The Year of the Panda (and Penguin)

penguin2In 2012, Google made some very big algorithm updates – namely, Panda and Penguin, that introduced a way for Google “bots” (or spiders) to better understand a website’s content and meaning. It also changed some fundamental ranking signals to penalize low-quality websites and give more weight to quality signals like fresh content and social media engagement. So after several iterations of Panda and Penguin updates all year long, do you know which changes can actually help or hurt your rankings in the coming year? Here’s a recap of some of the biggest changes from Panda and Penguin in 2012:

Low Quality Content

Google bots are now smart enough to tell if the content on a website is poorly written, is keyword stuffed, has spelling or punctuation errors, is riddled with ads or third-party links, or a myriad of other ranking signals that indicate a site’s quality (or lack thereof). This particular change knocked out many formerly high-profile “content-farm” sites and low-quality article sites from the top search positions, allowing higher-quality, more relevant sites to rise to the top of the results – giving users links to better content.

Takeaway: If you have published low-quality syndicated articles or have poorly written content (even if you wrote it!) on your web pages, it’s time to re-think and re-write for the new rules.

Freshness Counts

Google’s “freshness” ranking signals are highly important, while inbound links have become less important. Simply put, if you don’t add fresh content to your website regularly, don’t expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Google’s freshness ranking signals focus on three key areas; 1) recent events or trending topics, 2) recurring events such as the Superbowl or elections, and 3) recently updated or “fresh” content discovered on a website.

Takeaway: Add new content or update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month, because sites with “fresh” content get better quality scores and higher search positions than sites that have not been updated in a while.

Originality Counts, Too

With the Panda and Penguin updates, original content is now one of the most important ranking signals that Google uses in evaluating a website’s quality and determining ranking positions. Today, instead of flimsy content and “unnatural” inbound link building, sites need solid, original content that attracts links organically. If you don’t have the time or skills to write original content, hire someone who does – it’s that important.

In 2013, it will also matter who creates the content, and who does the linking out to that content – which is why Google is pushing businesses to get active on their Google+ profiles. According to many SEO experts, Google’s “Author Rank” now has the potential to be the biggest algorithmic signal for SEO since the hyperlink itself.

The Google Authorship feature lets authors tag their own original content (articles, web pages, posts, etc.) as belonging specifically to them by tying it to their Google+ accounts. Google already uses Authorship to help identify duplicate content on the web and provide rich snippets (images, video) in search results, but it is also likely that Google uses both Authorship and Google+ popularity as ranking signals as well.

Takeaway: If you publish original content (tied to your Google+ profile) and your competitors do not, which business do you think will be listed higher in Google’s search results?

Social Impact

Google now uses social “content” in its search results (e.g., “sharing” on Facebook, re-tweets on Twitter, posts on Google+, etc.). However – don’t just slap together a business profile or two on the social sites! In order to be successful, your social profiles should not only match your existing branding (colors, logo, marketing message), but must also provide valuable content that will resonate with customers. A social profile that just sits there (or spews pre-canned robo-posts) provides little value to visitors and no value to Google in trying to evaluate your social impact.

Takeaway: An active social presence matters – a lot. If you don’t currently have a marketing strategy that includes regular posts and sharing on social media, you need to think about including this for 2013. Marketing today demands a multi-channel approach (e.g., website, social media, mobile, SMS, SEO, etc.) in order to reach your customers and prospects effectively and score quality points in Google.

Technically Sound Architecture

Today, Google has little regard for websites that are built with non-standard code or contain technical errors. If your site was built with a freebie template, uses tables-based design or Flash code, or was created more than two years ago, it is probably time to re-evaluate the architecture of your site and repair or rebuild as necessary. If your site does not have the basic technical elements right, you have very little chance of getting Google’s attention – or rankings.

Takeaway: Google rewards websites that comply with its quality guidelines, which means that if you have not been keeping up with Google’s changes (e.g., using standards-based code, valid CSS tags, correct meta data, etc.), it’s time to get your site in technical shape.

What Matters for 2013

The year of the Panda and Penguin brought about some pretty substantial changes in the way Google evaluates and ranks websites, and if you’re still thinking that inbound links and keywords are the path to good rankings in Google, you need to think again. Although many of the tried-and-true SEO strategies are still in use by Google, they are less important today than ever before. So for 2013, the Panda/Penguin updates mean that your Google strategy must include:

* High-Quality Content (no pre-canned articles or poorly written page content)
* Regular Updates (freshness)
* Original Content (with Author Rank)
* Social Impact (useful, quality posts that are shared socially)
* Technical Correctness (standards-based code, error-free HTML, no templates or Flash, etc.)

In the coming year, experts predict that marketing channels will continue to mesh together – for example, the way that Google now uses social media signals as SEO ranking factors – so your marketing strategy needs to include multiple channels as well. The Panda/Penguin updates have fundamentally changed the way in which your website is evaluated and ranked by Google, so proceed accordingly.

Lauren Hobson is President of Five Sparrows, LLC. Five Sparrows provides professional website & marketing services to small businesses and non-profits.

About the author


Lauren Hobson

Lauren Hobson is president of Five Sparrows, LLC. Five Sparrows provides professional website and online marketing services to small businesses and non-profits.


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  • Please

    enough of the fluff articles telling people to write more original content ect.

    When is someone going to tackle the truth on this Penguin update?

    when Amazon does everything to rank #1 for “sex toys” I’ll believe there in not a manual override

    I use that term as a reference as I do “xxx” which goes to imdb an Amazon owned site

    PEGUIN and the new Google changes are about Amazon and ChannelAdvisors affiliates such as Overstock and Sears ect.

    It does not matter how much companies have tried to recover – nothing works because Google is now a hybrid search engine with manual overrides.

    Delte this post if you will as it challenges this writer and SiteProNews to really start publishing the facts and try to put together what is really going on with Google and stop censorship of those challenging whats really happening.

  • Quality of content and relevancy is the key to success in SEO after Panda and Penguin.
    Expecting quality results from irrelevant link building and with low quality domains is not going to happen anymore.
    SEOs nowadays have to be more smart and analytical as its not about the posting anymore but the intelligence of the marketers counts.

  • This is such useful information.

    Fortunately for hard working website owners it looks do-able enough. For the guys that have been taking shortcuts, that’s just too bad. SEO has become extremely tricky, but most of all, a lot harder work than ever before.

    Although many are knowing the search engines for their new updates; at the end of it all it will ultimately make the WWW information highway a better place to visit.


    Richard Corona

  • […] Post from: SiteProNews: Webmaster News & ResourcesThe Year of the Panda (and Penguin) […]

    • Do you mean the comma or the apostrophe?

      I assume you mean the latter, in which case, it’s easy.

      The apostrophe is placed to combine – for example, “it is” becomes “it’s”, “we are” becomes “we’re”, “was not” becomes “wasn’t”.

      There can be more confusion when it’s used possessively. For example, “Steven’s piano” as opposed to “Mr Stevens’ piano”.

  • First, great article!

    YA know, I see so much written about keeping content fresh and I totally understand. But, are you referring to blog content or does that also include the content on our static “Web Services” pages and our homepage as well?

    If that’s the case, how often is often enough to update our content?

  • Original content has long been a primary factor in ranking, but update frequency has become more important in the last year or so.

    From my own experience, the length of that original content was more important than it is now. When Google first began to publicly support original copy reports seemed to suggest that the longer the content was the more effective it became. But this has seemingly also changed in the last year.

    Original copy is important, but the length of that content is less important to Google now than the frequency of fresh content.

    Put simply, write original content, make it compelling enough for people to share, and do it every day. And for the love of God add those share buttons in a prominent place – and mention sharing the content as a reminder too. Encourage the spread of your work wherever possible.

  • Google has to rember this: Not every homepage is business – and often we write something which last for years – you do not change Kafka every year! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have made homepages since 1995, and they are still with us and express views which not have changed – and I can not change them for the sake of Google – And rember too: Spelling right is of course good – but an important message should not be overlooked because of such a trivial reason! If! – facebook has to close immediately! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nice article and of course things all webmasters should aspire to. But in reality it’s just not true.

    In my market and location I am seeing Older domains and exact keyword matching domains ranking page one. I know five of these are no longer in effective business they exist entirely on google adds alone. Also ranking page 1 is a website with over 2000 listing on their homepage which takes like 1 hour to load. So I don’t agree with the quality part of the article. Age and domain name seem to be taking major priority.

    Personally I do not agree EDM’s should be given any advantage at all. Domain name should not effect it’s ranking at all.

    Personally talking about was true as but it just ain’t.

  • Thanks for the great roundup. I’ll be sharing this with several of FreelancePR.com’s clients.

    It’s high time that Google starts giving high-quality content creators the credit they deserve. I just hope the search engines will do a better job of identifying scraped and stolen content and penalize the thieves accordingly.

  • The focus now, as well as the future focus of algorith changes will be on actual user experience. Google wants to rank those sites that users find best (and that make them money).

  • internet as echo chamber, dept: if i said it once i’ve said it.. well you know! it’s still all about the words. what kind, where, how many… and i have the SERPs to prove it. def gonna pass this one along (just so i don’t sound like a voice in the wilderness). thx ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I agree with some of your points. But sorry, not all of them. I got 1 old site. Only 3 pages. Never update it’s content for 4 years. Still use old tables-based HTML. Only PR 1. But ranked well on page 1 local google search (keyword with 765 million search results)?

  • “update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month,”

    Sorry Lauren, I totally disagree. Updating just for ‘updating sake’ is a total waste of time. I have seen a video from Matt very recently on the subject.
    This is bad advice that will drive loads of small business owners into changing/shifting words around on a page just because its ‘updating’.

    • Hi Ian,

      I think you may have missed the message of the article – updating for “updating sake” is indeed a waste of everyone’s time. Social posts and web updates should always provide useful information that is valuable to the readers. Sorry you came away with that message…

  • I agree with the need for relevant content, quality content, reasonably frequent content updates, and technically sound architecture.

    But social impact, c’mon – really? Social web site “content” and links to/from social networking sites simply isn’t relevant for many types of businesses. We are having this social impact crap rammed down our throats whether we like it, need it, or NOT!!!

  • Excellent and well put article, Lauren. I like how you tie in each paragraph with a takeaway. Do you homework properly and Google will reward you for the hard work.

  • I would agree that ethics is important and we should write with people in mind. Beyond that, let Google decide.
    For many years, it may not be possible for Google to judge human mind however hard it tries. Its efforts in the last two years have shown that when it does 4 good things, it ends up doing 1 or 2 things that are undesirable. So, let it keep erring; let’s play by the rules of the game.

  • I am very thankful for This valuable Information about panda,penguin.so my point of view upcoming days Seo is very tricky. as well as the future focus of algorithm changes will be on actual user experience.

  • Although google have updated their algorithm with panda and penguin I can still see many sites with table based designs, static sites, keyword rich domains still ranking but there is a lot of improvement and the volumes of those types of sites are I believe decreased to as many as 90%.

  • Thanks for this, but I still have worries about how ‘fair’ Google is being with the new iterations.

    My site is by definition ‘static’ – I want to sell t-shirts, I don’t want to give my opinions on events in Syria! I’ve got an RSS feed from a blog, but apart from creating special offers just for the sake of it, there’s not really a lot to say.

    I’m learning CSS so I can clean up the code, while retaining the look of the site.

    But my biggest gripe is that is you use search terms specific to my area, the first 5 results are always from huge national companies that have ‘gamed’ their site to appear local when they have vast warehouses in trading estates. Google seems to be doing away with the local providers, and allowing the mega-centralised companies to take over.

    Small plumbers or carpenters, or t-shirt printers need Google as much as anyone, but if we tried to ‘game’ our sites, I’m willing to bet Google would come down on us hard. But the big places can pretend to be local to wherever you are searching from and get away scott free.