Google 101: Everything you need to know about Panda & Penguin Algorithms

During a visit to the zoo, you may choose to watch the cute pandas chewing on their bamboo, or trek to the aquatic area to see the penguins. In the realm of a zoo, pandas and penguins may seem to have little in common except for their black and white coloring.

However, if you are in any way involved with designing, building, maintaining or monitoring websites, you know that pandas and penguins are closely related to one another. These are names used by Google for algorithms that can have a huge impact on your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). An algorithm is a set of rules or step-by-step procedures that are used for automated reasoning.

The Panda and Penguin algorithms both look at different issues, but ultimately the goal is to reward (by way of higher rankings) quality websites and penalize spammers. Paying attention to details and utilizing good SEO techniques can help keep the animals at bay. Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between each algorithm.

zoo blog

In a nutshell (or bamboo shoot) Panda considers on-page elements, whereas Penguin looks at external signals coming in to your website.The overall effect of Panda has been described as more widespread, similar to the tentacles of an octopus and potentially longer lasting; whereas Penguin is more acute, and the bleeding can be more quickly stopped.


It is possible to recover from both Panda and Penguin penalizations. In the case of Panda, the changes need to be made on your own website. A thorough review of the site -- either performed in-house, or through a professional website audit -- with an eye for usability will help. As you review the site, ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Can visitors easily find information?
  • Is the topic of each page obvious to visitors?
  • Is the content original and does it provide sufficient depth of the topic?
  • Do the number and placement of ads obscure the visitor’s ability to quickly access the content?
  • When looking objectively at the site, is the primary focus on the user needs or the business goals?
  • Is the content on the page authoritative and valuable? Does it answer the query better than other pages on the web?
  • If some of the pages on the site are high quality and engaging, are other pages not as high in quality?

Penalization effects may be cumulative if fixes are not in place before the next monthly Panda roll out. While no one has yet documented a full recovery – that is 100% traffic return – sites are showing signs of improvement. Some helpful steps to take towards recovery (and prevention if you are lucky enough to have dodged the bullet thus far) are:

  • Implement authorship and other schema/microdata markups to help make the site’s content look more authentic and encourage clickthroughs from search results.
  • Improve low performing landing pages by looking at pages with a fair to good traffic volume but low user engagement (low visit duration) and high bounce rate.
  • Update top landing pages to see if there is an opportunity to optimize these for additional keywords.
  • Block crawlers from accessing poor content and duplicate pages by using the robots.txt file or “noindex” tag.
  • Build new signals by seeking links from authority websites, creating and launching new content assets, sharing your content on social networks.
  • Optimize for local search, especially since many search results are based on the user’s location.

Penguin is the result of factors external to your website, and therefore recovery involves contact with other site owners. A complete link profile check to review all inbound links is the first step.  If you find a link that does not seem appropriate, reach out to the webmaster of the site. There may be a rationale for the link that is not patently obvious. If you feel the link does not fit your profile, request that it be removed.

To help strengthen your site and link profile as defense from future penalties, engage in a link building campaign. Identify sites are in synergy with yours and request the addition of links from these sites. Aim for links that are directed to deeper pages on your site (i.e., not the home page). Request variations of anchor text that use relevant keywords and phrases rather than your brand name for the link.

While the thought of preventing penalties from Panda or Penguin may be seem daunting, utilizing best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) as part of your overall digital strategy can keep the animals in their respective locations at the zoo.


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