On February 24, 2011, Google announced an update to its search algorithm that’s now become known as Panda (formerly known as Farmer). The update was designed to target both content farms and spammer/scraper sites that had been cluttering Google results prior to that in a bid to discourage low-quality content.
Theoretically, Panda was going to be a huge boon for legitimate webmasters who produced high-quality content as their work would not be caught in Panda’s filters but, those that either scraped content or produced poor-quality work would be and, as such, would be heavily penalized.
This was billed as a way to help webmasters and bloggers by taking care of the scrapers and spammers without requiring any additional action and, theoretically, make the Web a better, safer place for original content.
But did it pan out that way? It’s hard to say as the results appear to be decidedly mixed. Much of how you feel about the year of Panda largely depends on how it impacted you.
The Problems with Panda
Prior to Panda, Google had something of an imperfect reputation when it came to dealing with scrapers. Many sites, especially newer or smaller ones, would routinely be beaten in search results by scrapers that simply took content from the original site and reposted it wholesale. This meant the original content was ranked below the infringing copies posted by spammers.
In some cases, this could lead to legitimate sites being caught in a duplicate content filter and being relegated to the “supplemental” index, meaning the pages you see after clicking the link to view other similar pages. For webmasters caught in this trap, it was often a nightmare but it was largely limited to certain pages that were caught in the filters.
However, the threat of duplicate content penalties and supplemental index didn’t slow spammers so Google aimed to discourage scraping, as well as other low-quality content generation methods, by creating a broad site-wide penalty for domains that it felt were specializing in low-quality content.
Unfortunately though, it appears the errors that Google was making in separating the legitimate from the spammers remained. However, instead of having some pages slipped into the supplemental index, now the entire site was being penalized. Some sites that produce original content were almost removed Google’s search results even as their scrapers were thriving.
In short, Panda was a double-edged sword. For those that Google got it right, which is the majority, it was an update that resulted in less spam. But for those Google got it wrong, it was a much darker nightmare than before.
What I’ve Noticed
As someone who tracks spammers of all sorts, Google doesn’t appear, to me, to be significantly cleaner of low-quality sites than it was before Panda. Different types of sites seem to be ranking well, such as spammy fake download sites, but it there’s still plenty of garbage to be found.
Also, I regularly hear from webmasters who want my help getting scrapers removed from the search engines (and off the Web) because Google has trapped them in the Panda update, at least in large part (theoretically) due to the massive amount of unchecked scraping.
That being said, the volume isn’t much different than before, when webmasters were worried about being outranked or suffering smaller penalties for it. So, most likely, Google did make things somewhat better for most but made it much, much worse for the unlucky few.
In the end, Panda didn’t stop scraping and spamming. It may have changed it some and it altered the way people are impacted by it but there was not sweeping “end of scraping” moment nor even a truly drastic change in amount that I’ve seen.
Panda may be an overall positive, but that’s a hard message to tell webmasters who have had legitimate sites with years worth of original content disappeared from Google overnight.
What is Your Story?
Rather than do a nice, neat wrapup, I want to hear your stories with Panda. Was it successful for you? Did you see a reduction in scraping/spamming? Leave a comment below and let me know.
In the meantime, check out this infographic about Panda from Search Engine Land (kindly offered for free embedding).