Pandas And Penguins: Managing Recent Google Algorithim Updates

Today’s blog post comes to us from Gillian Muessig, Founding President of SEOmoz

In 2011, Google launched an update commonly known as Panda. The update affected a great many searches on the web and caused a great stir in the world of search marketers. Now the longest running named update, we’ve seen numerous addenda to the Panda update, the most recent in April, 2012. The Penguin Update, released in April, 2012 is focused on different issues than Panda.

Pandas, Penguins. What are they about? What’s the difference? How do we deal with them so our websites rank well in the SERPs? In short:

  • Panda is about content quality
  • Penguin is about link profile quality

Both updates are designed to reduce spam results in the SERPs and provide better results for searchers. These updates – and the onus they place on us as marketers to make our sites better – are not going away. And you can bet there will be more to follow.


The Panda update hit websites that had what Google terms “thin” content or poor quality” content.  Thin content can be defined as literally having too few words on a page.

Think more deeply about the issue of high quality content in order to rank well in the SERPs. If you have many words on a page, but have merely repeated yourself – in other words, you are boring to the reader – you still have poor content. It makes sense that websites with duplicate content are hit hard by the Panda updates. Readers don’t want to scour the web only to find the same content over and over. They want unique information and experiences.

Giant Panda image courtesy of BigStock

If you have an ecommerce website, this can be a real challenge. You get a product feed from your suppliers, just as everyone else. How can you make 2,000 or 200,000 or more pages unique and interesting?

  • Enable readers to add their opinions and experience with the products. User generated content is unique and if your site is active, it is fresh. Two excellent signals to Google (and Yahoo) that your site deserves attention.
  • Add a twitter feed to your home page or category pages to brings fresh user generated content to your site discussing the subjects directly related to your company, products, or services.
  • Pro-actively ask for input from your readers. Offer rewards or incentives such as a discount coupon, a chance to enter into a drawing for a gift or larger coupon with every entry.
  • Let your readers and buyers have some fun. Hold a scavenger hunt. Send them around your site looking for clues, requiring or at least encouraging them to leave messages for others on each page they visit. Have one clue lead to the next until, at the end of the hunt, the reader gets a prize such as a gift, a gift with purchase, or a discount on their purchase.


The Penguin update is an ongoing attempt to demote websites which Google sees as being what they term “excessively SEO’d”. In this case, Google is looking at the link profile of your website. They have a huge volume of data about websites and can organize those sites by their degree of trustworthiness. Government websites, for example are generally among the most reliable and least touched by SEOs.

Looking at the link profile of a government website that is not promoted by any online marketer or SEO, Google can determine what a “natural” link profile might look like. In aggregate, they can take millions of websites and compare the link profiles of every one of them against the averages of the entire group.

If your website’s link profile includes a lot more links from very low quality sites, it may stick out from the crowd as being a potentially overly SEO’d website. In other words, you may have purchase a lot of links. But this is by no means a certain thing, of course.

If the link text of more than 50% of links coming into your website contain your highest value keywords, that’s a red flag. Google assumes that you have been link building by providing this text to websites and having them place the links for your benefit in exchange for something – possibly cash, perhaps a low value short blog post in which you pay to have the blog posted, etc. The idea is to weed out sites that have obviously highly manipulated link profiles.

How do you stay within the guidelines?

    • Check your inbound link profile using tools such as Export the inbound links, including the link text (the text on the other website that is underlined and links to a page on your website) to Excel. Sort by link text words.
    • How many inbound link texts contain your high value key words? Keep it under 50% of your total inbound links.
    • If you never requested a link or told a webmaster what link text you’d like them to use when linking to you, 20% or more of your inbound link texts would contain your brand name or website name. People naturally choose those terms to link to you; make sure your link profile matches that intuition.
    • A few inbound link texts will contain the infamous “click here” and similar terms. Don’t worry about those and don’t attempt to build links using those terms. Just leave them alone; they’re part of a natural link profile.

King Penguin image courtesy of BigStock
  • If you are manipulating links through purchases, link farms, etc. now is a good time to get out of the habit. Go so far as to remove links from questionable places. Send emails requesting that the webmaster remove the link if there is no rational connection between the linking site and your site.
  •   It is EXTREMELY rare, but it is possible for a competitor to build bad links to your website. Checking your link profile regularly will alert you to any nefarious activity. If you see links that you didn’t request that seem to come from ‘bad’ sites, email the webmaster and ask them to remove the link.
  •   If the links are not removed quickly, send in a preemptive re-inclusion request form to Google Webmaster Tools. State clearly which links you would like Google to ignore (NOT to count) in your link profile. Explain that you did not request these links and that you have requested that the webmaster(s) remove them without success. By contacting Google preemptively, you can avoid being hit with a penalty.

When doing your link building, focus on gaining fewer links from high-value websites. You can do so by:

    •   Writing relevant blog posts, commenting deeply on others’ posts related to your industry.
    • Joining professional, government and industry organizations that will provide a link back to your site.

Creating valuable info-graphics (see above) and deploy them. Things that deserve attention, mention, sharing, and inbound links will receive them.

  •   Making sharing easy on your website. Add links to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg, Google+, StumbleUpon and other social media platforms, so readers can easily share your material with others. The more your material is shared, the more likely you are to receive more high quality links and to rank well in the SERPs


Gillian Muessig
Founding President SEOmoz
CEO Coach at
@SEOmoz & @SEOmom