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Understanding the Panda and Penguin Google Algorithm Updates

Posted on May 22, 2012 by Josh Mc

Google recently made two changes to its search algorithm that have forever changed the way search engine optimization works. These two algorithm changes, known as Panda and Penguin, affect every website on the Internet, including eCommerce websites. While I know that search engine optimization can be a scary and confusing thing to look at, I thought it would be best to lay out some understanding on the updates and how they can best be combated in the eCommerce world. I have left resources at the end of each linking to people much smarter then me, if you feel like you have been affected by and of these updates you should check out the resources for more information. For exact dates on specific updates check out this post.

Panda Update

The first of the two updates was the Panda update. This update to Google’s search algorithm placed a greater emphasis on on-page content / SEO and was released last year (but is updated every couple of months which is why it is still relative). Websites now, more than ever, need to offer new, quality content to their visitors in order to combat the attack on low quality pages that the Panda update went after. If you were trying to promote a website with a bunch of advertisements above the fold and generic, duplicate content and other problems, these were the pages that were most affected in this update.

Adding fresh, high quality content to your site, and fixing low quality pages, is a good way to counter this Google update. If Google sees certain on-page metrics such as time on site, page views, and number of unique visitors, then these are all positive signals that the user was able to find what they wanted on your site, so dive into these in your analytics to see where you have pages that may need to be updated.

When dealing with an eCommerce website, you could also consider adding a blog or articles to your website in order to get this fresh content, or you can go through and refresh old product pages that have not gotten the updates they need. Refreshing product pages is a big one as these pages are often exact copies of what is on manufacturer pages and other competitors around the internet. If you only have a small amount of pages it is a great place to start. Always remember to provide value to the user and to focus on some of the above signals to make your site better and hopefully help you stay away from a loss in future Panda updates.


Penguin Update

The most recent Google update is the Penguin update. This search algorithm update has to do with targeting web spam, specifically targeting spam tactics like keyword stuffing, link schemes, etc. In the old days of SEO, you could simply build a large number of backlinks to your website from any other website on the Internet, and often it did not even matter where the links came from just as long as you had them. Now, this is no longer the case, as Google really only wants to see sites receive backlinks from relevant websites and not places that will sell you 200 links for $9.99. If you run an eCommerce website selling baby items, you will want the majority of your backlinks coming from websites that also discuss topics related to babies, which is a no brainer, but something that many companies lose sight of. This will help Google determine what your website is about and whether or not it should serve up your website in the search results for certain keywords related to the baby item niche.

In addition to obtaining backlinks from relevant websites, the Penguin update made it more important to diversify your anchor text (the text that makes up the link). Previously, the more backlinks you had using a specific keyword as the anchor text, the better the chance your site would be able to rank for that specific keyword. Now, in an effort to fight webspam, Google is often penalizing sites that try to manipulate anchor text. This doesn't mean that no links should have the keyword you are targeting, just that it is now more important to diversify your anchor text when building links, that way the links do not come across as spammy to Google.

The biggest thing Google is looking for in regards to a link building is a natural looking backlink profile. If all of your links are from one type of website using the exact same anchor text, this will not look very natural in the eyes of Google. Cleaning up old spammy links and making an effort to obtain links from a variety of websites related to your industry, that use simply anchor text like your company name, is becoming one of the best ways to work on improving your search engine rankings after the latest Penguin update.


All that to say, creating good content and bringing in good links is more important than ever to the prolonged success of your site in organic results. While Google recently made changes to their search engine algorithm, it is possible to still improve your site’s rankings through improving the quality of your site’s content. Adding fresh content to your site, obtaining links from relevant websites, diversifying the anchor text you use when building your links and cleaning up old spammy links are all great ways to do this. Obviously these are not guaranteed to help you recover from a penalty or shift but they are a great place to start. If you were affected by either of these updates I recommend the resources above as a good place to start. Let me know if you have any comments or questions!

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