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Google Panda Update Recovery
Google rolled out its now infamous Panda algorithm update starting in February 2011, affecting around 12% of all search results (SERP).
As a direct result of Google Panda, traffic to some websites dropped by 90%; the worst hit being article sites and content portals which contained lots of weak "built for SEO" articles. See the list of who was worst affected by Panda.
Based on a complex machine learning algorithm developed by Navneet Panda a new Google hire, the Panda update primarily targeted "Content farms" and "Scraper sites" with thin content, as well as sites which served up aggregated "scraped content" from multiple non-original sources.
But it didn't stop there - the update also incorporated advanced algorithmic methods of identifying sites which provide a poor user experience to visitors, or lack authority and trustworthiness in their field alongside more established competitors.
To help webmasters identify the reasons why certain websites were targeted, Google issued a list of 23 questions relating to website quality criteria. This provided useful hints as to how the Panda algorithm operates.
Many of Google's algorithm changes are aimed at improving the quality of the SERP and this is yet another example. In common with other major Google algorithm updates, improvements have been made to the Panda update to raise SERP quality.
Dates of the various Google Panda algorithm updates and releases include:
- Panda 1.0 - February 24th 2011 (targeted thin content sites). 12% of US SERP affected.
- Panda 2.0 - April 11th 2011 (Panda roll-out across all English language data centres) including UK. This version also includes data on sites which Google users choose to block from their search results. See the Google Blog post for more information.
- Panda 2.1 - May 6th 2011 (minor algorithm change).
- Panda 2.2 - June 21st 2011 (more tweaks).
- Panda 2.3 - July 23rd 2011 (traffic improvements to some sites hit by previous Panda update)
- Panda 2.5 - Google roll-out on September 28th and October 4th/5th 2011.
- Panda 2.5.2 - October 13th 2011 (targeted certain " thin affiliate" sites).
- Panda 3.2 - January 18th 2012
Known Panda Triggers
Precisely how Google determined sites to downgrade as a result of the Panda update is a closely guarded secret, but the data analysed is thought to include:
- Social Networking Sharing Signals - How many people share pages of the site, including Tweets and Re-Tweets. Such data helps Google to assess the popularity and value of the content.
- Content Originality and Quality Metrics - Is content on the site non-original or scraped from other sources? Are there large amounts of near duplicate content on the site which offer little user benefit? These might be low quality pages for SEO purposes as well as sites which over-use content feeds. Even the presence of spelling errors could reduce the content quality score.
- Click Through Rate - Do people click through from the SERP, or avoid the site due to title or Meta description spam or a non-trustworthy looking domain name?
- User Experience and Engagement (UX) - A combination of factors could be used to gauge user engagement including average time on page, bounce rate, number of pages viewed per visit, repeat versus unique visitors amongst others.
- Site Presentation and Usability - It may no longer be good enough to have superlative quality content. As a result of Google Panda, the look and feel of the site and its content presentation now also affect Google ranking.
In-your-face advertising, pop-up surveys and on-page clutter can all contribute to a negative user experience and increase the likelihood of being hit by the Google Panda filter.
Google Panda Recovery
As Panda/Farmer takes into consideration multiple factors which are influenced by site presentation, web design, usability and user experience - recovery from Panda takes time. KSL consulting provides SEO consultancy to help identify the root causes of lost traffic and a fall in website ranking arising out of the Panda update and provides valuable advice to recover your SERP positioning.
Here are some useful Google Panda recovery tips:
- Remove or Re-Write Low Quality Content - Poor quality content which demonstrates low user retention and serves to add little incremental user value should be removed or re-written.
- Check your Spelling and Grammar - Analyse your website content for spelling errors and fix any grammatical errors at the same time. Implement more thorough editorial controls when rolling out new website content including a thorough spell check.
- Improvements to Website Usability and User Experience - This might involve removing page clutter, simplifying page layouts, implementing less advertising as well as improving website navigation to help visitors find things easier. To assist with this, Google Analytics can provide data on user engagement using pivot tables and custom reports.
- Avoid Low Quality Link Building - If your site primarily relied on lots of links from low quality websites full of advertising, you will need to improve your link building strategy in order to recover your Google rankings. Links from content rich, trusted, well ranked and thematically relevant sites are less likely to be devalued by the search engines and can bring huge benefits.
- Build Brand Awareness - There is some speculation (albeit unproven) that little known brands with few online mentions, few brand searches, poor brand association to content and little social networking buzz might have been targeted by Panda. Hence if you are a small business in a big playing field, building better brand awareness alongside quality content and SEO would seem to be a sensible strategy.
- Improving Web Design and Content Focus - Unnecessary words contribute to page size, increased download times and contribute to visitor fatigue. Google's content quality team recommended several books on web design, usability and content writing during their recent Adsense Seminar in Oxford:
- Separate Content by Theme and Authority Status - HubPages was one of the websites hardest hit by Google Panda. In a surprise move HubPages CEO Paul Edmonson was contacted by Matt Cutts - Head of Google's Spam Team and advised to implement multiple sub-domains or sub-folders to separate thematically different content. This is also mentioned in an earlier post in his SEO Blog. Read more about Google Panda recovery on Search Engine Watch with a further interesting article here.
One word of caution though - Google treats subdomains like new websites, so sub-folders may be a better Google Panda recovery strategy. Please bear in mind that there are no guarantees this will work if other issues remain unresolved. If you move pages into sub-folders, the old page URL's must be 301 redirected to ensure Google passes any link value.
- Encouraging Social Networking Shares - Interesting, original content can attract all-important links and encourage social media sharing. Free social share buttons like Add This, Share This and Wibiya can also help encourage natural social media references for well written content.
The Google Panda update changed the SEO landscape forever. In the next 12 months we can expect to see social media trends and user experience factors playing a much more significant role in website ranking (social media's influence already accounts for around 8% of the overall Google algorithm according to the 2011 SEOMoz Search Engine Ranking Factors survey).
Given that Google can collect and analyse user data from many diverse sources (including Google +1, the Chrome Browser and users of its Android Phone Operating System), we can expect SEO to become much more influenced by complex machine learning processes that analyse such data to identify "winners and losers" in the SERP.
Google SEO Consultancy
Contact KSL Consulting for professional help with Google ranking problems arising from a Google penalty or the Panda algorithm update. Alternatively, call us on +44 (0) 845 224 3971 during UK business hours.
About the Author
Written by Steve Larkins.