites that make readers scroll down through rivers of advertisements before serving them any useful content. Even irrelevant and excessive banner ads are deemed to be hindering to a decent user experience, and are hence penalized by Panda.

Empty web pages and redundant URLs – Whether it's a housekeeping mistake on the part of webmasters or a deliberate attempt to fool viewers into believing that the website is content rich and expansive, URL duplication and empty web pages are a strict NO NO with Google Panda. Even if empty web pages result from the internal search functionality of the website, Panda slaps penalties.

Purchased links instead of earned links – No longer are the rich webmasters able to buy link-backs in order to secure better SERPs with Google. Panda is smart enough to identify backlinks from shady sources, and is quick in penalizing the websites that are identified for using black hat and cheap link buying techniques.

Housekeeping mistakes that make your websites suffer – Google Panda update has always been tough on websites that suffer from deliberate or unintentional housekeeping errors that make the users experience a messy one. Among the most obvious lessons for webmasters are:

  • Panda assumes that your websites are either hosting spam or not doing anything to prevent spam when it finds a considerable proportion of irrelevant outgoing links on your web pages.
  • Unless you use robots.txt to point out that search results are not meant to be indexed, Google treats the same as an attempt to duplicate content and hence levies appropriate penalties on your website's Panda Score.
  • Improper internal linking makes your website suffer, so avoid multiple links pointing to the same pages, whether intentional or not.

Image cortesy Dn Villanueva