Google Panda refers to a series of on-going algorithm updates and data refreshes for the Google search engine that the company rolls out to help refine its search algorithm to improve the value of search query results for users.
The Google Panda updates specifically tweak the algorithm as part of Google's continual efforts to elevate high-quality sites and web pages to the top of the organic search results while lowering, or penalizing, the rank of lower-quality or "thin' web sites and pages, particularly those sites that display a large amount of advertising without much in terms of high-quality content.
How Does Google Panda Differ from Google Penguin and Google Hummingbird?
Google Panda is frequently confused with two other algorithm improvements from Google, Google Penguin and Google Hummingbird. Google Panda updates are focused primarily on ensuring that low quality and poor content web sites are pushed farther down the search results so that higher quality sites can receive priority exposure.
Google Penguin updates, on the other hand, target sites that utilize Black Hat SEO in an attempt to boost their search engine results. These sites breach the Google Webmaster Guidelines, and as a result, Google Penguin updates penalize these sites in the search engine's results.
While Google Panda and Penguin both serve as updates for Google’s existing search algorithm engine, Google Hummingbird delivers a completely new search algorithm. Google Hummingbird seeks to improve the search engine experience for users by going beyond keyword focus and instead taking into account more of the context and surrounding content in the entire search phrase to offer a natural-language, or conversational, approach to search queries.
How Often Are Google Panda Updates Rolled Out?
The original Panda update debuted in February 2011, and at least three additional major updates have followed, with the most recent being May 2014's Panda 4.0 Update. The company also has a history of rolling out minor updates, sometimes as frequently as monthly.
The Panda updates are closely followed by the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry as well as companies and web developers across the world, as the Panda changes can significantly impact the amount of traffic a web site receives from natural, or organic, search results.
Google offers regular advisory updates on its blog to help provide direction to SEO companies, web developers and content providers for improving the content and design of their web sites and pages to avoid being lowered, or penalized, in the search engine results.
Recommended Reading: How Web Search Engines Work and Five SEO Tips for Driving Search Engine Traffic