In the world of SEO, February 23rd, 2011 is a day that will go down in infamy. Google, in an effort to reduce crappy SERP results, began a series of updates referred to as Panda (or Farmer) updates.
11.8% of SERPs were impacted by the initial launch of this algorithm change, and SEOs and site owners around the world have been feeling the backlash ever since. Significant drops in traffic and revenue have resulted from these changes, and are still resulting as additional updates are released.
The Panda updates have rolled out systematically, as follows:
- February 23rd, 2011 – Panda/Farmer 1.0
- April 11th, 2011 – Panda 2.0
- May 9th, 2011 – Panda 2.1
- June 21st, 2011 – Panda 2.2
- July 23rd, 2011 – Panda 2.3
- August 12th, 2011 – Panda Global
If your analytics show a sharp drop in traffic on or around these dates, and your rankings dropped around the same time (assuming you are tracking your rankings, as you should be), then the odds are very good that you have been “Pandalized”.
So, what is it and what does it mean?
Think of it this way. Google makes what, 98 or 99% of their revenue from paid search ads? In order to get people back to Google and clicking on those ads, they need to have a search engine worth using, and that means delivering useful search results.
But, thanks to less than scrupulous SEOs and businesses alike, the SERPs have been getting worse and worse. Far too many results pages were loaded with thin content, duplicate content, or otherwise completely useless content, precisely the type of results that Google doesn’t want to be showing.
So Google decided to fix the problem.
If you wanted to, you could sum up the goal of Panda in one word: Quality.
So Google assembled a list of the crap that was clogging up the SERPs, and started hitting back. No longer will the following be tolerated:
- Thin or otherwise low quality content
- Duplicate content, either on-site or cross-site
- Too many advertisements or affiliate links (based on a ratio)
- Slow loading sites/pages
- Pretty much anything else that contributes to a poor user experience (Google keeps adding to the list with each update)
While these are the things that are being devalued/penalized, there is even more to the Panda picture. Most of the sites that allow you an easy way to build a followed link to your site involve thin or low quality content (HubPages, Article Marketer, and most other article sites for that matter.) Therefore, as Panda hits those sites, any links you have coming form those sites are also devalued. If you have too many of those, there may even be a penalty.
So essentially there are two main ways to be hit by Panda:
- By having your low quality pages/site devalued or even penalized
- By having your link profile demolished because the sites linking in were hit by #1
And so, with that in mind, there is really only one solution: Fix it.
There is no quick fix, and the days of playing your SEO game fast and loose are over.
If you have content on your site that is the same or very similar to content elsewhere on the web, and you are not the canonical source, that content needs to be removed from your site (you could probably get away with a canonical tag, but it would be better to simply remove it.)
If you have multiple instances of your own identical content across your domain, those pages need to be re-written or tagged with rel=canonical tags.
If you have a large number of pages with very thin content (think an eCommerce site with cookie cutter product descriptions), you need to write 300+ words of great content for each page. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, especially for thousands or even millions of page…but if you are an eCommerce site selling the same stuff that is on dozens or hundreds of other sites, using stock product descriptions is NOT going to help you, and may very well hurt you.
If your site or pages load slowly, you need to fix it. The rule of thumb is that no site or page should take more than 2-3 seconds to load on a typical DSL connection. User experience is huge, and high bounce rates due to slow load times or other reasons can absolutely have a negative impact on the rank-ability of your site.
If your site is an affiliate site or an MFA (made for AdSense) site, and you are not offering unique, valuable content, you don’t deserve to be ranking post-Panda…and Google knows it.
In addition to things Google doesn’t want to see, there is now more emphasis on things Google does want to see. Google wants to see more social signals saying that your website is legit. Tweets, FB likes, +1s, and so on. The more of these you have, genuinely obtained, the better. The thought process being that if you are a good company, and add real value, that those social signals will naturally follow.
At the end of the day, Google is doing it’s best to crawl and rate websites in a way that is as close to a real human user as possible. If a site is going to suck for a visitor, then it doesn’t deserve to rank. Period.
If you’ve been hit by Panda, and are trying to dig your site out of the penalty box, give us a holler! We’d be more than happy to take a look and tell you what you need to do to fix it.