Since it’s creation a decade and a half ago, Google has changed the world in many ways. First with web search that constantly improved. Later with the wealth of free services and tools it offers. Later still by becoming the social and political juggernaut it is today.
One such change, at least in the world of search, was the Panda update. Panda – known briefly as Farmer when it was initially rolled out – was released in February of 2011 and has gone on to be one of the most feared names in algorithmic updates. It came out of the gate swinging and has evolved in the years since.
February 23, 2011 – Panda Released
The original Panda update targeted thin content, content mills – or farms, hence the Farmer name – excessive ads and a range of other quality issues. This marked the beginning of the massive shift from SEO based on keyword density and link building, to the modern iteration where content marketing and customer value have become the emphasis. Even today, some webmasters struggle with the concept.
Panda’s initial release affected a massive 12 percent of all search results. It removed entire marketing strategies from gray had to black. It killed some websites and forced others to scale back and review their policies, lest they be driven under. Affected sites would lose 60-90 percent of their traffic literally overnight.
And it was just the beginning.
April 11, 2011 – Panda Refined
The second Panda update came a month and a half later and was labeled Panda 2.0 before it became clear that Panda would be an ongoing thing. It wasn’t as devastating across the Internet as the first iteration, but it caught many sites that thought they scraped through by a hair in the first change. It was, in actuality, primarily based on new signals Google decided to integrate. One such signal was the ability for users to block individual sites from their search results. Users would block sites they hated seeing, and Google compiled a list of such sites as they accumulated enough ignores. Those sites, even if they didn’t fit the profile of other sites removed by Panda, were hit by the second wave.
May 9, 2011 – Panda Lives and Breathes
From this point on, Google made a series of smaller updates to the algorithm, with little discussion of each. The first update was dubbed Panda 3.0 for a short time, until it further became clear that it was a refinement of Panda 2.0. It later gained the 2.1 number. Continuing from here, minor updates happened roughly once each month.
• June 21, 2011
• July 23, 2011
• August 12, 2011 – Another minor update for English sites, Panda 2.4 had a distinct international release, hitting most non-English, non-oriental countries. In these countries, around 6-9 percent of queries were affected.
• September 28, 2011
October 5, 2011 – Panda in Flux
Matt Cutts, even then the spokesman for Google’s search team, reported that a Panda-related flux would occur within the few following weeks of this date. The ongoing flux dubbed this date Panda Flux, and while it only affected some two percent of queries, it was still significant for some webmasters.
Meanwhile, Google continued making minor updates to Panda.
• October 10, 2011
• October 13, 2011
• Other ongoing weekly minor updates.
November 18, 2011 – Panda 3.1
Labeled the 3.1 update, despite no formal 3.0, the November 18 update was about the time when webmasters truly realized that Panda would not be going away. The new world of search was here to stay, with all that it implied. At this point, minor weekly updates were left unremarked, and only major events or Google announcements received official names and version designations.
• January 18, 2012
• February 27, 2012
• March 23, 2012
• April 19, 2012 – As a note, a few short days after this update was when the first view of the Penguin arrived, adding another animal to Google’s ferocious zoo.
• April 27, 2012
• June 8, 2012
• June 25, 2012
• July 25, 2012
• August 20, 2012 – Up until this point, each monthly update was labeled with a 3.x number. Being the one after 3.9, but not major enough to push to a 4.0, this update added another number to become 3.9.1.
• September 18, 2012
September 27, 2012 – Retiring the Versions
At this point, the three-number system was becoming difficult to parse and discuss in a meaningful way. Rather than continue with it, the industry as a whole began to adopt a simple update numbering scheme. Being the 20th sequential Panda update, this one became Panda 20. It was a little more major than the past updates, but it still only affected some 2.4 percent of queries – minor compared to the initial blast of Panda’s rollout. From here, the monthly update trend continued.
• November 5, 2012
• November 21, 2012
• December 21, 2012
January 22, 2013 – Past the End of the World
When it was proven that humanity as a whole survived the 2012 apocalypse, Google continued with their monthly Panda updates.
Each update for the previous year, and many following, affected one of two things; the algorithm or the data behind it. Algorithm updates were generally more important, changing the way Panda acted and behaved. Data updates refreshed the data Panda worked with, to further refine and broaden its effect. This is because Panda worked with a limited version of the great search database of indexed sites, rather than the full live index as a whole. Some of the largest updates affected both algorithm and data, but even so, every update after the first was minor in comparison.
March 14, 2013 – Resistance is Futile
With over two years of Panda, it had long since become clear that Panda would not be going away. Google further cemented this by announcing that this would be the final Panda update prior to the algorithm becoming one with the core search algorithm. From this point on, Panda updates were updates to the core functionality of Google itself, not just the small side metric.
June 11, 2013 – A Dancing Panda
Similar in character to the Flux of earlier in the history of the algorithm, Matt Cutts confirmed that Panda was still alive and kicking. Separate updates still happened on a monthly basis, but each was rolled out over a week-long period, giving more stability – and less detection – to the updates.
• July 18, 2013
• Ongoing monthly updates for the rest of 2013 and the start of 2014.
May 19, 2014 – Panda 4.0, The Return of the Son of Panda
Panda 4.0 was the next big Panda update, long anticipated by the SEO industry. It’s the most major update in a long time, but in many respects it was a way to tame the savage beast. Panda had been too harsh for too long, and one primary criticism was the idea that huge companies could produce huge volumes of quality content and steamroll over small businesses trying to compete. This was contrary to Google’s mission, so it softened some penalties for small businesses – and made it more difficult for larger corporations to pull ahead by throwing money at the problem.
Panda still receives monthly updates, but who knows what the future will bring?