What You Need to Know About the Google Panda and Google Penguin Algorithms

No, this is not an article about a Zoo that Google has purchased… In fact, I’m sure most of you know all that you want to know about Google Panda and Google Penguin, two new algorithms that have turned Google Search Results upside down over the past year and a half.

What’s interesting is that even though these two new algorithms have far reaching implications for millions of websites around the world, there still isn’t a lot of coverage on them. That is until now! ;)

In this article I will provide you with an overview on each of these two Google algorithms, explain how they work, discuss how they affect website SEO, show you how to find out if your website was hit by them, and review how to recover your website’s search ranking after it’s been affected by these algorithms.

What is Google Panda?

Released in February 2011, Google Panda has been around for about eighteen months now. It’s been updated since its initial release. Very simply, Google Panda is an algorithm. Google Panda is a change to the Google’s search results ranking algorithm. The goal of Google Panda is to move higher quality websites higher up Google Search Results. Google Panda accomplishes this by placing a lower ranking for websites that they deem as “low quality”. They then return higher-quality websites higher in search results.

So, how did Google create an algorithm that seems so qualitative in nature? Great question. Google Panda was created using artificial intelligence in a way that had never been done before. Google had human quality testers rate thousands of websites based on the following measures of quality:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Design
  • Speed
  • Recurring Value or whether or not they would return to the website

Google then took those results and one of their engineers, Navneet Panda used a machine-learning algorithm that would seek out similarities between websites that the human quality testers found to be high quality and low quality and then apply those to all other sites in order to better rank websites based on quality.

When Google Panda was released it was estimated that it affected almost 12 percent of all websites crawled by Google. Let’s just say that when 12% of millions of websites are affected by this new algorithm that there would be some significant blowback from websites who felt they were unfairly targeted by Google. Let’s face it, ranking high in Google Search Results is a highly competitive environment. Moving down in Google Search Results can have a HUGE negative impact on website’s income generation potential. It didn’t take long before forums, and specifically Google Webmaster forum, to become full of many unhappy website owners.

In order to alleviate the tension and make sure that website owners understood how they could update their website to become what Google deemed as a “high quality site” Google made numerous updates to Google Panda and also posted some tips on its blog. Here are a few examples of the list of items Google posted and instructed website owners to “think about” in relation to their website and its ranking:

  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

What is Google Penguin?

Google Penguin is a very new algorithm that Google launched on April 24, 2012. Google Penguin is Google’s response to the increased use of black-hat search engine optimization techniques. The goal of Google Penguin is to decrease search engine rankings of websites that are in violation of Google’s Webmaster Tools. Some of the black-hat SEO techniques that Google Penguin is trying to reduce the effectiveness of are:

  • keyword stuffing
  • deliberate creation of duplicate content
  • cloaking
  • participating in link schemes

DID YOU KNOW? When the Google Algorithm was launched Google did so without an official name. A popular online search news magazine, Search Engine Land, actually took it upon themselves to try to name the new Google Algorithm. They asked their readers to submit requests. A lot of requests came in, but it wasn’t until May 20th 2012 when SEO Expert Todd Bailey submitted his request that a new name was found. Mr. Bailey compared the new Google Algorithm’s way of detecting spam to the way that a Penguin uses its sense of smell to detect food. And that’s how Google Penguin got its name…

Unfair Consequences of Google Penguin’s Release

Like any change to software that millions of people use, there are going to be some unintended consequences from the release. In the case of Google Penguin, the unfair consequences are the websites who received communication from Google that they were reportedly in violation one or more black-hat SEO tactics. Many sites who were employing these practices were filtered out, but there are many, many more who did not deliberately use black-hat SEO tactics but who were now being filtered out of Google Search Results because of Google Penguin. In fact, this happened to one of my websites when Google Penguin went live.

One day my website was ranked on page 2 (it is a brand new site) of Google Search results for a specific keyword. When we checked the next day our website was nowhere to be found. Unlike many others we were never notified of any issue. All that we knew was that our site was no longer showing up in Google Search Results. We scrambled… We changed a few things on the website (duplicate content), filled out the feedback form that Google put out 2 days after Penguin launched, and eventually we were put back up. That said, it took about two weeks to complete this process. My website is an e-commerce website, so we definitely lost sales over that time period.

The Difference between Google Panda and Google Penguin

Both Google Panda and Google Penguin share the same goal. That goal is to get the highest quality websites for any given topic to the top of Google’s Search Results. That said, Google Panda and Google Penguin algorithms set out to achieve this goal in different ways. Google Panda targets websites that provide a poor user experience. Google Penguin targeted websites that use black-hat search engine optimization tactics to unfairly boost their Google Search Ranking against their competitors. At the end of the day, Google seems to be achieving their goal, but sometimes that at the expense of innocent bystanders.

Website Recovery from Google Panda and Google Penguin

Figuring out if your website was affected by Google Panda or Google Penguin is not something that anyone really wants to spend time on. That said, there isn’t much you can do about it if you want to stay in Google’s good graces. Ranking high in Google Search Results is the lifeblood of basically all websites, so you really need to take the time to dig into this so that you can update your website if need be.

Identify Which Google Algorithm Affected Your Website

In order to identify if your website was affected by the Google Panda or Google Penguin algorithms you can use Google Analytics. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Launch Google Analytics
  2. Click on Google Organic Reporting
  3. Set your time frame to view data between April 1, 2012 and May 15, 2012 (Reminder: Google Panda was fully rolled out on 4/19/2012, followed by Google Penguin on 4/24/2012, and finally a Google Panda update launched on 4/27/2012)

Do you see any big dips in traffic on 4/19, 4/24, and/or 4/27? If you see dips on 4/19 or 4/27 than your website was affected by Google Panda. If you see a big dip on 4/24 than your website was affected by Google Penguin.

instantShift - Website Hit by Google Panda
Website hit by Google Panda

instantShift - Website Hit by Google Penguin
Website hit by Google Penguin

Once you know which algorithm affected your website you can now move on to the next step, which is to find out which keywords were affected.

Identify Which Keywords Were Impacted by the New Google Algorithms

Finding out which algorithm affected your website is part one of this process, but the next critical piece is to figure out which keywords were affected. Follow the steps below to determine this:

  • Within the Google/Organic report flag the primary dimension to keyword, which shows you a list of the top performing keywords during the timeframe that you set.

    instantShift - Google/Organic Report with Keyword Dimension

  • Look at the keywords list as it stands now and then compare the dates after your website was affected by the Panda or Penguin algorithms from a earlier set of dates. Click the date in the upper right hand corner of Google Analytics. If you were affected by Panda then select 4/19 through 5/15. If you were affected by Penguin, select 4/24 to 5/15. You can then click the checkbox for “compare to past”.

    instantShift - Comparing Google Analytics Results

  • Next you will see a list of keywords that generated traffic to your website. It will also show the percentage of increase and decrease when compared to the earlier timeframe). If you’re seeing specific keywords drop by 50% or more than you can bank on the fact that it was due to Panda or Penguin.
  • Finally you can segregate the dimension for that keyword by “Landing Page”, which shows you the specific webpage that was affected. Once you’ve identified that affected web page(s) you can then begin sifting through those pages based on what you now know the algorithms are looking for (see the earlier portion of this article) to begin narrowing down why you think you were affected.

    instantShift - Google/Organic Report with Landing Page Dimension

Making Changes to Your Website Based on Your Findings

Once you’ve uncovered which algorithm affected your website, which keywords were affected, and what web pages were also affected you can then go through your pages and make any necessary changes. For example, if you were affected by the Panda algorithm then you should consider things like design and load speed. Do you have a lot of images on that page? If you were affected by the Penguin algorithm then you should consider if you may have duplicate content on your web page (copied somewhere else on another website) or if maybe you mistakenly “stuffed keywords” on that particular page. The hard part is finding out which algorithm affected you since they were both launched around the same time. Once you’ve figured that out, along with the affected keywords and web pages you can begin to make the necessary changes. Good luck!

Image Credits

Like the article? Share it.

LinkedIn Pinterest


  1. Still having a massive struggle my end, this did provide more info than other sites and might get me going in the right direction!


  2. Useful article.. Thanks a lot…

  3. This is a fantastic post, I have tried searching on this topic but everything is right here. Thank you so much

  4. Always good to have a refresher on the impact and qualities of these powerful algorithms. At the end of the day, the best way for website owners to protect themselves and maintain high rankings ( or get them higher), is to provide updated, authoritative, useful content that is user-oriented.

    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

Leave a Comment Yourself

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *