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Google’s Panda update was a direct attack on bad content, which comes in many different flavours, including duplicate, weak, thin and template. 

Panda acts like a domain wide penalty, so your whole site is affected and your good pages are dragged down by your bad pages.

This is a guide on how to find and fix Google's Panda algorithm update, based on our Panda fighting experience at SEOgadget in 2011.

Panda basics

  • Panda is about dealing with bad content, not bad links. Bad content comes in different flavours: duplicate, weak, thin and template
  • Panda acts like a domain wide penalty: your whole site is affected and your good stuff is dragged down by your bad stuff
  • Web crawler accessibility issues affect how search engines see, and therefore assess, your content.

    Often, badly designed Information Architectures compound the problems with already weak content

Large sites that have many pages, templated content and lots of sub-categories are the most at risk. If you haven’t been monitoring and fixing your accessibility issues, as highlighted in Google Webmaster Tools, you are at risk.

Panda examples

All of these examples are from the UK, mostly from the employment and gift sectors

Classic Panda

We use Searchmetric's SEO visibility score to find out just when sites got hit, or recovered from Panda,

There are three dates that stick out in the UK data:

  • Early April was the big UK introduction of Panda.
  • There is a smaller inflection in July.
  • There is a bigger inflection in October.
Proof that doing nothing will not help you:

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You can see in this graph that they are trying to fix their Panda issues but haven’t yet bitten the bullet and made the leap they need to:

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I know these guys well. They have no idea this data exists or anything about panda, but they have done OK.

One might argue that they are OK because they couldn’t care less about SEO and have a product that people like:

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It would be easy to attribute this to Panda, but this looks more like developer or general website issues:

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One of my favourites from the Employment industry, which clearly shows winners and losers:

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I love the green line. Did they even know they had benefited from Google Panda? Did they think they had done something to deserve the new traffic?

Was it all Champagne, cocaine and cash bonuses and then three months later, the next panda update smacks them?

With Panda thinning out sites in a vertical, it creates a false sense of success for the winners, as they themselves may be next in line for the chopping block...

The blue line benefits from the first Panda update and then it looks like they get hit by Panda a few months later, but I don’t think that’s Panda, I think that’s development gone wrong.

Panda smacks and recovery are one day to the next, not across a number of weeks.

The other effect of Panda: the big brands got bigger

Given this graph, where would you go to look for examples of sites that are being rewarded by Google Panda?

Find the websites that benefitted from Panda and look at their content, as that is now the new minimum level of content quality in your industry.

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Panda recovery

This data is for Prezzybox, who we worked with. Panda recovery is possible, but a lot of unplanned, un-budgeted blood, sweat, tears and money went into that dip and recovering the traffic. 

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The SEO visibility metric is a proprietary metric, but I asked Steve Overton from Searchmetrics if he could give us some more insight into it and he has explained the algorithm behind it:

Observations from fighting Panda

Panda is confusing if you are not on top of your data and industry news. There were so many updates it becomes easy to blame everything bad on Panda.

Conversely there are sites which benefitted from Panda but did not attribute it. 

When we started exploring how to fix Panda, we moved quite conservatively. Now we suggest that people take strong, decisive action in resolving issues.

Google Panda doesn’t fix itself, you have to fix it.  It will take time, money and effort. It also requires a change in how you see your online business.

You can make this whole process a lot easier on your business if you put a person in charge of content, and give them a budget and developer time.

The advice is quite simple, concentrated around a few key areas. The implementation is where companies fall down. Fixing Panda is not complex, but it does require a lot of work.

How to fix Panda

Duplicate content

Give someone the responsibility to hunt down duplicate content. Use Google Webmaster tools or SEOmoz tools or Xenu or an IIS crawl (or whatever people suggest in the blog comments).

It’s not tough to do, it just requires some concentrated effort

Solve duplicate content issues with rel=canonical. Here are seven short videos of Google’s Matt Cutts talking about different aspects of implementing rel=canonical

Thin content

If you have a section that is just thin templated content, it is hurting the good contents’ ability to rank. Be strong and cut the crap or add to your content to improve it.

Cutting the crap

404 a bad section or area and after the pages have dropped out of the index, 301 them somewhere good so you don’t lose any incoming link juice.

This is potentially the biggest win. 

SEOmoz has a good guide to 301s, including links to references for 301s under Apache and IIS. 

Making your content great

There is no getting around the fact that time and effort is needed here. Someone in your organisation needs the time and responsibility to sit down and create great content or manage the creation process via third party writers.

I believe that great content requires both qualitative and quantitative research and a knowledgably person to knit it together to suit both users and search engines.

Here is my guide on taking mediocre content and making it great content and an overview from our work on Panda on how Google might interpret content quality signals. 

Templated content

Write content, hire interns or find people in cheaper parts of the world. Many companies are unnecessarily precious about their content and ultimately this ends up hurting more than helping them.

Elance, Odesk and Copify all work for building out content. (Remember, you now have a person responsible for content quality who will oversee this). 

Accessibility issues

Run an IIS crawl to find your accessibility issues (IIS is easier to use than you think). 

Here is an example list of errors from an IIS crawl. This becomes your plan of attack for clearing up accessibility issues:

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You will end up with a list of issues and the urls where those issues are occurring, to be able to go and fix them. 

Three key takeaways

The world is not as it once was.

Crap websites trying to masquerade as decent websites are being hunted down and sunk below the quality line.

Google owes you nothing.

Tactics to just barely raise your quality enough to recover your rankings are unlikely to pay dividends. You may well find yourself a loser again the next time the quality bar is raised.

Google is judging you.

Google is going to continue to raise the quality bar with future updates. When your competitors improve their websites, you will be weakest and in line for the chop at the next quality update.

I hope this post helps you decide to build great content today, so you dont have to deal with the fallout from bad content tomorrow.

(Image credit: tanakawho via Flickr)

Stephen Croome

Published 10 February, 2012 by Stephen Croome

Stephen Croome is Founder of First Conversion and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

4 more posts from this author

Comments (33)

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Chris Hughes

Good Post, this was some very interesting reading, I agree with "cutting crap" its hard to accept but it is a must.

over 4 years ago

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Felipe09

Believe it or not the impact of Panda on my client's websites was minimal if any. I've always stuck the basics of SEO and continue to do so. Good, unique and worthy content that is what makes a website successful, oh yeah and links.
And I believe this article highlights all that.

over 4 years ago

Alice Morgan

Alice Morgan, Freelance digital marketing consultant at Freelance

I preach this message a lot, but it's always really useful to have what you're saying endorsed by experts out there. Thank you!

over 4 years ago

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Dylan Harrington, Marketing Executive at The Slice

"Often, badly designed Information Architectures compound the problems with already week content "

Apparently easily done!

over 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

The panda update was a reminder that quality beats quantity every time. I'd caution against hiring an intern or a foreign writer to handle your content. It may be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

over 4 years ago

Joanna Pieters

Joanna Pieters, Director at Time WIzard

You may be right that 'Many companies are unnecessarily precious about their content', but I'm not sure that's the real problem. I'd say that they're precious about the wrong things.

Companies should be precious, demanding, insistent on really good content. But that's content that's absolutely right for their customer. It's not stuff that makes the board feel good.

over 4 years ago

Stephen Croome

Stephen Croome, Founder at http://firstconversion.com

Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate them

Nick: I agree, you need to be careful, and there should be someone on the client side who checks the content as part of the content delivery process

Joanna: Yup, Im with you there, reducing decisions based on ego and increasing the ones based on data would help a lot of people who have fallen foul of Panda

S

over 4 years ago

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Jiri Wetter

It seems that the problem was for 1.5 months. Your reaction was immediately after drop down in visibility?

over 4 years ago

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Susan

How could this client be "precious" about their content yet be using "Elance, Odesk and Copify" for content creation? Or were those 3rd world hack content writers your suggestion?

over 4 years ago

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Zak Edwards

I work for Prezzybox.com on the SEO so Panda was one giant kick in the teeth for sure when it hit us.

For us it was a real shock! We knew Panda was coming and were genunienly excited as all of our site content is unique. We therefore felt we'd benefit. What we hadn't accounted for is the fact that we syndicate all of our content out to 4000 plus affiliate sites... which meant our content was therefore heavily duplicated, which consequently meant ALL of our keyword rankings droppped a number of places. EEEEEK!

After panicking, we put together a plan of action together with our SEO agency (SEO Gadget - shameless plug - they rock!) to conquor Panda. In short, this meant re-writing ALL of the content on the site, improving internal linking structures, adding a lot of subsidiary content (blog posts, useful articles, videos) etc, rewriting our URL structure and eventually we pulled back our rankings and then some. We now rank kigher than pre-panda.

Panda recovery IS do-able, but it IS a lot of work for sure...

over 4 years ago

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Patrick

About cuting the crap : Why do you suggest to "remove" (404) the pages ? Why don't you put <META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW"> instead ? and 301 after ?

over 4 years ago

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Richard Baxter

@Patrick

I've found removal of pages that are just plain harmful / useless to be more effective than noindex. 410's are better for that purpose, too. It may be appropriate to go with noindex on some page types (say, indexed search results pages, in which case i'd use noindex,follow.

Richard Baxter

over 4 years ago

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Robert

@Patrick I always felt if content really was terrible/low quality then it should be completely removed and either return a 404 or 301 to a relevant page.

Noindex,nofollow is acknowledging to Google you think it's crap and you don't want to be penalised for it, but in my eyes is sending a mixed message as you're still willing to show it to the users on your site.

over 4 years ago

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Dek

Oh dear!
Google says jump and we all have to ask, how high?

You have constructed a very good report/analysis but nevertheless your advocating compliance to Google, why?

Yours and similar advice given, implemented by all, creates a very long page 1 listing. It is a never ending futile exercise for those who think Google own the net.

Content is king, but for heavens sake, forget Google.

over 4 years ago

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r wells, na at na

Easily the most useful article to explain what happened to our site. Panda killed us. Thanks!

over 4 years ago

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Toronto Seo

Websites which are serving low quality content or duplicate content is affected by update, websites which are serving quality content and better user experience also affected but in positive manner. Key of success is all about user experience, if you want to secure first page position then create a website for users not for crawlers :)

over 4 years ago

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Ken

Excellent points here on how to recover from Google Panda. I was hit pretty hard by the Panda update in January, and am still working to recover. My traffic, which was down about 60% is scratching its way back up. I recently found several dup articles from my blog on Ezine, which I immediately deleted.

What are your thoughts on gotclicky i/o google analytics? I don't want to give Google more information than they need on my content.

Thanks, Ken

over 4 years ago

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Lisa

Great information about Google Panda update 2012. I am happy to read it..Hopping lot of people will be help from thins site..Thinks

about 4 years ago

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Sepulveda

Appreciate the recommendation. Let me try it out.

about 4 years ago

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KG Karaoke

Contrary to this article, we have determined that Google Panda is very nucj page-specific rather than site-specific, and we were having problems whereby our e-commerce site's product pages contained information that was pasted from the manufacturer websites. These pages had been totally ignored by Google indexing for months, but when we rewrote the content, these pages jumped to Goggle's first page within ten days.

Definitely page-specific.

about 4 years ago

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KG Karaoke

Contrary to this article, we have determined that Google Panda is very much page-specific rather than site-specific, and we were having problems whereby some of our e-commerce site's product pages contained information that was pasted from the manufacturer websites. These pages had been totally ignored by Google indexing for months, but when we rewrote the content, these pages jumped to Goggle's first page within ten days.

about 4 years ago

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Hudgens

Excellent, what a webpage it is! This web site provides helpful data to us,
keep it up.

about 4 years ago

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Robert Murdock

I think Google Panda as more to do with site structure than thin sites and/or content. Because if the update was solely about the size of a website, then the larger, bigger budget websites would have an unfair advantage over everyone else.

Google looks at the way your site is structured and draws conclusions based on that, that is why some really good sites have been unfairly penalised. But all in all, the overwhelming majority of websites that lost traffic were of low quality, we're talking about basic slapped together content sites with side bar links to every page.
.

about 4 years ago

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Hawk

You should be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality websites online.
I most certainly will highly recommend this blog!

almost 4 years ago

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Graphics Cove

Good article. I found I dropped from 5th to the second page of Google a couple of months ago. I'm currently redesigning and re-working my site to improve it. With your tips I hope it will improve, thanks!

almost 4 years ago

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Oshea

Hurrah, that's what I was looking for, what a information! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site.

almost 4 years ago

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SparkJunction

Yes, we had those "dips" on our graphs as well.
There's nothing more frustrating than when the histogram drops from one day to another. Back then, in 2011, we couldn't find the cause for a day or two...
Now we're developing strategies for coping with the Panda and Penguin filters...
I wonder: what has happened to the sites that were'd hit by these filters? I guess they won lots of new clients, made far more sales... since Google "took care" of the competition.

almost 4 years ago

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Nathan

Our site just got hit by Panda #20 although for a while there was some confusion surrounding the EMD update that rolled out at the same time. We noticed possible causes were duplicate content pages used for split testing landing pages. This was something we didn't even think about, now we have 301 redirected to original content pages and also added noindex meta tags to any thin testing pages we don't want indexed. Will this work? Only time will tell!

almost 4 years ago

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bill

Hi
If for example the domain demo.com get penalized by Google Panda Or Penguin and its rank fell down or its visit from Google become less than usual, if the administrator of the site change the Domain of his site in Google Webmaster Tools and make it demo2.com is it possible that the penalty transfer to new domain or not? Is it a good way to cheat Google Panda or Penguin?
Is it possible for any changes which administrator of the site make to be infected by penalties for the prior ones?
Regards

almost 4 years ago

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Jothi

Thanks for my clarification!

over 3 years ago

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pub quiz and answers

The decor on the inside of the restaurant is absolutely
beautiful. Brazenhead is a great place to go with
your family or for a business lunch or dinner, but if
you are looking for a party atmosphere, this isn't it. The food is decent and the drink specials on Tuesdays include $2.

over 3 years ago

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Jason Stanley, Owner at Developer

The Panda, Penguin and now the upcoming Zebra have been scary times for all website owners,http://www.luckies.co.uk/unusual-gifts-for-men

about 3 years ago

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h1sks webstudios, SEO at H1SKS Web Studios

how to fix google penguin update..

http://www.h1skswebstudios.co.uk/

over 2 years ago

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