Google Panda Update vs. Google Penguin Updates

Written by Nick Stamoulis

The SEO community has been a buzz this past week with the latest update from Google, named Penguin. Penguin came down the pipeline last week, right on the tail of the latest Panda update. Since most of the big updates in the past year have been focused on Panda, many site owners are left wondering what the real differences between Panda and Penguin are. Here is a breakdown:

Google Panda Update Overview:

According to Google’s official blog post when Panda launched,

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

Basically, Panda updates are designed to target pages that aren’t necessarily spam but aren’t great quality. This was the first ever penalty that went after “thin content,” and the sites that were hit hardest by the first Panda update were content farms (hence why it was originally called the Farmer update), where users could publish dozens of low-quality, keyword stuffed articles that offered little to no real value for the reader. Many publishers would submit the same article to a bunch of these content farms just to get extra links.

Panda is a site wide penalty, which means that if “enough” (no specific number) pages of your site were flagged for having thin content, your entire site could be penalized. Panda was also intended to stop scrappers (sites that would republish other company’s content) from outranking the original author’s content.

Here is a breakdown of all the Panda updates and their release dates. If your site’s traffic took a major hit around one of these times there is a good chance it was flagged by Panda

1. Panda 1.0 (aka the Farmer Update) on February 24th 2011
2. Panda 2.0 on April 11th 2011. (Panda impacts all English speaking countries)
3. Panda 2.1 on May 9th 2011 or so
4. Panda 2.2 on June 18th 2011 or so.
5. Panda 2.3 on around July 22nd 2011.
6. Panda 2.4 in August 2011(Panda goes international)
7. Panda 2.5 on September 28th 2011
8. Panda 2.5.1 on October 9th 2011
9. Panda 2.5.2 on October 13th 2011
10. Panda 2.5.3 on October 19/20th 2011
11. Panda 3.1 on November 18th 2011
12. Panda 3.2 on about January 15th 2012
13. Panda 3.3 on about February 26th 2012
14. Panda 3.4 on March 23rd 2012
15. Panda 3.5 on April 19th 2012
16. Panda 3.6 on April 27th 2012
17. Panda 3.7 on June 8th 2012
18. Panda 3.8 on June 25th 2012
19. Panda 3.9 on July 24th 2012
20. Panda 3.9.1 on August 20th 2012
21. Panda 3.9.2 on September 18th 2012
22. Panda Update #20 on September 27 2012 (overlapped the EMD Update)
23. Panda #21 on November 5th 2012
24. Panda #22 on December 4th 2012
25. Panda #23 on December 21st 2012
26. Panda #24 on Jan. 22nd 2013
27. Panda #25 on March 25th 2013
28. Panda #26, July 18, 2013
29. Panda 4.0 on May 20th 2014

Search Engine Land recently created this great Google Panda update infographic to help walk site owners through the many versions of the Google Panda updates.

Many site owners complained that even after they made changes to their sites in order to be more “Panda friendly,” their sites didn’t automatically recover. Panda updates do not happen at regular intervals, and Google doesn’t re-index every site each time, so some site owners were forced to deal with low traffic for several months until Google got around to re-crawling their website and taking note of any positive changes.

Matt Cutt told SMX West 2013 attendees that  they are unlikely to confirm future Panda updates since Panda will be incorporated into their indexing processes.

Google Penguin Update Overview:

The Google Penguin Update launched on April 24. According to the Google blog, Penguin is an “important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.” Google mentions that typical black hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing (long considered webspam) would get a site in trouble, but less obvious tactics (link incorporating irrelevant outgoing links into a page of content) would also cause Penguin to flag your site. Says Google,

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.

Site owners should be sure to check their Google Webmaster accounts for any messages from Google warning about your past spam activity and a potential penalty. Google says that Penguin has impacted about 3.1% of queries (compared to Panda 1.0’s 12%). If you saw major traffic losses between April 24th and April 25th, chances are Penguin is the culprit, even though Panda 3.5 came out around the same time.

Unfortunately, Google has yet to outline exactly what signals Penguin is picking up on, so many site owners that were negatively impacted are in the dark as to where they want wrong with their onsite SEO. Many in the SEO community have speculated that some contributing factors to Penguin might be things like:

1. Aggressive exact-match anchor text
2. Overuse of exact-match domains
3. Low-quality article marketing & blog spam
4. Keyword stuffing in internal/outbound links

It’s important to remember that Panda is an algorithm update, not a manual penalty. A reconsideration request to Google won’t make much a difference–you’ll have to repair your site and wait for a refresh before your site will recover.  As always do not panic if you are seeing a down turn in traffic, in the past when there is a major Google update like this things often rebound.  If you do think you have some sort of SEO penalty as a result of either the Google Panda or Google Penguin updates, please contact your SEO service provider to help or start trouble shooting.

Google has so far rolled out the following Penguin updates:
1. Initial Penguin Update, April 24th 2012
2. Penguin 1.1, May 25th 2012
3. Penguin #3, October 9th 2012
4. Penguin #4 (aka Penguin 2.0), May 22nd, 2013
5. Penguin #4 (aka Penguin 2.1), October 4th, 2013

Google Penguin 2.0 updates is one of many coming from Google in 2013:

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