Even in 2013, Google’s Penguin and Panda updates are going to have webmasters holding their breaths and crossing their fingers. It’s almost like the calm before the storm—you know something is coming, but you don’t know if you’re going to get hit. However, unlike a storm, a Google Penguin and Panda update can sneak up on you and affect your website without you even realizing what hit you. You sit there, scratch your head, and wonder: Was that a Panda, or a Penguin? Fortunately, there are a few things you can look for and a few things you can do to make sure that you know exactly which update you’re dealing with when it happens.

Why Knowing Which Update Hit Your Website Matters

The first thing to understand is why it matters that you know the difference in the first place. The truth is that although the two may seem similar, they are quite different and how you recover from these updates differs when you’re dealing with one versus the other. Trying to create a strategy for a Panda update when you’ve been hit by a Penguin update won’t be successful. You would be wasting time and resources.  There are a few specific differences between the two that concern advanced SEOs, but below gives a general overview:

  • Panda: This update was first seen in February 2011 and last seen on November 5 2012. It targets sites that put out poor and/or duplicate content, poor navigation and user experience, sites with too much advertising, and sites that might be over-optimized.
  • Penguin: This update is all about webspam. It was first launched in April 2012 and last occurred on October 5 2012, so this update is a bit newer than Panda. It focuses on poor links by looking at the anchor text, where the links are coming from and where they are pointing.

Updates also work in a way that you won’t know if the changes you made were successful until the next update rolls out. This means you could be analyzing your changes wrong (as well as what types of changes you needed to make in the first place). Moral of the story: Figure out which update you’re dealing with first before you make any sudden movements.

Top Ways To Tell If Your Website Has Been Hit By Penguin or Panda

There is really one major way to tell which algorithm hit your website, and that is by checking the date. This is the easiest and quickest way to determine the type of update. Here is a great resource that shows all Google updates based on date. It’s also a good idea to set up Google Organic reporting in your Google Analytics so that you can see your changes in traffic each specific day. If you see your traffic dip, go to an SEO blog and see which update hit, and there’s your answer.

Once you have identified the algorithm you’re working with, there are a few different things you can do, and the first should be determining the keywords that were affected during the update. You’ll want to make sure that you have a good understanding of when you have fewer visitors than usual (weekends, holidays, etc.), and you can do this by setting the Primary Dimension in your Google Organic settings to “Keyword.” Simply compare all of the traffic for each keyword by changing the dates in the upper right hand corner. If you see a huge change, then you’ll know exactly where you need to focus your recovery efforts—and understanding which update you’re dealing with will make all the difference.