Deconstructing Pandas and Penguins

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Anyone who follows the SEO world knows that Google makes changes to their search algorithm quite often. Google posted a video about search algorithm improvements that stated that Google implements over 500 improvements to its algorithm each year. That’s more than one improvement per day. Many of these changes happen without the general public knowing and without a significant effect on the online marketing world. These changes are the reason why we see differences in what shows up on the search engine results page from day-to-day.

Recently, Google has publicly announced two very large algorithm changes. These changes, known as Panda and Penguin, caused quite a bit of buzz in the online marketing world.

For many businesses, a key driver for new business is being able to rank well in the search engines for searches relating to their products and services. How search algorithms work is already confusing enough for the average business owner. When Google announces large changes, that confusion can turn into a mayhem of concern.

Studying algorithm changes

When the updates came out, we started watching the effects closely. Instead of making conclusions right away, we wanted to take some time to gather data, so we could understand effects of these changes. Here is our overall conclusion: if you’re following best practices and doing high quality SEO, these changes should only help you.

To start our study, we needed to figure out is an acceptable rate of change in keyword ranking from day to day. With thousands of clients and about 13,000 keywords that we’re tracking, we had a great sample size to test. Here’s what we did:

  • We chose four different time periods over the last eight months
  • We measured how many keywords dropped more than 10 rankings from one day to the next
  • We looked at those trends and averages to estimate an “acceptable rate of change”

We found that on a daily basis 2% of keywords drop 10 or more rankings from the previous day (please remember that this number is small compared to the 98% of other keywords that aren’t dropping by 10 spots and/or are improving from day to day).

Effects of Panda and Penguin

When Panda and Penguin were announced, we saw the number of keywords effected spike to ~4% the days after the updates. That can be cause for alarm, except that within a few days after each update, the trend normalized back to 2%-3%.

We actually found that days after the Penguin update, our trend slowly crawled to below 2%.

Keyword Recovery

We then looked at the way in which all the keywords that were negatively affected recovered. We found within 60 days, 50–60% of these keywords had recovered to or improved upon the ranking previous to the drop. Over time, that number obviously increases (remember that SEO is a long-term process).

Conclusions about Panda and Penguin

  • Good content and high quality SEO will win out. The updates were meant to filter out the effect of “spammy” SEO. We will always see rank changes, but the effects of those changes will normalize if you are implementing good SEO practices.
  • Diversity is important in SEO. With Panda and Penguin, there were a few types of SEO practices that were targeted specifically. Those sites that relied heavily on those practices (mostly because they were easy) were hit harder than those that did not.
  • Changes are normal. In their effort to provide the best search experience for their users, Google will always make changes. Some of these changes will be more significant than others, but freaking out about the algorithm changes will only cause unneeded stress.
  • Good content is king. Good content will always prevail. Whether it is content that you post on your own site or blog, or if you’re guest posting on another blog, or providing your business information in a directory like Google Places, Yelp, or Foursquare, make sure that you provide your best content and put it in high quality places.
  • Diversify your efforts. Like in all things in business, having all your eggs in one basket is not a good call.

At OrangeSoda, we’re aware that Google is always updating their algorithm. We focus on building quality long-term SEO value so that these changes are less likely to cause major problems. The information above is from our base of clients, and we anticipate that others may have seen more or less dramatic effects, depending on the type of SEO work that they were engaged in. We have always found that by following best practices and looking for ways to improve, we (along with our clients) are able to handle the ongoing changes of the search world.


Scott Macdonald

This was very much enlightening and enabled me to have a little sigh of relief. Amidst the onslaught of Google algorithm changes covered and hyped up on the internet and blogosphere it was very unclear what would be effected. Thanks for the insight.

Olivia Dean

There was a great fuss around the Google newly put into effect rules and of course, mostly among the users, who are directly affected by that, but I do not why it remained somehow unclear indeed on what we can expect as changes and results. And now, receiving clarification by your very informative post and summary,I am actually understanding that all of the changes are going to be of a great help as for the users, so as for the good SEO practicers, because no one likes the spammy SEO and that is the very truth! So why not, quality to be stimulated over the quantity!
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