Ok. I’m frustrated with all of the hype and misinformation regarding the Panda Update to the Google algorithm. There are very few websites willing to come out and share their experiences, with the exception of DaniWeb and a few others. Most have been fairly silent, which I can only assume is out of fear of repercussions. That’s lame.
So, I’m going to share my experience and lessons learned along the way.
I got Google slapped hard starting February 24. I remember tweeting about it a full day before anything was even announced. No one was talking about it yet. I sure noticed. Overnight, my highly traffic’d website lost 50% of search traffic and most longtail SERPS were suppressed to the 3rd page or worse. When I went to check revenue stats, they were cut by 60%. I’ve been on the web more than 14 years and I’ve never seen an update with this much impact.
The point of Panda was to get rid of content farms that have shallow content, gaming the search engines by covering niche topics poorly. Sites like Hubpages.com, Ezinearticles.com and eHow.com were all hit pretty hard, but those weren’t the only ones. Many online retailers and blogs were also hit.
I’m lucky to have awesome friends and deep connections in the online marketing circuit, but that still didn’t save me. I had to save myself. And if I would have listened to a few of my smarty pants friends sooner, I might have been able to dig myself out faster. But, that’s neither here nor there. All I want to do is help you understand the Panda Update on a intuitive level as well as a practical one.
Your site didn’t lose ranking because you have too many ads or because you have too many affiliate links. You didn’t lose traffic because you have a shitty site. You got buried because your overall quality score isn’t up to par with the Google. When you get Pandalized, even your Google Adsense earnings will go down. Certain ads will stop showing up and your CPM will get killed. At least, that was my experience.
Here are a seven tips you can apply to your marketing strategy to make sure you keep your site out of Panda. If you’re short on time, make sure you read the first two.
1.) As my friend @RobSnell told me back in March, TAKE THE GARBAGE OUT. That means, old content needs to be deleted and 301′d. If the content is no longer accurate either get rid of it or noindex it. I know you are terrified to delete old blog posts, but they are bloating your quality score. I bet those pages aren’t getting much traffic anyway. You think they are… check your analytics. At first, your traffic will go down, but this will help you get out of Panda and will improve how Google views your site. Even if you haven’t been hit by Panda, think about a content archiving strategy that will remove old content from the search bots path.
2.) I spoke with Chris Sullivan at WeBuildPages.com, now Internet Marketing Ninjas. Chris helped me philosophically understand the Panda Update. You should look at your bounce rate, but a better way to think about Panda is pogosticking. Are people coming to your site or side door page and automatically popping back to the search results for the same term? In other words, did they find what they were looking for immediately? This has many implications, including making sure your messaging is tied to the section, page and anything above the fold. You need to grab visitors right away. And you need to steer them somewhere else — not back to the search results, as that’s a sure signal to Google that the visitors intent was not satisfied.
3.) Panda is hard to fix. Once you’re in the new sandbox of Panda, you really have to make site wide changes and to get out. Every site has a slightly different story as to why they got Pandalized. And according to some reports only 5% of websites have fully recovered from Panda since February 24. However, don’t think that means you’re doomed forever. You’re not. You just need to rethink your strategy and make sure you’re putting the user experience first. Is the content quality? Would you read it or pop back to search results? Is the content visually engaging? What do visitors first see?
4.) Duplicate content doesn’t do anything for anyone. Fix your title tags – make them all unique. And don’t repurpose content on 10 different sections of your site without adding additional content and value. Joining SEOMoz and getting my site indexed helped me see some big problem areas of duplicate content and title tags. If you have a large site, a SEOMoz Pro account is invaluable.
5.) Build cool shit and develop a brand that people can attach to or you’re out. The search results of the future will be socially decided, so start rethinking your strategy if it revolves around SEO and/or arbitrage or scraping. Think of your website as a community — as people really must feel a bond with your brand as that’ s another signal to Google – how many times do people search for your website by name? Do people want to come back? Do they remember you?
6.) The Panda update or as @DannySullivan called it, the Farmer update is an on/off switch. If you have been hit by the Panda, your longtail search engine positions will be virtually eliminated and link building won’t do any good until you’re out from under the Panda. Once you’re out, positions will return to normal. And this can happen when the update is run again (see #7).
7.) The Panda update only seems to run every 4-6 weeks, meaning until the update is run again, your website will not be rescored or have the potential to recover. The update will run your site through a quality check of some sort and if you’ve recovered, you’ll know at the onset of the updates. Since February 2011, there have been 5 updates and we’re now at Panda 2.5.
And tomorrow, October 12th my friend Todd Malicoat (@stuntdubl) is doing a video course on Understanding the Panda. You’ll have to pay to access the course, but I belong to Market Motive and recommend the courses to anyone interested in staying on top of things. There is a ton of quality content on Market Motive from the leaders in the industry.