Search Analytics · SEO

Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

Ever since Google rolled out Penguin 1.0 on April 24th, I’ve been heavily analyzing websites that were hit by the update (I’ve now analyzed close to 75 websites hit by Penguin).  Based on my analysis, I have written several posts covering my findings.  In my latest post, An Update from the Over Optimization Front Lines, I explained how important it is for webmasters to know exactly what hit them before taking action.  I know that sounds simple, but I’ve had several companies contact me believing they were hit by Penguin, when in fact, they were hit by Panda.

Panda, Penguin, and The Algorithm Sandwich

After Penguin 1.0 was released, Google also explained that a Panda update was rolled out a few days before Penguin (on 4/19).  Then, to make matters even more confusing, Google rolled out a Panda refresh on 4/27.  To quickly recap, Panda rolled out on 4/19, then Penguin on 4/24, and then a Panda refresh on 4/27.  Yes, that’s essentially an algo sandwich special, with a side of insanity.  As you can imagine, webmasters that aren’t extremely familiar with SEO could very easily think they were hit by Penguin (since that was the primary topic during the time period).

The Danger of Not Knowing

Since Penguin and Panda target two different issues, it’s extremely important to know the exact algorithm update that hit your website.  Panda targets low quality content, thin content, duplicate content, etc., while Penguin targets webspam (and at this point it’s heavily targeting unnatural inbound links).  So, if you incorrectly believe you were hit by Penguin and start addressing links, then you would be wasting your time…  On the flip side, if you incorrectly believe you were hit by Panda and start addressing low quality content, then you could also be wasting your time.

And to make matters worse, both Penguin and Panda will be rolled out periodically.  That means you won’t know if your latest refinements actually made a difference until Pandas and Penguins come knocking on your door again.  And that is exactly why I wrote this post today.  I’ve had several people mistakenly believe they were hit by Penguin, when it was Panda (or vice versa).  And some were already making changes, based on the wrong assessment.  So, don’t prune your links if you were hit by Panda, and don’t gut content if you were hit by Penguin. Know what hit you, and then act.

How To Determine If You Were Hit by Penguin or Panda

Working in Google Analytics

1) Check Your Dates

The first thing you should do is launch Google Analytics and drill into Google Organic reporting.  Set the timeframe to April 1st through May 15th.  More on why May is important in a minute.  This will give you a good view of traffic by day during the various algorithm updates.  Remember, Panda was on 4/19, Penguin was on 4/24, and then a Panda refresh rolled out on 4/27.

In the graphs below, you can clearly see that one site was hit by Penguin while the other has been hit by Panda (twice).

A Website Hit by Panda Twice:
panda drop Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website
A Website Hit by Penguin:
penguin drop Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

Note: I explained above that you should set your final date to May 15th for a reason.  There has been a lot of chatter recently about another possible Google update.  I first received calls from webmasters on Saturday May, 12th about traffic fluctuations beginning on Friday, May 11th.  Some actually had their traffic bounce back after getting hit by Panda.  Barry Schwartz covered this on Search Engine Roundtable and Google said it was not a Penguin update or a Panda update.  One thing is for sure… there was some type of update.

2) Meeting Panda on a Weekend – Dimension by Keyword and Compare to Past

Now that you know which algorithm update hit you, you can start to determine the keywords that dropped.  Penguin rolled out on a Tuesday, while Panda rolled out on a Thursday, and then followed with a refresh on a Friday!  Since many sites see a natural dip late in the week and on weekends, it’s important to start understanding normal visitor trending, and which keywords potentially were hit.

First, within Google Organic, set the primary dimension to “Keyword”.  This will show you all of the keywords leading to your site from Google Organic during the timeframe.
google organic penguin keyword Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

Next, compare the dates after you were hit by Panda or Penguin with a previous timeframe to compare traffic by keyword.  To do this, click the date in the upper right hand corner of the interface and select a timeframe.  If you were hit by Penguin, select 4/24 to 5/15.  If you were hit by Panda, select 4/19 to 5/15.  Then click the checkbox for “compare to past”.  The default comparison will be the number of days immediately prior to the range you selected.  You can change that by selecting new dates to compare, if needed.

google analytics compare to past Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

You will now be presented with all of the keywords leading traffic to the site, along with the percentage of increase and decrease (compared to the previous timeframe).  How awesome is that?  See a keyword drop by 75%, it probably got hit.  Then you can dimension that keyword by “Landing Page” to see which webpage got hit.  Spend some time here… the insights you glean could be incredibly valuable to your recovery efforts.

The Not So Obvious – Google Webmaster Tools and Filters

Although a lot of webmasters are familiar with Google Analytics, I find there are still many who don’t have Google Webmaster Tools set up.  As I mentioned in my post about Avoiding SEO Disaster During a Website Redesign, it’s essential to have GWT set up for your domains.  There is a wealth of information directly from Google… including messages from the Search Giant about the SEO health of your sites.  And yes, Google Webmaster Tools can help you determine which algorithm update hit your site.

1) Search Query Data

There is a tab in Google Webmaster Tools titled “Traffic” that holds a link for “Search Queries”.  This tab reveals the impressions and clicks for queries that returned your webpages in the search results.  Yes, you can see impression data and click data directly from Google properties.  While Google Analytics relies upon a click to your site, this data shows you how many impressions your content is receiving for queries on Google.  For our purposes, we can see the surge or dip in impressions and clicks as the various algorithm updates rolled out.

As you can imagine, this is a great way to see the impact of a certain algorithm update.  The default view is 30 days back, but you can now select a greater time range (up to 90 days).  Again, let’s check April 1st to May 15th to view impressions and clicks.

A Sample Search Queries Report in Google Webmaster Tools (Unaffected Website):
gwt penguin panda Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

At this point, you can start to identify impression and click issues. If you were hit by Penguin, then you might see a steep drop-off on 4/24, and then lower levels beyond.  If you were hit by Panda, then you might see a steep drop-off on 4/19, and then again on 4/27 (if you were hit by both updates). Here is data I exported from Google Webmaster Tools for a site hit by Panda twice.

panda penguin gwt3 Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

2) Focus on the Problem – Filter by Web

During my analysis of sites hit by Penguin and Panda, I noticed something interesting in Google Webmaster Tools.  For certain sites, using the filters available helped some webmasters hone in on their problem.  There is a “filters” button in the upper left-hand corner of the Search Queries report.  This lets you filter your results based on a number of criteria.  For our purposes, let’s filter by Google property.  Click the dropdown that’s labeled “Search” and choose “Web”.  That will filter your data by web-only searches, and will exclude Images, Video, Mobile, etc.

gwt filter web Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

After doing this, you might see a more pronounced drop during 4/19, 4/24, and 4/27.  It will also enable you to view keywords that dropped from web search without mixing other Google properties in, which can skew the results.  For example, I analyzed several sites that actually received more impressions from Google Images after being hit by Penguin and Panda! Go figure… Removing that data provided a clearer view of the problem.

3) Export Your Data

Although Google Webmaster Tools recently rolled out an update enabling you to view up to 90 days of search query data, you can’t go back further… That means you should export the current data in order to archive it, work with it, and analyze it.  You will notice two buttons labeled “Download this table” and “Download chart data” under the trending graph.  Export your data now.

Summary – You Must Know the Problem in Order to Address It

Based on how Google rolled out Penguin and Panda recently, I’m finding it’s common for webmasters to be confused about which algorithm update hit their websites.  Penguin 1.0 and the latest Panda updates were so close that it’s easy to believe you were hit by one, when in fact, it could have been the other.  Use the techniques I listed in this post to help you determine which update really hit your site.  Then form a plan of attack knowing which cute animal you are dealing with.  Good luck.

 

289d556146aff267d213dd19f1329fc2 64 Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website
Featured SEO Writer for SEJ   Glenn Gabe is a digital marketing consultant at G-Squared Interactive and focuses heavily on SEO, SEM, Social Advertising, Social Media Marketing, and Web Analytics. Glenn has over 18 years of experience and has held leadership positions both in-house and at a global interactive agency. During his career, Glenn has helped clients across a wide range of industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), ecommerce, startups, pharmaceutical, healthcare, military, education, non-profits, online auctions, real-estate, and publishing. You can follow Glenn on Google+ here.

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59 thoughts on “Penguin or Panda? How To Determine Which Google Algorithm Update Impacted Your Website

  1. Panda and penguin have shown why it is crucial to create organic results. Thankfully we pulled out okay but I have seen the other negative impacts as well.

    1. You’re right Shannon. Playing by the rules has never been more important. I’ve had the chance to speak with a lot of business owners since 4/24 that have been impacted by Penguin or Panda. Some of those sites will never recover… The business impact can be catastrophic.

    1. Thanks James. I appreciate it! I know it’s been confusing for many webmasters. The rollout of Panda, Penguin, Panda has caused that confusion… My hope is that this post can help clear up the situation.

  2. I ran this exercise and cannot determine for the life of me if/which we were hit by.
    We didn’t have a huge drop during any of these. HOWEVER, the reason I found you was because we lost nearly 100 positions for hot keywords in a 24-48 hour period this week. My first thought was Panda/Penguin but no.
    I’m pretty much at a loss as to what the cause is now.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ro. To clarify, you can’t clearly identify the day of the drop? Have you started analyzing your inbound links? If your drop starting occurring on 4/24 or 4/25, then it very well could be Penguin. I can’t point you in the right direction without knowing the domain, though. If you want to email me, you can via my website (listed in my bio).

  3. I also saw many websites which got hit by penguine on 24th .. keywords dropped first one or two pages and then around the 4th or 5th mai the sites got penalized.

    i think there was a penguine tweak or update around the 5th mai. Can somebody else confirm this ?

    1. Andy, there has been a lot of chatter about a third update, but Google said it wasn’t another Panda or Penguin update. The date I started receiving calls about the latest changes was Saturday, May 12th (based on traffic changes on 5/11). I hope that helps.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed my post. Webmasters definitely need to know what hit them before making changes. If not, the situation could get worse… and not better.

  4. I noticed a drop the 24th april and then all my pages/keywords were back as normal between the 5th ~7th may

    1. Very interesting Ace. I’ve come across some companies seeing a bounce back from the latest Panda updates, but haven’t seen any from Penguin yet. Did you make ay significant changes after the 24th?

  5. hi glenn,,,after we have determined the keywords that have dropped by more than 75% ,how do we recitfy/alter those pages?

    1. Joel, that’s too big of a conversation to have via blog comments! The changes you implement would be determined by the analysis. Was it a content problem, link problem, etc? Hard to tell without analyzing the specific site.

  6. Very informative post Glenn, Actually People have often be in doubt. They don’t know their website is hit by panda or penguin.
    This article is personally very helpful me.

    Thanks!!

  7. Great Post.

    I have a site that got smashed by panda and I am hopeing that I will be back on page 1 now I have fixed clients content.

    Any thoughts on Google reation once you have fixed the issue. Does google panalise you fro a long time and better to start with a new URL or does google have a short memory?

    1. From what’s been communicated so far, Penguin is going to be like Panda (rolled out periodically). Therefore, you would have to wait for an update to see if your changes impacted your site’s rankings.

  8. Thanks for your clear teaching style – very helpful. It sure would be helpful if Google didn’t name two algo updates after two popular, iconic, black-and-white animals that both begin with “P.”

  9. Very informative post! To fix the problems it is mandatory to know the root cause of the problem. It is noteworthy that Google Panda is meant for thin and duplicate content while Google penguin is meant for WebSpam. Since both works differently and both need different approach to get them fixed it is crucial knowing the main reason. With this blog post you have offered us a clear message on how to decide what and when you are being hit by which content!

  10. Hello All,
    Actually google has done this major changes and it has affect those website which have not potential to rank on top but they were ranking

  11. Hello Glenn,
    I was just heard about Penguin or Panda things… now its almost clear after reading this post. The way of explaining in your post is excellent.Thank you so much.

    1. Awesome, glad my post was helpful. I plan to write more posts based on my analysis, so keep an eye on my feed (and on SEJ’s feed.)

  12. Thanks for sharing such an informative details. I have lost my 2 keywords ratings in 1 week which was on top from last one year.

  13. Iv’e found that the most accurate way of finding which update you were hit by is knowing which date you were hit, and where your rankings dropped to. Our company has been using rankranger throughout the algo insanity and we have kept our eyes glued to their daily ranking progress report which showed us when exactly our rankings were hit and by which update. its been a lifesaver

  14. Hi Glenn,

    Thanks for an awesome post. Several of our sites have been hit pretty badly by Penguin (drop on 24/4) – in fact we’ve lost a huge chunk of traffic on some. The problem is that our link profile is not particularly unnatural and we neither us or our agency allows keyword stuffing onsite, although we do have some copy on each page it’s written in a user-friendly way. We’ve always played by the rules, built quality sites with good content.

    I’ve been working with my SEO agency to figure this out – but so far they haven’t been able to come up for a reason for this and they say all the links created are not unlike the ones created for their other clients which all seem to have benefited or had no effect from this update (I’ve checked this and it’s true).

    This has left me totally confused as to how to get our rankings back! Are there any other reasons that you’ve seen that could cause a penalty from Penguin besides backlink profile, anchor text and keyword stuffing?

    1. Jay, based on my analysis of now 80+ sites, Penguin 1.0 was extremely inbound link heavy. Also, remember that Panda hit on 4/19 and then again on 4/27. Then there was another update on ~5/11. It’s hard for me to say what has impacted your site without analyzing it thoroughly. I hope that helps.

  15. Hi all,
    Thanks for a very clear and informative post. I’ve recently been doing a lot of work revamping a site and ensuring its packed full of original and frequently updated content so my fears don’t really lie with Panda. However, I also understand amongst other things a site also requires reputable backlinks. My concerns lie with how best to go about building backlinks that aren’t considered spammy and could see a future Penguin updates interfering with the hard work already done to avoid upsetting the Panda. After all, its pretty difficult to get backlinks on genuine high PR quality sites, I’m avoiding directories, link farms and any of the like, which doesn’t leave much option aside from blog commenting with possible backlinks but still unsure if that too may cause adverse future effects. Where/how exactly is Panda drawing a line between what it sees as a genuine effort to attain a backlink and what it considers just another worthless link on an already cluttered internet? I’m all for cutting down spam and if rankings were some how based on just content alone I’d be all for that too, penalising junk links also makes sense but there still needs to be a logical method a site owner can create genuine links and get a foot in the door. We can’t solely really on other users to create links back to us which forces webmasters/site owners to go out in search of extra links and there in lies the crux of the problem. Whilst the system requires content and links but obtaining quality links is difficult, owners will do what they can to get them. Catch 22

    1. Great question Tony, but it’s hard for me to fully explain this in a blog comment. :) I’ve always felt that your best links are built naturally. I work with my clients on developing strategies based on that principle. Maybe I’ll write a future post that explains my point in greater detail.

  16. Panda, Penguin, uhoh. Time to go back to old fashioned techniques like hidden text. Works well for expedia these days. To rank top for “flights” they use “absolute positioning” to push hidden text off the viewable page and put their hidden content in “SEO text” headers.

    View http://www.expedia.com/Flights – without JScript on and you’ll see a ton more text that would not appear otherwise. How on earth is Google allowing that? I’ve tried to report this and have given up on lack of response.

    Yeah, great job Penguin. Hurt sites with good links, allow hidden text to go back in style. And I can name 5 other big brand sites getting away with this.

  17. Great post, plenty to digest. I use to rank on page 1 or 2 for “travel australia”, now I cannot find us. I do remember that there was a hiccup after Panda, then we bounced back really quickly, now I cannot see us ranking for the keyword. Other deeper pages are also no longer ranking for us in the first 10 pages, where we use to rank, such as “central australia” and “alice springs”. Keyword like “henley-on-todd”, we used to rank on the first page, now it is page 3 or 4. I seem to still get traffic for keyword searches for pages such as “aboriginal symbols” and “motoring association”. Sometimes I just want to throw my hands in the air and ignore it all, by just keep on working on new content… if you can shed any light on “travel australia” that would be great, otherwise thanks for a great post.

  18. Great post Glenn, at last someone discussing this issue with backed up stats and intelligence on the subject matter.

    We desperately need your help. We used to be position 1 for the keywords ‘design agency’ and since the Panda’s and Penguins came to town we have all but disappeared online!

    We managed to establish that an external agency that was ‘helping’ us for 2 years had been using some link farms, so we to action. We fired the agency, worked hard to clean up these links as best we could, with the knowledge that we had some really good quality links, and more importantly, the knowledge that we are a good quality design agency that offers a great service to our clients.

    We submitted a reconsideration request with a link to a list of link farm sites we had been able to remove, but also those we had been unable to. After a month of waiting we got a mail back from Google, telling us we have links from site that are outside of the Google webmaster guidelines, we know! We told you Google! We desperately need help understanding what we need to do to resolve this, our site is full of good content, it is well established in our client base and we are very hesitant to start again, and infact for our business this would be a real problem for us.

    All of our livelihoods have been threatened and something that most have not picked up on, Google is doing a dis-justice to its audience. Now when you Google ‘design agency’ here in London you are presented with a number of really quite poor agencies offering a lower level design service compared to that of ours.

    Glenn please save us!

    1. James, thanks for your thorough comment, and I’m sorry to hear you were hit so badly. You can contact me via my blog (which you can find via my SEJ profile at the bottom of my post). I’d like to learn more about your situation. Thanks again.

  19. Great article Glenn, I had pretty much concluded that we were hit by panda on 04/27 based on the traffic drop off and it wasn’t until I saw impressions in wmt’s that made me go back to GA and do advanced segments by browsers. Sure enough, we just happened to have a surge in traffic from Bing/Yahoo which gave a false impression that we weren’t hit until the 27th/28th when we were actually hit on 24th/25th. Sigh. Well, at least we know which black and white animal we’re dealing with now. Cheers.

  20. Great post. The dates and method to check the trafic was most helpful!
    In general since panda and penguin my site has gained trafik however on a few keywords and pages I went from top 3 to pos. 30-90 something.
    I’m trying to analyze what I did wrong, so I will be sure not to make the same misstake with other pages…
    As far as I can tell I lost pos. on these keywords on 05/11. So does this mean it’s Penguin or are there even more types of filters at play…

  21. Google updating algorithm in the name of panda penguin etc but all those algorithms are working for few days only because the site which get affected will return after sometime to normal traffic. So its something like a warming to have a good site to website owners.

  22. Im at a total loss here, I am researching and out of all the dates that sites were affected, i have yet to hear the date that our site got clobbered. that was May 7, a few days AFTER the mayday effect. (or is it?)

    So if my traffic plummeted from 130 organic visits /day to 15/day, between may 7-9, what should i be assuming is the cause?

    1. Vic, I’m sorry to hear that you were hit. I would have to take a look at your site, analytics, etc. to figure out what’s going on. If you want to email me, you can by finding my site through my bio above.

  23. Thanks for a great post. Did you ever find the reason why a site hit by Panda/Penguin actually got more traffic from Google images? The same thing happened to me and I have not really managed to understand why.

  24. Great read. None of our sites seemed to get hit by any issues with Panda or Penguin…until one of our ecommerce sites got crushed twice in July. The first hit seems to have come around 7/9 and the next on 7/24. Our money keywords really got hammered but some of our secondary keywords largely remained unchanged. No unnatural link warnings but I know for sure we have far too many manufacturers’ descriptions at the product page level. We’ve began updating tons of products and that’s been a help, but our number one money keyword (which the home page is targeting, and is all unique content) is still tanking. We were up to #12 and looking to crack page one and now we toil between 40-60. Very odd. Anyone else run into problems in early or late July?

  25. Hi, it was really a great post. Really enjoyed it! Need your help! As you mentioned about Google Panda and Penguin updates, I checked my website. From statcounter stats I can see that my web traffic was dropped from 250-300 visitors a day to only 40 visitors a day from May 26th, 2012.

    My website was ranking #1 position for some keywords related to make money but it’s now nowhere in top 100 or even in top 500 (I don’t know)

    Can you please tell me which update affected it and how can I solve this problem and get back the traffic?
    I’ve bookmarked your blog for routine read and will come back to see your response.
    Thank you so much!

  26. Hi Glenn’

    Thanks again for something very informative, as always :)
    Actually when i have tried to dive in deeper using your suggested ways but i couldn’t found too much “traffic drop” between 10/4 to 25/4 comparatively next 2 weeks, Additionally the keyword i used to rank on top is completely disappear from google..

    What should i think about this because of PANDA or PENGUIN ?

    Regards
    Raj

  27. I’m having trouble figuring out which one I was hit with, or maybe both. I have linked to a screen shot below.
    As you can see i dropped traffic after penquin, but not completely and I did sometimes get daily fluctuations like this (as can be soon on the image). Come Panda 3.6 I dropped again, however Panda hit on days of historical low traffic for my site (Fridays, sat and Sundays would bring very little, some times no traffic), so its also hard to gauge this.

    If i was hit by Penquin, would it be unlikely to see those visits the day after, what are people thoughts?

    Screen shot here: http://i.imgur.com/9cbUf.jpg

  28. I lost my 50% tariff from new update of panda and my site is very new just one and half month old. Kindly suggest me what I will do to recover from this problem. I am very worried about it. I am waiting for your suggestion.

  29. I was hit in Mid-September 2012 Which doesn’t match any of the dates you mentioned, could this be the EMD (Exact Match Domain Update)?

  30. Hi Glenn,

    I have a strange question, so beginning on December I setup preferred domain through webmaster tools to http://www.mysite.com and as you know to do this you also have to proof that you are the owner of non-www version… now checking for my statistic I can see incredible traffic arise for non-www version while http://www.mysite.com keep intact (actually it was hitted by the latest Penguin, but it’s not the case)… so the question is should I worry about traffic increase for non-www version of my site and should I do 301 redirect to www version?

    Another question concerns penguinpandalization… My website traffic was dropped by 60% exactly 14 October 2011, was it Panda update or smth else? I see that some Panda flux happened October 5, 2011 and update happened September 28, 2011, so was it US or worldwide? I’m from Russia… thanks

  31. Hi Glenn,
    I realize this comment is coming late, but I was re-reading many posts about the Penguin/Panda updates and wanted to get a 3rd party opinion on a graphic. A potential client has come to me and in my analysis I found that their keyword exposure as well as back link hisstory (they have hundreds/thousands of really bad links) shows major drop-offs. Their traffic is down substantially as a result. This is the screenshot http://www.screencast.com/t/mHENUWhiAg
    I was seeking input as to whether or not panda/penguin was responsible or it was just “coincidence”. Any input would be appreciated.

  32. You know if there Is a tool that allows to check if a site I do link building on has been penalized by Panda/Penguin? Please note that I have not access to Analytics or WBT and Majestic SEO for example still gives me good Trust Flow and Citation Flow.. Thank you!