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Pandas, Penguins and Pirates, Oh My!

Has your site recently had a big boost in organic traffic or conversely have you been left hanging out to dry with a noticeable decrease in organic traffic? You might have been hit by a Google Algorithm update.

Google has three major algorithms that can have a significant impact on your traffic each time they are updated:

  1. Panda – last update September 23, 2014: The Panda algorithm was rolled out for the first time in February 2011. Since then it’s had over 25 updates. Its main purpose is to prevent sites with low-quality content from ranking in the Google search results. If your site is doing any of the following things chances are your organic traffic will suffer from Panda: duplicate content, shallow content, keyword stuffing.
  2. Penguin – last update October 17, 2014: Unlike Panda this algorithm is updated much more infrequently. It was rolled out in April 2012 and has been updated about 6 times. Its main purpose is to prevent sites with a lot of “spammy links” pointing to it from ranking in the Google search results. “Spammy links” includes buying links and being in link networks.
  3. Pirate – last update October 21, 2014: Pirate is updated infrequently, as well. It was rolled out in August 2012 and has only been updated once. The Pirate algorithm was created to smote sites that infringe on copyrights.

Here are some tips to be sure your site is not breaking any of the rules:

  1. Monitor your Analytics account on a monthly basis. Always look at your sources of traffic and compare one month over the other to be sure you are not decreasing in traffic from one source or another. Google Analytics has a handy report called “Channels” and you can easily compare month-over-month to understand percent increases and decreases in traffic from specific sources. (If you are considering an analytics tool, Google Analytics is by far the best Analytics tool out there and it’s free.)
  2. Get a “Google Webmaster Tools” account. Google will send you important notices and also let you know if an action has been taken against your site.
  3. If you notice a drop in traffic, look at Google Algorithm Change History to see if the drop corresponds to any of the algorithm updates.
  4. If you think you’ve been hit by Panda:
    • Consult your web developer to be sure that if you have dynamic page generation on your site, those duplicate pages are not being indexed by search engines.
    • Discuss content development with your team to make sure your content is original, deep and rich.
    • Be sure that someone else has not stolen your copy. Using your Analytics, if you notice a particular page has decreased in traffic, use If it returns results on another site, you may have had your content stolen. If you find your content has been stolen, Report it to Google.
  5. If you think you’ve been hit by Penguin:
    • If you’re sure you haven’t bought any spammy links to your site, then look into the Google Disavow tool. Caution, this tool should only be used if you are confident that the cause of your site issues is due to spammy links. You could hurt your site by using this tool if spammy links are not the cause.
  6. If you think you’ve been hit by Pirate:
    • First, it’s highly unlikely you’ve been hit by Pirate unless you own a site that is illegally providing lyrics, music (MP3s), or copied content. Google created this algorithm to combat music piracy and copyright infringement.
    • If you are infringing, take down the offending content. Then you will play a waiting game until Google updates the algorithm again.
  7. Lastly, if you need help, we can do a site audit for you. Email me at

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