Google regularly updates its search algorithm to improve user experience and penalize those who are gaming the system.

If you read marketing websites even occasionally, you might have heard about the terms ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ before. Usually these terms are mentioned in the context of search engine optimization (SEO).

Recently I was asked about these two, about how the two are exactly different. I realize that I wasn’t 100% sure, so I decided to learn more. I also included some infographics below if you prefer something visual.

Google - Panda and Penguin updates
Photo: Linkwheeler

Google Panda is about content

Google’s Panda update rewards high-quality websites.  Named after a Google engineer, Panda scores websites on their content and user-experience and decreases rankings of content farms and other websites that violate Google’s existing quality guidelines.

Moreover, according to Search Engine Land:

The focus of Panda is to reduce the prominence of websites which have ‘thin’, low quality and duplicate content. It also targeted sites which come up short on other site-quality metrics, e.g. high advert-to-content ratios.

A CNET analysis found that Panda favoured media outlets and social networking sites while penalizing websites with large amounts of advertising.

Google unleashed Panda on February 23, 2011, with some updates following later that year.

Google Penguin is about spamming

Penguin targets webspam, which Google defines as “techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked.”

Black hat webspam practices include:

  • Keyword stuffing – loading a webpage with keywords or numbers.  You may have seen these websites before: they force keywords in their sentences to the point that the content no longer sounds natural!
  • Link schemes – buying or selling links, excessive link exchanges, or other similar techniques.
  • Cloaking - presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines — for examples, through sneaky re-directs and ‘doorway’ pages.
  • Duplicate content – the deliberate duplication of content across domains in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.

For affected websites that probably shouldn’t have been affected by Penguin, Google has created a form where marketers can provide more details. Penguin was first announced in April 2012.

Final SEO advice

To make sure people don’t game the search results page, Google doesn’t divulge specific signals related to Panda or Penguin or to any of its updates.

But that doesn’t mean marketers are helpless. To make sure your pages have a good chance of ranking well, follow Google’s advice on creating high quality content. These recommendations include the following:

  • Be an expert. Avoid producing shallow content with the intent of ranking for keywords. Instead, provide complete and comprehensive information and analysis on what you’re writing about.
  • Correct errors, including spelling, grammatical or factual mistakes.
  • Aim to be original. Do not copy content — even your own.
  • Avoid placing too many advertisements on your websites.

Finally, add the Google Webmaster Central blog to your RSS feeds to be in the loop with the latest Google announcements.

It is in Google’s best business interest to provide the best possible experience for search users, and the Panda and Penguin updates are important updates from the search giant to make sure they’re keeping up with ‘black hat’ SEOs. As marketers, you can stay ahead of your competition by understanding these updates and focusing on delivering great content.

See Panda and Penguin infographics below for more info and leave a comment below if you have questions or comments.

Infographic: Google Panda Update

Infographic: Google Penguin Update

© 2013, KC Claveria. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please link back to kcclaveria.com