Why Google’s Pet Panda Might Eat Your Business



April 28, 2011 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

panda at the zoo to represent google's pet panda EATing your SEO

Google is no stranger to updates and innovation when it comes to their search technology. In fact, while we don’t have official numbers, prominent Googler engineer Matt Cutts has told us that more than one update is made each day, on average. However, most of those changes are tweaks, adjustments, and nudges. A recent update had a far greater scope – great enough, in fact, that it has put several online groups entirely out of business.

That update is known as “Panda,” but you might hear it called the “Farmer Update” or “Content Mill Update” as well. The priority of Panda is eliminating “spam content” generated by “farms” or “mills.” But what is spam content, and how exactly do we define mills?

Defining Spam

Spam is any low-quality content designed entirely to drive traffic. This content doesn’t add value and isn’t written well (it is often, in fact, written by freelance writers whose first language is not English). Meanwhile, a “content farm” or “content mill” is a site that loads itself with low-quality content to drive traffic from incidental keyword matches. These farms are typically funded by advertisements.

But when it comes right down to it, the definition of “low-quality” isn’t easy to put your finger on. When an enthusiastic blogger writes out entries that aren’t word-perfect and polished, is that spam? What about an e-commerce site that adds a large number of products, but doesn’t have entirely unique and well-written content for each item?

And how can we tell which content aggregation sites are really “farms”? What about content sites where many find that 80% of the content is garbage, but the remaining 20% is highly useful? The truth is, there aren’t exact answers to these questions just yet.

Google has decided on specific “markers” to determine if a site is low-quality and which the search giant has addressed many of the spam issues on the Web, has also dropped numerous “innocent” sites. After all, translating a subjective concept like “quality” into a mathematical equation is difficult, and some inaccuracy is inevitable.

How to Befriend the Panda

Whether or not your site was hurt in this update, there are a number of alterations you can make to help improve your ranking. Here’s what we know based on public information on the Panda update:

  • Content copied from other sites should be removed.
  • Proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and spelling is now more important.
  • Your “ad-to-content ratio” is one of the markers you’ll be judged on; avoid overloading the site with ads.
  • User metrics, such as time on site and bounce rate, will probably be used to determine site quality. Be sure your site content is engaging and useful!
  • If you have any “thin” content on your site, rewrite or remove it. The presence of any low-quality content will hurt all pages on the domain.

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