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The impact of Google’s ‘Panda’ update might be restricted to a relatively small number of 'low quality' websites, according to the search community. I have received some new data that further supports this idea.

Panda was rolled out to Google.com on 24 February, but the UK update didn’t occur for another six weeks or so. Then, on 11 April, Google pushed the button. 'Low quality' and 'thin content' websites were targeted by Google. 

Some have suggested that the post-Panda world looks much the same as it did before, at least as far as most sites are concerned. This new data goes some way towards proving that...

The numbers, from search marketing agency Stickyeyes, provide us with a big picture view of five verticals (credit cards, gambling, flights, hotels and holidays). The search marketing firm tracks thousands of keywords for these areas and monitors the top 20 results in Google on an hourly basis. Stickyeyes gathered 4.7m pieces of data, so the sample is certainly big enough to make a few initial conclusions.

Google Panda vs Caffeine and Vince

When you step back and look at verticals the picture becomes clear: Panda hasn’t had the wide-ranging impact that previous Google updates such as Caffeine and Vince have had, as shown in the chart below. Fewer sites appear to have been affected in such a dramatic way. This graph shows the volatility trend of rankings within Google.co.uk for the verticals Stickyeyes measures, and you can see that Panda (far right) leaves a much smaller dent than Caffeine and Vince:

Impact of Panda

Google Panda’s impact by vertical

As far as the five verticals go, the big winner among these five verticals appears to be the gambling sector, with 67% of websites in the top 20 results (across the keyword sample) being moved up the Google ladder. Only 19% of gambling websites lost positions, which suggests that there may have been a few big losers.

Across all five verticals 43% of sites moved up in the rankings, 33% fell, and 24% maintained their positions.

Panda impact by vertical

Average position movement following the Google Panda update

This next chart shows us that Panda has had a slightly negative effect on the top-placed websites in the five verticals that Stickyeyes is tracking, with flights the hardest hit.

Note that a Panda’s bite seems to be more powerful than it’s kiss. Websites that lost rank typically dropped 3.7 positions in Google, whereas ones that won typically improved their positions by 2.3 places. Given that only 33% of websites lost rank I think this suggests that some were hit a lot harder than others, rather than an overall gentle shift.

Volatility of Google Panda

What about Econsultancy?

Econsultancy was named by Searchmetrics as one of the top five winners in the UK organic search market, following the Google Panda update, based on analysis of its 'Organic Performance Index' (an indicator of search visibility). Searchmetrics suggested that our search visibility improved by 37%. We always like winning, but what did this mean and how did it actually play out?

As it happens, in the two weeks after April 11 our search traffic looked almost exactly the same as the month before. If anything, it fell slightly! Note that I have used the second Monday in the month as the start of the date range, for a more accurate comparison of the effects, rather than the exact dates. Here’s the chart, which measures all Google referrals across a two week period after the update was rolled out in the UK:

Econsultancy's post-Panda performance

There are some caveats in play, notably the fact the April 22 and 24 were bank holidays, and as a B2B brand we don’t tend to pull in much holiday traffic. Also, a 37% improvement in search visibility wouldn’t necessarily correlate to a 37% increase in search traffic, especially as many of our keywords are low volume (but high value).

At any rate, when you factor in the Easter holiday it's not looking as though Panda has affected our own search traffic one way or another, though we'll look again once a longer period of time has elapsed.

Some individual websites have definitely suffered, as far as search visibility is concerned, though some of the purported targets of Panda have said that the negative effects have been somewhat overstated. Others have openly admitted to being smacked in the face by angry Panda. But for the majority, it looks like a case of 'nothing to see here'.

So what about you? How has your website fared in a post-Panda world?

Chris Lake

Published 27 April, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Malcolm Slade

Malcolm Slade, SEO Project Manager at Epiphany Search

Would the Gambling sector data not be skewed by the whole FBI debacle? It's just I would have expected that industry to be hit hardest due to being affected by dup / low value content at a domain level.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Malcolm,

Good point... possibly, though of the three operators indicted only one appears to have been taken offline, and Poker Stars and Full Tilt are still showing up in Google (while Absolute Poker seems like it is dead). Also, not that it necessarily influences short term rankings, we know that search volumes increased after the FBI stepped in.

I think the next question for me is to see what happens when you remove brand terms. I'm seeing non-brand results from the likes of Full Tilt are showing up on the first page, albeit for long tail phrases.

At any rate, the above dataset focuses on Google.co.uk, but we all know that Google indexes lots of non-UK results so who knows? Maybe the picture for Google.com is somewhat different?

It's perhaps worth noting that all of the above verticals attract lots of affiliates (some will be higher value than others). Depending on the affiliate networks / link mechanics being used, there might be a knock-on effect if affiliates / voucher code / review sites are being seriously kicked in the ass by the Panda. Merchant sites could be penalised too, either through the loss of links or from being associated with what are now being seen (by Google) as bad neighbourhoods.

c.

over 5 years ago

Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

That's a high bounce rate Chris!

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Tim - If I had my way people would hang around for hours before getting out their credit cards!

over 5 years ago

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Marcus Wilkinson, Publishing Director at IDG

Searchmetrics supposed winners & losers included one of my sites (www.techworld.com) as an apparent loser of 99% keyword visibility. In reality, impact on traffic has been negligible - as it was when update originally rolled out on .com. In fact Easter has been more detrimental!

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Marcus - Actually I thought there were a few outliers, including Techworld, Techradar, Pocket Lint and Electric Pig. All boxing in similar areas though, which makes me wonder what the link might be. Any ideas from your side?

over 5 years ago

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Myron

I agree that for many sites, there was little change.

I recently looked a long-term traffic patterns for a number of sites and only one showed much of a change in traffic during the Panda timeframe. That one site depended on article marketing sites for much of its referral traffic, which did drop significantly. Yet, that one site also had growth in organic search traffic in the same timeframe, diminishing the overall impact.

The other sites I looked at had little dependency on this type of traffic. None of the (traditional) business sites I looked at experienced much of an impact.

So I would have to agree that the effect has been negligible for many businesses.

about 5 years ago

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Loren Nally

I've actually seen my traffic improve since April 11. I run a voucher code site which was highlighted as one of the areas that Google would specifically target in this update, but I've not seen any negative impact. Quite the opposite.

about 5 years ago

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buyer beware

Thanks for sharing. I've tried a few tech related searches that Pocket-Lint specifically has new, original content for and it is markedly absent from Google results. However, other tech sites named as big losers by Searchmetrics do appear, such as Techradar. Is design a key factor? Pocket-lint had adverts everywhere, some of which have been pulled since Panda with no evidence I can see that removing ads has bounced it back into Google results. It used to have no content that was not monetised heavily and has never looked like a blog style template which is the format adopted often by this type site. Is design somehow its problem? The other point is PL told the Guardian that 60% of its traffic came from Google whereas Discoutvouchers apparently receives 10% of its traffic from Google. That will make a difference when looking at the overall impact of Panda.

about 5 years ago

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Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Epiphany

Analysis of ranking changes as a result of Panda is a good starting point, but as has been highlighted many times before a drop in rankings != a drop in traffic (of proportional levels).

We're finding analysis of the indirect impact much more interesting - i.e. the impact on sites that have historically relied on techniques such as article distribution - where many of those sites have been hit.

The industries we monitor don't necessarily show any websites directly impacted by panda but when digging into link profiles it seems like specific pages that relied solely / heavily on low quality link building have had the value of those links reduced / wiped. In contrast, other equivalent pages of the same sites that have natural, high quality links seem to have maintained / improved positions.

We're continuing this analysis as I think it's much more relevant to SEOers - if I get anything more reliable / conclusive I'll share.

about 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Andy,

Good points about the impact on link building via article marketing. My colleague Matt recently wrote about this and found that from a traffic perspective, it really isn't worth the effort (in two weeks we attracted just six visits from five sites). So why do it? For the links, presumably.

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7189-article-marketing-is-it-worth-the-effort

Panda should have pretty much killed the concept of article marketing *on low rent sites* for SEO purposes. I personally think it's about as spammy as it gets, so there's no love lost from my side, but I'd be keen to know more about the adverse impact on sites which relied on article marketing to build up their links. Do let me know when you have some data to share.

Cheers,

c.

about 5 years ago

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Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Epiphany

Hi Chris,

Yeah value of article sites was negligible at best anyway - they were good for speeding up indexing of new pages and generally adding a bit of diversification into the link profile but little else. Anyone relying on article marketing as their link building 'strategy' is likely in a bit of a panic now!

about 5 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Perhaps a little analysis to evaluate to impact from the users point of view would be useful? How does it effect relevance or trustworthiness?

about 5 years ago

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William King

Google Panda just trying to help Google users to get best of results on searching. That is the reason they are kicking off duplicate content. And the worse effected sites are either Article site and Blogs. We have read a lot about the sites effected from Google Panda. But no one yet explained about the sites which are recovering themselves. Really want to see those sites and their strategies they have left and adopted.

about 5 years ago

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Marcus Wilkinson, Publishing Director at IDG

@Chris yes there were a few tech sites, some of who I have spoken with & confirmed same zero sum experience. My guess perhaps a keyword subset evaluated did not take into account SOV so real impact was skewed against tech sites. Can't be a coincidence there was a high proportion of the who have subsequently experienced minimal impact but I don't know much on their methodology.

The fact searchmetrics data was repeatedly quoted everywhere, and increasingly as fact, says much about the amount of data available.

about 5 years ago

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Google Strike

I would argue that many publishers with high quality content did get unfairly hit by the Panda update. Even the small fractions you talk about is equivalent to thousands of livelihoods carelessly destroyed by the behemoth Google.

And even if they all deserved it, Google allows no chance of redemption. There is no recovery from an attack of the Panda.

Google has become too powerful. Go on Strike.

about 5 years ago

Rachel Cummins

Rachel Cummins, Marketing and Communications Manager at Bright Digital

3 points...
1) everyone who was using content farms or who knew their agency was using them, should have known that such tactics were bound to be caught up with someday... as always, the hard slog (quality content production) is the most effective, not the quick win
2) the acknowledgement by google insiders that social media is now a factor in the algorithm should prompt those who aren't active yet in social media to get going
3) it's crucial that businesses don't put all their traffic driving efforts into google alone, there are other ways to traffic your site... and not just social media either!

about 5 years ago

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Andrew

Thanks for sharing this. We had virtually no change at StagsandHens.com over the same period - thankfully!

about 5 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at AttercopiaSmall Business

From everything I've seen and heard, this should be welcomed, better search results, fewer low quality sites.

I would like to see a filter so that when I'm searching for products and services that I get more genuine results rather than articles, I guess a cross between a fully signed up Google Places and a fully signed up Google Shopping, often results are cluttered with out of date articles or spam, so if panda has reduced this , well done. The problem is that Places and Shopping aren't that well signed up.

I have some sympathy with Google Strike's points, but I would hope that Google should discern between high and low quality content with traffic inbound links and readership, I do think Rachel's 3 points sums up quite nicely .

Thanks for the article

about 5 years ago

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Jefferson

I'm in Brazil and in Latin America has not had a confirmation for Panda google.com.br
But I have noticed high rates of increase and decrease in the sites of some customers.
I have done further research on the sites penalized and found that everyone has bad quality and content copied.
I believe that update is already being tested here. I'm just waiting for the official google.

about 5 years ago

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