There is No Panda Penalty. Get it?

Ian Lurie
Really, Panda didn't do it

Site owners frequently tell me “I think we’re under a Panda Penalty.”

Google does not have a “Panda penalty.”

Understand that and you’ll understand how optimizing for Panda-type ranking factors can improve rankings.

By the way, Panda is now part of Google’s core algorithm. It’s one way Google measures the value of content. I’m going to keep referring to Panda because it’s easier to type than "the content quality part of Google’s algorithm.”

What Panda Does

Panda introduced new ranking factors that measure writing quality. It checks site content for grammar, spelling, structure, and whatever other mysterious metrics. Then, they place sites on a continuum, from best to worst, and apply that when ranking those sites. They measure your writing’s distance from perfect.

Sites with closer-to-perfect content get a nice Panda boost. Sites with lousy content get a Panda butt-kicking. Panda can provide positive and negative ranking signals.

Compare that to Penguin: All Penguin does is punish artificial link building schemes. It doesn’t provide any positive ranking signals.

That’s a big difference: Panda can help you.

What To Do

OK. So Panda’s different. It’s part of the core algorithm. It doesn’t penalize sites. It can help you move up. What does that mean, day-to-day? More than “create great content,” that’s for sure:

  1. Don’t treat content like an eye booger. You can’t deal with it and then forget about it. You need a sustained effort
  2. There’s no “right” or “wrong” content length. Do what’s necessary to communicate your idea
  3. There’s no “right” or “wrong” frequency. Do what you can without sacrificing quality
  4. There’s no “good enough.” Better than last time is a great goal
  5. Carefully consider content structure. Again, there’s no right or wrong. But you should use bullets when it makes sense, organize for clarity, and use things like images to enhance, not decorate
  6. Edit your work
  7. Proofread your work
  8. You may have a Panda “problem” but Google won’t send you a note
  9. The chances are that 70% drop in organic search traffic isn’t Panda
  10. If you don’t have time to write every day, so be it. Don’t compensate by hiring $20/post writers. Write good stuff, less often
  11. Your team knows your subject matter. Consider getting an editor or editorial team before you hire writers. They can turn your team’s raw information into web-worthy content. Once you have a pipeline going, you can hire writers

Panda penalties don’t exist. Good writing does. Understand the difference, and you’ll rank higher.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Google has a long and painful history of being unclear, of being selfish and of lying.
    Good writing is its own reward, you’re absolutely right, Ian.
    But living and dying by superstitions about what Google is or isn’t doing is mostly dying.
    The most important thing that needs to be included in every single post on this topic: “Note: Google is not running a service, they are running a business with one objective, which is to do what’s best for Google. Don’t trust them or be fooled by what they imply. They are relentlessly using you to increase their own metrics.”

    1. I’m not sure about the lying, but they are definitely a business operating in their own self interest. They make money based on their inventory, which is searches. More searches = more inventory. Happy searchers = more searches.

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