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Dealing With Google's Panda Update
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Ok we are nearly two weeks into the Farmer/Panda Update from Google.  (I prefer the name "Panda Update" so I am going to stick with that for this post).  There are still a number of Webmasters and site owners moaning and groaning as reports continue to come in that sites have lost anywhere from 20-70% of their traffic from Google.  With SMX West taking place this week in San Jose, I expected (and hoped) that we would get some additional insight from Google themselves as to what one can do to deal with any negative impact of this update.  While Google started a thread to obtain feedback on the update, they have been pretty quiet.

Here is what we do know.  The Google Panda Update occurred in two stages.
  1. Wednesday, January 26, 2011 – aimed at sites referred to as content farms and sites with low quality content.
  2. Thursday, February 24th – larger update where focus appeared to be on site with advertising (AdSense?) above the fold and on sites with low quality content, duplicate (scaped content?) and on sites that lacked quality links.
*For the sites that were hit hard nearly all of them are experiencing traffic declines in the range of 30-70%.
There are a number of theories as to what Google is targeting.  More on that coming up.

Former Googler Vanessa Fox has been providing some great insight into Google's recent algorithm update.    She mentions that according to Google ways to avoid being negatively impacted by this (and other) changes are to have a site with:
  • Original content and original research (not aggregated or syndicated from other sources)
  • Authoritative information (deep and useful content, not simply words about a topic; content that answers people’s questions and that they find credible)
  • Compelling added value (if the content isn’t unique, does the page add significant value over the original source?)
  • Significant user engagement, including links and social sharing
  • Valuable content across the entire site

These areas are similar to the items that I included in my seven areas to address re: Google Panda Algorithm Update post from yesterday.

Vanessa Fox has another great post on the topic where she discussed potential ways sites may be able to regain their rankings and traffic.  She summarized the following quite nicely:
  • Substantial low quality on a site can cause the rankings for the entire site to decline (even for the high quality pages)
  • Evaluate your web site for poor quality pages (not useful, poorly written, non-unique, or thin) and remove them
  • Overall user experience is likely important: design and usability, ad-to-content ratio, brand perception
  • Look at both content and page templates (do the templates overwhelm the pages with ads? Provide a poor user interface?)
  • After ensuring all content on the site is high quality, focus on engagement and awareness (through social media and other channels)
  • Diversify into other channels and even within search, look beyond web search at Google News and “one box” style results such as blogs, images, and videos
  • We can potentially learn from content farms, particularly in how they pinpoint what audiences are interested in and what problems they are trying to solve as well as how they harness crowdsourcing.
She goes on to add:
This algorithm specifically targets sites (not necessarily content farms) that are low quality in a number of ways, such as:
  • Shallow content (not enough content to be useful)
  • Poorly written content
  • Content copied from other sites
  • Content that’s not useful
In addition, low quality content on part of the site can impact the rankings of the entire site so it might be worthwhile to remove the low quality pages of the site to increase rankings of the high quality pages.

Of course you know that the Panda Update was going to be the most discussed topic at SMX West (which I now regret not attending).  Matthew Brown of AudienceWise had some great thoughts on the update as well.  According to Vanessa's post, Matthew stated:
  • user experience and brand likely contribute to a site’s overall perception of quality.
  • a quality vs. quantity ratio on sites. Even the ratio of low quality content is high enough, it could bring the entire site down. (Which Vanessa points out that this aligns very closely to Google’s latest statement.)
  • content farm-like sites that seemed not to lose rankings had common factors such as brand awareness and credibility
  • design and user experience play a part as well
Matthew recommends:
  • Getting rid of poor quality pages entirely (redirect them if it makes sense, otherwise 404 them)
  • Building out brand signals
  • Working on promotion and engagement
Are we seeing a theme yet?   Folks on Twitter were tweeting similar thoughts:

Panda signals: quality vs quantity, big sites rely domain authority, small sites with few quality pages, sites w/ overload of ads/links

Mike Cassidy of @Google says social connections to you can boost rankings if friends make or share pages

 @dannysullivan: Low quality to quantity ratio? Might be reason you were hit by Farmer/Update: Matthew Brown

Lisa Barone, who has been doing some excellent live blogging from SMX also had a nice post re: fixing issues with the Panda Update.  Some smart tips include:

    * Followe eHow’s template. No ads above the fold, good content
    * Clean up your site.
    * Build out brand signals
    * Channels/domain
    * Tighten editorial controls
    * Scale promotion

Also from SMX, Paul Yiu from Bing shared some thoughts to consider as search engines become more social.

    * Make it easy to Like and Share content. Include links in Tweets and Updates.
    * Trust-worthy people sharing your links or tweets, avoid spammy clumps.
    * # of people RTing or Liking what you said/shared in the last minute, hour, day week.
    * Be prepared to turn on a dime, and for the flash mob.

So we are starting to see some useful information come out about how to deal with Google's Panda Update.  I think that this was a huge algorithm update perhaps the largest one in Google's history when you think about the dramatic impact it has had and all of the controversy and passion that it has stirred up.  For better or worse, the update is causing an impact and forcing people to look at the content that they are putting out there.  To me that is a good thing.  I do feel however that Google has damaged a lot of innocent sites and sites that are good resources that have now been bumped down in the search results.  Probably one of my favorite quotes came via (I apologize as I'm not sure who originally tweeted this) Twitter:
Hey Google, Altavista from 1997 called, they want their algorithm back" re: irrelevant listing
Ha ha too funny.  I for one have been critical of Google's results over the past six months.  From my experience the Panda Update has not yet improved the results.  In some cases it has definitely resulted in poorer results.  However I applaud Google for their attack on webspam as there is simply too much fluff and not enough stuff on the Internet.  There is a lot of pollution out there and while it is not solely up to Google to clean up the Web, each and every site owner needs to do their part to ensure that the content that is uploaded is useful and not ripped off from an existing resource.  It is things like content farms, auto-blogs, scraper sites and poor syndication that can pollute the Web in a hurry.  Google's Panda Update is just an ongoing step in cleaning up the webspam in their index.  We can expect more updates and changes soon.  The SERPs are no longer as static as they once were.  For those of you banking on retaining your #1 position in Google, be realistic.  Just because you have been number one in Google for <insert key phrase here> does not mean that you will be number one tomorrow.  We are all at the mercy of the almighty algorithm.

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