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What is Google Panda?

First released in February 2011, Google’s Panda algorithm implementation and subsequent updates puts a spotlight on content, elevating authoritative sites like Wikipedia or The New York Times and penalizing sites with so-called ‘thin’ content. Sounding ideal on the surface, Panda has not been an issue-free endeavor for Google, with the update causing a major rift between large corporations and small businesses.

Panda, alongside Penguin, Hummingbird and other future updates, is a fundamental part of Google search engine’s inner workings – understanding Panda and how it affects any site is essential for securing top rankings and continued website success. With Google still a major dominant force in the US search engine market (capturing around 70% of all searches), the site’s updates and algorithm changes have a much higher impact US businesses than those from Yahoo or Bing.

Short History Of Important Google Updates

To show how Panda fits into Google’s elaborate update schedule, here’s our quick guide to Google’s key algorithm updates from the last few years:

Google Vince – February 2009.
Thought to help branded websites rank over generic content.

Google Places – April 2010.
Priority given to websites with a verified address for all local business searches.

Google Panda (also originally called Google Farmer) – February 2011.
Major update penalizing poor content and a high advertisement-to-content ratio.

Google Penguin – April 2012.
Penalizing over-optimization, including keyword stuffing and link farms.

Google Hummingbird – August 2013.
Emphasis on semantic and conversational search terms (e.g. “What is Google Panda?”).

Initial Panda Problems

When first implemented, Google Panda hit the SEO world hard, with many webmasters and site owners reporting the unfair penalization of their small to medium sites, regardless of content quality. While initially aimed to bring down content farms and low quality sites, Panda’s first few goes at leveling the playing field saw small business sites losing out to major retailers like Amazon for product-oriented searches and localized websites getting buried under major national corporations.

The growing concern with Panda’s preference for large, and often irrelevant, websites crowding out smaller, specialized sites came to a head in August 2013, when Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, made an open call for small site owners to submit their websites and explain why they are more relevant than those that outranked them at the time.

The New ‘Softer’ Panda

Panda has been updated over 25 times, most recently in July 2013 where the update reportedly ‘softened’ its impact on smaller sites. Anticipated future updates are expected to continue this mellowing of Panda’s force on small business sites, in light of the feedback collected by Cutts and the webspam team in August 2013. Big brand sites look likely to require more restructuring to withstand the reintroduction of smaller sites on the SERPs. No date has been set for a new Panda update, but many SEO experts are speculating that one could take place in the next few months.

Panda-Proofing Your Small Business Site

With previous Panda and Vince search engine updates making it tougher than ever for small sites to compete with massive brands and corporations, the idea of a softer Panda algorithm is alluring for most small business owners. While size will always be important (more site pages usually means more natural backlinks), small sites will see benefits from becoming authorities in their niches. Customers, casual readers and those reaching your site from social networks will stick around if they find what they’re looking for. Encyclopedic sites like Wikipedia do serve an important function online as a general introduction to any topic, but when it comes to expert advice and knowledgeable experience, nothing can match what a small business has to say. Webmasters should focus on sharing their knowledge concisely and clearly, in line with Google’s guidelines on building high quality sites. Looking forward, future Panda updates look set to reward this logic, making it easier for small sites to be seen when it matters and forcing big brands to work harder to earn their place on the SERPs.

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