News & Insights


An Overview of the Panda and Penguin Algorithm Updates

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|4th April 2016



These are the names of major algorithm updates that Google has rolled out in recent years and that continue to have an impact on the search results. These updates are specifically designed to prevent low quality sites from ranking while rewarding those that adhere to all quality guidelines.

But they can also cause a good deal of confusion in terms of rankings.

One day you might be ranking for your keywords and removed from the search results the next. As you might expect these updates can be incredibly frustrating as you see your traffic and sales tank. If your business depends on search traffic you need to understand what these two updates mean as well as best practices to follow. Otherwise you risk losing a major competitive advantage online.

Here we provide an overview to the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates.

Panda Update

It all comes down to quality.

Are you spamming your content with irrelevant keywords? Are you scraping content from other sources. Does your site actually provide value or is it a rehash of what is already online? These are exactly the kind of sites that the Panda update targets.

Here is Google’s official statement when the update was released:

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.

The update is a sitewide penalty. It only takes a few pages of low quality or duplicate content to have your entire penalised. If you notice a sharp decline in traffic, it could be due to the Panda update.

Follow each of these steps to fix your site and recover your rankings:

  • Conduct a content audit: Go through each page of your site and note down instances of low quality or duplicate content. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your efforts.
  • Rewrite or remove offending pages: The next step is to either remove all pages that do not meet certain quality standards or have them completely rewritten. Focus on providing value with your content or you won’t recover your rankings.
  • Continue publishing new content: Updates do not occur at regular intervals as it can be months before the next refresh. In the meantime, continue publishing quality content to your site and Google will eventually re-crawl your site.

Penguin Update

There are hundreds of different factors that Google weighs to determine rankings. One of the most important are the links to your site. Spamming your site with thousands of links may have worked before but now it will only lead to a ranking penalty.

Google made the following announcement around the same time that Penguin was released:

The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.

In other words, the update targets sites that violate the Quality Guidelines.

This includes:

  • Buying links from paid networks
  • Building links using automated tools
  • Aggressive exact match anchor text
  • Low quality article marketing or blog spam
  • Keyword stuffing in links

These are practices that are against the Quality Guidelines and engaging in them could get your site penalised in the search results. Follow these steps if your site was hit with the Penguin update:

  • Conduct a link audit: Use tools such as ahrefs to examine all the links that are currently pointing to your pages. Take a look through each and note down any that are from spammy sources.
  • Request removal: The next step is to cleanup your link profile. Start by contact webmasters of questionable sites that are linking to you and request that they remove the link to your site. Some will respond but others won’t.
  • Use the Disavow Tool: If you are still unable to remove spammy links to your site, you can also use the Disavow Tool. This tool tells Google to ignore certain types of links to your pages.

Take all these steps to cleanup your link profile. Building links too quickly or having the same anchor text is an indication of spam. In the future, you want to build quality links from relevant sources.


The Panda and Penguin updates are aimed at delivering more relevant results by penalising sites engaged in questionable tactics such as keyword stuffing and spammy link building practices. If your rankings are dropping it could be due to one of these updates. Focus your efforts on creating quality content and building relevant links.