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The SEO Zoo: Panda vs. Penguin

Posted on 8.20.2012

The Web is a wild place, and the principles of survival of the fittest are very prominent in the realm of search engine marketing and SEO. So it makes sense that Google would name its algorithm updates after some of the world’s exotic wildlife.

Google’s biggest changes to its search algorithm over the last two years are a pair of updates known as Panda and Penguin. Both of them had the same basic goal of lowering the rank of low-quality or “thin” websites, and thus increasing the rank of higher-quality sites. However, despite their common allegiance toward improving the quality of Google’s search rankings, Panda and Penguin are very different beasts.


What really sets the Panda update apart from other algorithm changes is that the content of an entire site (or a specific section of a site) has an impact on search rankings, as opposed to just individual pages. In other words, if a significant number of pages on a site are flagged as having terrible content, the whole site can be penalized.

Panda primarily favors unique, original content – especially content that comes backed with a lot of clout and authority, like in-depth research reports or thoughtful analysis – over auto-generated content. For websites looking to improve their rankings, they should separate out and get rid of all of that content, mostly because having content with little-to-no value can get an entire site shut down, even if most of its content is unique and worthwhile.

At the end of the day, Panda is trying to weed out duplicate, overlapping or redundant content that isn’t beneficial to the searcher. Mostly, it aims to take down so-called “content farms," which publish a lot of low-quality articles stuffed with popular keywords to drive traffic and to get links. It also works to stop content scrapers from outranking the original author and content.


Penguin, on the other hand, specifically has it out for webspam. With this update, any sites that are found to be violating Google’s webmaster quality guidelines can have their site rankings dropped.

There are a few major offenses that Penguin was designed to combat, including stuffing sites with keywords (particularly low-quality keywords), cloaking, spamming anchor text, purchasing links and more. But even some less obvious techniques could wind up on Penguin’s radar, such as incorporating irrelevant outgoing links into a page of content.

However, Google hasn’t been totally upfront about exactly what Penguin is looking for, saying only that the sites it targets are “doing much more than white hat SEO” and that the company believes them to be “engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.”

If you’re having a Penguin problem, the best way to start recovering your rankings is by getting rid of your low-quality links and removing any keywords you may have stuffed away on your site. Basically, anything on your site that may toe the line and appear to Google as a black hat SEO tactic should be immediately removed. Fortunately, most of the time, Google will notify you on your Webmaster Tools account if it finds questionable links or other issues with your site, so checking that regularly and immediately fixing those problems should help to prevent your site from dropping in the search rankings.

Time to Adapt

Since Panda and Penguin are algorithm updates, and the penalties that they enforce are not manual. Therefore, it will do you little good to make a reconsideration request to Google to get your site back up in the search rankings. Instead, you’re going to have to make changes and fix your site on your own, and then wait for Google to come back and re-crawl your content before you’ll see a recovery. So you know, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’re not on the bad side of either Panda or Penguin. After all, it’s a zoo out there, and you don’t want to get left behind.

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