Panda Update 3.5 Is Live: Winners & Losers

Last week, Google released a new update to its Panda algorithm that targets low-quality content. Who won and who lost? Searchmetrics has posted an analysis of that.

Our original story here reported the winners/losers list, as Searchmetrics did, showing who was estimated to have gained and lost in the new Penguin Update that was released this week by Google. Penguin targets not low-quality content but outright spam.

No one knew that there had been a Panda Update that also happened, one that in fact was likely responsible for most of the changes on the lists. This was confirmed by the head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts. He commented after the original story came out:

Hey Danny, there’s a pretty big flaw with this “winner/loser” data. Searchmetrics says that they’re comparing by looking at rankings from a week ago. We rolled out a Panda data refresh several days ago. Because of the one week window, the Searchmetrics data include not only drops because of the webspam algorithm update but also Panda-related drops. In fact, when our engineers looked at Searchmetrics’ list of 50 sites that dropped, we only saw 2-3 sites that were affected in any way by the webspam algorithm update. I wouldn’t take the Searchmetrics list as indicative of the sites that were affected by the webspam algorithm update.

Following up with Cutts on Twitter, he told me the Panda Update hit around April 19. The last update was Panda 3.4 on March 23, which Google had publicly shared.

The original Searchmetrics post has since been updated to show what it believes are now the Penguin Update winners and losers. The charts below reflect the original list, those who were estimated to have gained or lost from the Panda release.

The Winners

Among the winners are big brands and news sites. Spotify, The New York Observer, music site NME, Men’s Health, Poynter, The Verge, Stack Overflow and Marvel are just some of the easily recognizable names that jumped out at me.

Here’s the full list of who was judged to have gained visibility in an initial study of 50,000 keywords, for 5 million domains, to see who went up or down in the first 100 results compared to last week:

The Losers

Who was hit hardest? First the list:

Searchmetrics, going through the list, summarized the losers as mainly this way:

  • Sites using databases to aggregate information
  • Press portals and aggregators
  • Heavily-templated web sites

Only Losers Really Know If They Lost

As a reminder, lists like this aren’t perfect. The sites above may have had gains and drops for other reasons; less visibility this week because last week they were visible for different news stories, for example. Also, Google had a problem with a parked domain classifier last week that might have hit some sites which later rose back up.

It’s also worth remembering that this is a sample of search terms. The only way to really know if any update has hurt or helped you is to look at your search-driven traffic from Google, rather than particular rankings or lists like this, which have become popular after Google updates. If you’ve seen a significant increase, you’ve probably been rewarded by it. A big decrease? Then you were probably hit.

Finally, it’s really worth keeping in mind this is a list of those Searchmetrics believes are hit by the Panda Update 3.5, not by the Penguin Update. Penguin was aimed at taking out spam sites.

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About The Author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.