History of Google Panda

Google releases hundreds of under the radar refinements and updates to their search algorithms each and every year. The majority of these updates are minute changes that go relatively unnoticed. The significant upgrades, however, are widely covered by bloggers and large news outlets alike due to the substantial impact they have at every level across the Web.

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Although it has been well over two years since its initial rollout, the now infamous Panda update is still affecting Web properties today. Right out of the gate, Panda affected 12 percent of search queries, making it responsible for serious website traffic declines in only a matter of hours. To understand how the Panda update works and why it was necessary, a little history is in order.

Panda 1.0 – February 24, 2011

According to Google, the Panda release affected up to 12 percent of all of its search results across the globe, making Panda the most significant search engine update in recent memory. This major update to the search engine’s algorithm primarily cracked down on sites with a number of quality issues, such as thin content, unusually high ad-to-content ratios, content farms, and so on. The initial Panda release was rolled out over a two month period, taking effect in Europe in April of 2011.

Panda 2.0 – April 11, 2011

The first amendment to the Panda update expanded its target range from search queries performed in the US to all English language search results around the globe. Unbeknownst to many, this update also marked the first time Google admitted that it used data found on blocked sites to impact search rankings. However, Panda 2.0 only affected roughly two percent of all search queries.

Panda 2.1 and Panda 2.2 – May 10, 2011 and June 16, 2011

Both of these minor updates to Google’s Panda algorithm affected an even smaller percentage of search queries than Panda 2.0. Panda 2.2 was released in attempt to help prevent scraper sites from outranking sites with quality original content. Unfortunately, it was not completely successfully.

Panda 2.3 – July 26, 2011

According to a Google spokesperson, this Panda update incorporated new signals that aided the search titan in differentiating between low and high quality sites. After this update was released, some sites experienced higher rankings.

Panda 2.4 – August 14, 2011

The primary reason for this update was to refine search results across numerous languages.

Panda 2.5 – September 30, 2011

This version of Panda was focused on improving the rankings of several important and large sites, such as Android.com and FoxNews.com.

Panda 3.1 – November 18, 2011

This was a minor refresh update that only affected less than one percent of all search queries.

Panda 3.2 – January 18, 2012

Google confirmed that a Panda 3.2 update occurred. However, it stated that it was merely a data update and did not change the algorithm, leaving many website owners unclear on how it fit into Google’s “Panda Flux” strategy of increasing the frequency of data updates.

Panda 3.3 – February 27, 2012

Basically, Panda 3.3 was yet another relatively minor post-“flux” update. It was released only three days after the one-year anniversary of the original Panda release, which set the precedent for the lifespan of a named update.

Panda 3.4 – March 23, 2012

Google announced Panda 3.4 via Twitter while the update was being rolled out. According to their public statement, the update only affected approximately 1.6 percent of all search results.

Panda 3.5 – April 19, 2012

Unlike Panda 3.4, this update was quietly released by Google and incorporated several changes, making their impact difficult to calculate. However, it appears to have been a routine update that did not have a significant impact.

Panda 3.6 – April 27, 2012

A little over one week after the release of Panda 3.5, Google released yet another update with unclear implications that had a negligent impact.

Panda 3.7 – June 8, 2012

Google claimed that this Panda update only affected less than one percent of search queries. However, data suggests that Panda 3.7 had a substantially greater impact than Panda 3.5 and Panda 3.6.

Panda 3.8 – June 25, 2012

This update was simply a data refresh, because no algorithm changes were made, making it much less impactful than Panda 3.7.

Panda 3.9 – July 24, 2012

Only one month after Panda 3.8 was launched, Google released a new Panda update that created fluctuating rankings for approximately five days. Interestingly, Google claimed that only one percent of search queries were affected.

Panda 3.9.1 – August 20, 2012

Since it ran out of numbers in the Panda 3.0 series, the new update was coined Panda 3.9.1. As the title suggests, the impact of the update was minuscule.

Panda 3.9.2 – September 18, 2012

Panda 3.9.2 was simply a data-only refresh. Although it carried with it a moderate ranking flux, it was not on par with large algorithm updates.

Panda #20 – September 27, 2012

As the Panda 3.0 series was getting a little odd, Google and other industry sources started naming subsequent Panda updates in order by number. As the name suggests, this was the 20th Panda update to be released. This fairly major algorithm and data update overlapped Google’s EMD update, and it affected 2.4 percent of search queries.

Panda #21 – November 5, 2012

This update was rolled out a little over one month after the fairly significant Panda #20 update, but it was smaller and only affected 1.1 percent of English search queries.

Panda #22 – November 21, 2012

After giving off some mixed signals, the 22nd Panda update was finally confirmed by Google after its rollout. However, it was a data-only update and came on the heels of a large, un-named update that occurred on November 19th.

Panda #23 – December 21, 2012

Released days before Christmas, this “refresh” affected 1.3 percent of all English search queries, giving it a slightly greater impact than both Panda #21 and Panda #22.

Panda #24 – January 22, 2013

As Google’s first official update of 2013, Panda #24 affected 1.2 percent of all search queries and did not appear to be related to another unnamed update that occurred less than one week earlier.

Panda #25 – March 14, 2013

Google announced an upcoming Panda update at SMX West, and stated that it would be the last Panda update before the series of updates was integrated into Google’s core algorithm.

Panda Recovery – July 18, 2013

This last Panda update was confirmed by Google, but no one knows if it was simply a 10-day rolling update or something not yet seen. In any case, this last update appears to have “softened” a number of previous Panda penalties.

Panda 4.0 – May 19, 2014

Panda 4.1 – September 23, 2014

Panda 4.2 – July 17, 2015

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