Panda and Penguin – Why They’ve Changed the SEO Game

Matt Beswick June 5, 2012 5
Google Panda and Penguin

Google’s recent Penguin update as well as last year’s Panda algorithm change have forced many website owners to rethink their SEO tactics. We’re all familiar with the basics of effective SEO: a focus on quality, natural backlinks, keyword optimization and on-page optimization for easy indexing by search engines. Prior to Penguin and Panda, quite a few SEO gurus used shortcuts to game the system in their websites’ favor. The latest algorithm updates are Google’s attempt to level the playing field and make high-quality content king again. Ultimately, they’ve changed the SEO game and made certain optimization gimmicks obsolete.

Welcome to the Zoo

Released in February of 2011, Google’s Panda update was essentially a culling technique that went after sites with debatable value featuring marginal content. In a nutshell, Panda decreased the visibility of websites with far too many ads, far too little information and weak traffic. Hardest hit were the spam blogs, long tail niche sites and web pages that relied on link exchanges. Content farms and sites like EzineArticles took it on the chin as well and still haven’t entirely recovered. Panda adjusted Google’s ranking methodology to punish websites that relied on a gaggle of backlinks from low-quality sites as well as a mix of cheap optimization tricks.

The Penguin update, on the other hand, is more about pushing solid websites to the top rather than actively rooting out low-quality sites. However, Penguin does manage to step up Google’s efforts when it comes to filtering out weak sites that employ link schemes, keyword stuffing, link cloaking and shifty link redirects. The update also takes social media backlinks into consideration more heavily when determining a site’s PageRank. With Penguin, there’s less of a focus on things like meta tags and XML site maps. Ultimately, Google’s latest algorithm change isn’t fooled by over-optimization via exact keyword anchor text or duplicate content.

Understanding the Changes

Taken together, Google’s last two updates basically mean that website owners can’t rely on hyper-specific niche domination and linking strategies to rank highly anymore. Rather, quality content and reputation based on links from respected websites are taken into consideration more heavily when assessing PageRank. The message from Google is clear: you can’t rest solely on your laurels or your evergreen content if you want to remain relevant. To rank highly in your niche, your website must be constantly improving and delivering solid content to readers.

What to Do About It

Though the release of Penguin and Panda caused some to declare that SEO was dead, nothing could be further from the truth. Webmasters and marketers alike will simply need to invest more time and energy into their websites to stay at the top of the SERPs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that website upkeep and content creation will have to cost you significantly more. However, it will require that webmasters and website owners continue to prove their worth to the broader Internet community by delivering, you guessed it, value. That value will ultimately be based on solid content that’s linked organically to other websites and resources, creating a synergistic feedback loop that enriches the experience of the end user.

Closing Arguments

In spite of some collateral damage, Penguin and Panda are ultimately a blessing for quality websites that don’t rely on blog spam to attain high rankings. Some webmasters will need to make a few modifications to their layouts and content to stay in the game. Google’s primary mission is to deliver the most relevant results possible for any given search query. At the end of the day, Penguin will mean a little bit more work for website owners. Regardless, that investment will pay dividends in the future if you understand how the latest updates work and tailor your efforts to address the changes.


  1. Geoff Moore June 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Matt,
    Good observations and comments on the recent changes to the SEO landscape.

    I have been harping on at my client base for months now about the days of old SEO being numbered and for those of whom who have taken my advice early and ran with it, the recent changes brought about by Panda and Penguin have been minimal at most.

    There are some fringe clients of mine however, that I feel should not have been effected as hard as they have been in the recent Penguin’s (algorithmic) change, which suggests to me additional signals other than the typical ranking ones have also been tweaked, perhaps a more intelligent method of discovering relationship/thematics between content and linking websites has been released as part of the penguin update?

    Geoff Moore

  2. sam June 21, 2012 at 10:44 am - Reply

    google is getting more strict..Its getting hard to keep up with them

  3. Mr Blogger July 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Hope you can help. my concerns with the new Penguin issue. I’m planning on using AMR to blast some articles to get backlinks to my site. when would you recommend doing this? after a month of seting up the site or longer ? very nice article you have written here thanks for the info.

  4. John Fonte September 16, 2012 at 7:12 am - Reply

    It’s difficult stay in the game when you dont know clearly the rules.

  5. Jamie Thomson October 19, 2012 at 12:53 am - Reply

    Very informative post Matt and explained very clearly too. In the past I’ve started reading quite a few posts about Google’s Panda and Penguin updates and to be honest, I’ve never made it past the first paragraphs – too many jargon words for me – your article has really helped understand what it’s all about. Very grateful.

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