Tracking the Evolution of Google Panda Updates – From Monthly to Tremors to Missing in Action

google-panda-evolution

At a recent industry event, Google’s Gary Illyes dropped a bombshell on the audience (and the SEO world). He explained that Panda was now real-time. And if that was the case, it would mean that if you’ve been impacted by Panda, then making the right changes would immediately be reflected in the search results (once Google recrawled and reprocessed your URLs). In other words, you can be hit, or recover, at any time. That was big news to say the least.

But here’s the problem. I had a hard time believing that was true from the second I heard it. And many others didn’t believe it was accurate, either.

I have access to a lot of Panda data across websites, categories, and countries. And based on having access to that data, I can typically see when Panda updates are released into the wild. That’s both confirmed updates like Panda 4.0 and 4.1, and unconfirmed updates like the sneaky 10/24/14 update, which I picked up while Penguin 3.0 was rolling out. By the way, that’s the Panda update John Mueller referenced during a recent webmaster hangout when speaking about the last time Google released Panda.

To be more specific about what I’ve witnessed Panda-wise, I haven’t seen any significant movement on sites impacted by Panda since the 10/24/14 update. I also haven’t seen fresh hits that resemble Panda attacks. In other words, large drops in traffic on websites susceptible to Google Panda. And again, many others who track Panda closely are saying the same thing.

John Mueller Confirms What We Thought – Panda Is Not Real-Time

In a webmaster hangout video from March 10, 2015, Barry Schwartz asked a question that many of us have been dying to know the answer to (especially since Gary dropped the real-time bombshell). He asked John if Panda was in fact real-time and if he could explain more about Gary’s comments.

John explained that the last Panda update was in October of 2014 and that he would have to check to see what Gary was referring to. It seems there are aspects of Panda that might be real-time, but you still need a Panda refresh or update in order to see the impact.

John speaks about Panda at 23:43 in the video:

The last point is incredibly important to understand, since many sites impacted by Panda are wondering when they can see recovery or partial recovery. With real-time comments being thrown around, some webmasters were left scratching their heads about why they haven’t seen any movement since October 2014. Well, if there hasn’t been a Panda refresh or update, they won’t see any movement… Instead, they need Panda to be released in order to see that impact.

Tracking the Evolution of How Google Rolls Out Panda

As the real-time situation unfolded, I started thinking about common questions I get from webmasters about Panda, how Google releases Panda updates and refreshes, when they occurred, etc. So below, I decided to provide a historical background of how Google releases Panda.

I’m not going to list all of the updates, but instead, I’ll explain when important changes occurred to how the algorithm rolls out. My hope is that the information below will clear up common misconceptions about Panda and how Google releases it into the wild. Then I’ll end this post with my thoughts about the future of Panda updates (and other major algorithms).

Panda 1.0 – The Cutssozoic Era

More than 15,000 years ago, when content farms roamed the Web, a new algorithm arrived called Farmer, I mean Panda. :) When Panda first hit the scene in February of 2011, it rocked the industry. Many sites that traditionally received boatloads of traffic plummeted faster than a lead anvil in a pool. It targeted low-quality content, and content farms were the core focus of attention.

panda-evolution-feb-2011

Rolling Updates Every Four to Six Weeks

After Panda 1.0, Google rolled out Panda every four to six weeks and would announce those updates. Ah, those were the days… SEOs were able to put a numbering system in place, know exactly when Panda rolled out, and companies would clearly (OK, mostly clearly) understand when they were hit and what hit them.

panda-evolution-rolling-updates

10-Day Rollout, But Will Not Be Confirmed – The Unconfirmazoic Era

In March 2013, Matt Cutts announced that Panda was being incorporated into Google’s normal indexing process, so they wouldn’t be announcing future Panda updates. He also said this:

“Rather than having some huge change that happens on a given day, you are more likely in the future to see Panda deployed gradually as we rebuild the index. So you are less likely to see these large scale sorts of changes.”

This led many to believe that Panda was approaching the real-time stage (which it wasn’t). And by the way, we absolutely saw large-scale impact from Panda after that date… so I’m not sure what Matt said was entirely accurate. More about that soon.

Then in June, Matt explained that Panda had matured to the point where Google trusted the algorithm more. Based on the maturation of Panda, Google would roll out Panda monthly, but it could take up to 10 days to fully roll out. He also reiterated that Google would not confirm future Panda updates because it was more a rolling update. That’s when I wrote a post about what this meant for Panda victims, and SEOs overall. I basically said that a new layer of complexity had arrived, and I was right.

panda-evolution-10-days

So, we moved on and tracked Panda updates the best we could. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to track a number of the updates and tried to document them when possible. For example, here’s a post about the January 2014 update. I saw a number of Panda victims recover, while also getting calls from new Panda victims. The combination enables me to identify a specific date of the rollout. And here’s a post about the March 2014 update. You get the picture. So Panda was rolling out regularly, but Google just wasn’t confirming the updates. That’s until May of 2014, which I’ll cover next.

New Factors = Google Confirmation – The Hugozoic Era

Then May 19, 2014 arrived and my Panda Richter scale was moving so fast it almost set fire to my office. Panda 4.0 rolled out and it was HUGE. Google announced the update after many of us saw significant movement across sites impacted by Panda, while also seeing many fresh hits. And many of those hits were extreme.

panda-evolution-panda4

So, what happened to the “we won’t confirm any more Panda updates” statement from Matt Cutts? Well, Panda 4.0 was so significant, and had so much impact, that they had to explain what was going on. For example, I had one company reach out to me that saw a 91 percent decrease in Google organic traffic after Panda 4.0 rolled through. Yes, 91 percent.

panda-evolution-p4-matt-cutts

It seemed that major updates, with new factors added to the algorithm, would yield confirmation from Google that Panda did roll out. Well, at least we had that going for us…

Panda Goes Near-Real Time – “Panda Tremors” Emerge – The Tremorzoic Era

After Panda 4.0 rolled out, I noticed something very strange. Actually, it was fascinating to analyze. Each week after May 19, 2014, I noticed more and more movement on sites impacted by Panda. Basically, I noticed what looked like Panda refreshes almost weekly after Panda 4.0. I named them “Panda tremors,” and reached to John Mueller for clarification.

panda-evolution-tremors-up

panda-evolution-tremors-down

John’s response was awesome to read. He explained that Google can, and will, tweak major algos and roll out those changes over time. So, you might see a major update like Panda 4.0, followed by smaller tweaks as they refine the algorithm. And that’s exactly what I was seeing in the months following Panda 4.0. I wrote about the near real-time Panda on my blog based on the overwhelming evidence of multiple Panda tremors following P4.0.

panda-evolution-john-mueller

September 2014 – The Farozoic Era

Those tremors continued through the summer until September arrived. And then we had one of the most volatile months I can remember from a Panda standpoint. I picked up a major Panda update on 9/5 that impacted many companies. It was bigger than a tremor, as some companies saw full recovery from previous Panda updates, while new Panda victims lost significant amounts of traffic. For example, here’s a big recovery during the 9/5 update. Note, the 9/5 update was not confirmed by Google.

panda-evolution-9-5-14

But Google wasn’t done yet… That was a foreshadowing of another major update that would arrive on 9/23/14. Panda 4.1 rolled out on that date and was also a huge update. I saw many recoveries, especially from Panda 4.0 victims that had completed a lot of remediation work. And mixed in, I saw some temporary recoveries roll back to lower levels.

Panda 4.1 was announced by Google’s Pierre Far, so you knew it was a significant update. So, we had two major Panda updates during September. Like I said earlier, it was a big month Panda-wise.

panda-evolution-pierre-far-p41

The Cloaked Panda Update on 10/24 – The Cloakazoic Era

October arrived, and between Panda rollouts galore and waiting for Penguin to finally roll out, many SEOs were going out of their minds. Then on October 17, 2014, the wait for Penguin was over. Google finally rolled out Penguin 3.0. And it was… a disaster. I won’t go into detail here, since that’s the not the focus of this post, but let’s just say the rollout was all over the place.

But something happened during the extended Penguin rollout that caught my attention (understatement of the year). I saw massive swings in rankings and traffic on 10/24/14 across sites impacted by Panda, not Penguin. And not only did I see this across the data I have access to, I also had many people reach out to me explaining they were seeing the same thing. Again, with sites impacted by Panda, not Penguin.

panda-evolution-10-24-recovery

panda-evolution-10-24-hit-update

So, we had a big Panda update rolling out during an extended Penguin update. Holy cow, Google was really messing with us. :) You can read more about the 10/24/14 Panda update on Moz, where I wrote an entire post about the situation. Needless to say, it was a sneaky update, since most webmasters would think there were hit by Penguin, when in fact, they were impacted by Panda!

4.5 Months of Panda Silence – The Silencozoic Era

We saw so much volatility during the fall of 2014, that it was strange to see Panda activity screech to a halt. But that’s exactly what happened after the 10/24 update. Now, Google will often hold off on releasing major algorithm updates during the holidays, so that didn’t shock me too much. But then January arrived and all was still quiet on the Panda front.

Last year, Google rolled out Panda on 1/10/14, so my thought was that they would do something similar in 2015. But Panda did not roll out in January, or February, and it hasn’t rolled out yet in March. That’s a long time for Panda victims to sit in limbo. By the way, doesn’t it remind of you of another major algorithm update that didn’t roll out for a long time? Cough, Penguin. That was an extreme situation, as we waited more than a year for Penguin to roll out. But this extended silence is extremely unusual for Panda, which again, was running regularly in 2014. That’s a good segue to my thoughts about the future of Panda.

My Thoughts About the Future of Panda (and Other Major Algorithms)

In my Moz post about the 10/24 update, I explained that we were approaching a time when major algorithms will go near-real time (or run in actual real-time), which can cause massive confusion for webmasters. Unconfirmed updates that rock sites at any given time could cause serious problems for everyone involved (business owners, webmasters, SEOs trying to help, etc.)

Below, I’ll provide a bulleted list covering my thoughts about the future of Panda, what’s going on currently with the algorithm, and where I think we are headed:

  • The Previous Panda Update: The 10/24/14 Panda update was the last update we experienced. To me, and to others heavily involved in Panda work, that was the last date that sites impacted by Panda saw significant movement.
  • When Will Panda Finally Roll Out?: My gut-feel is that Panda will be released this month (before the mobile UX algo is pushed out on 4/21/15). John Mueller has explained that they are trying to get things moving a little quicker with Panda, so I expect an update or refresh soon.
  • Mobile UX Algo Pushing Panda to the Backburner: I do believe the impending mobile UX algorithm update on 4/21 has been taking up lot of Google’s time. It’s going to be a huge update with significant impact on the smartphone search results, so I’m sure they have been busy testing and refining the algo. That has to be taking time away from Panda.
  • New Factors?: The Panda delay also could be based on new factors being baked into Panda. If that’s the case, then expect Panda 5.0 (or whatever it’s called) to be huge. It could be on the level of Panda 4.0 or 4.1 (both of which had significant impact).
  • Mobile UX Algo + Panda?: This is just a conspiracy theory, but Panda might be rolled out at the same time as the mobile UX algo, and possibly incorporate more mobile factors. Now wouldn’t that be scary? It’s entirely possibly based on the surge in mobile traffic over the past few years.
  • The Algo Trifecta: And for my last bullet, imagine if Google rolled out the mobile UX algo, Panda, and Penguin all at the same time. That would be the algo trifecta, and I fear the universe would implode. I don’t know if Google would really do that, since it could cause problems for them, too…But it’s entirely possible. Anyone remember the algo sandwich from April of 2012? That’s when Google rolled out Panda, then Penguin 1.0, and then Panda again, all within 10 days. Talk about confusion…

Summary – In Search of Google Panda

I hope you found this post about the history of Panda updates both interesting and helpful. I know there is a lot of confusion about Panda in general, and with how Google releases the algorithm, so I hope this post cleared up some of that confusion. In closing, I do believe we’ll see Panda again soon. The big question is whether he’ll be accompanied by a new black and white animal focused on mobile UX. And let’s hope they keep their Penguin friend at home. One thing is for sure, the next four to eight weeks will yield significant activity from a Google algorithm standpoint.

This is literally the calm before the storm. Enjoy it while you can.

Related reading

x-men-apocalypse-quicksilver-evan-peters
hp
millets blog
semrush infographic
Simple Share Buttons