With the release of Google’s Panda Algorithm Update, one of the most adorable animals has been turned into a major headache for search engine marketers. The Panda Algorithm Update went into effect on February 24th of this year with the intent to “reduce rankings for low quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.” That sounds like a great mission, but what many of you have probably experienced is that legitimate sites have also been hit hard by Panda.
This post will walk you through an account I work with that was hit by the Panda Algorithm Update and the steps we took to begin recovery.
At the beginning of this month I got a frantic email from a PPC client wondering why revenue had dropped so drastically from last March, historically one of their most profitable months. After looking at the account in analytics we found PPC revenue had remained steady but revenue from non-paid search traffic had dropped 27%. Visits had also dropped 27% from last March, but it wasn’t until we looked at each search engine individually that we began uncover the issue.
So visits and revenue only decreased in Google, but was Panda really to blame?
How To Tell If You’ve Been Hit By The Panda
To see if you’ve been hit by the Panda, log into your Google Analytics account and follow these steps:
- From the advanced segments drop down list uncheck “All Visitors” and check “Non-paid Search Traffic.” This will show only data from organic search results.
- Since Panda was released on the 24th, we set the Date Range from February 1st – March 31st to see trends in visits before and after that date.
- Go to Traffic Sources and select Search Engines to just view organic traffic from search engines. (Click to enlarge)
- Click on the source “google” at the bottom to view site visits from Google’s organic traffic:
For the client, visits dropped by 700 from February 23rd to the 24th and have never recovered. That’s how you know you’ve been hit (or kung fued) by the Panda.
Panda Update Recovery
So what do you do if you have a legitimate site that’s been hit? This is Google’s answer: “If you believe your site is high-quality and has been impacted by this change, we encourage you to evaluate the different aspects of your site extensively.” That doesn’t provide much direction, but since it’s Google’s algorithm I decided to look at what Google says is wrong with my site.
To look at site diagnostics, log into your Google Webmaster Tools Account. Click on Diagnostics in the left hand column and you’ll get a drop down of options. Select HTML suggestions to view content issues Google found.
Google found a total of 294 pages with three content issues: duplicate meta descriptions, short meta descriptions, and duplicate titles. You can click on any one of the issues to view the specific pages where Google has identified an issue. You can also export all of this information by clicking “Download this table” at the bottom of the page. If Google has flagged this content as having an issue, than fixing the issue should help boost your ranking.
You should also look at your sites performance in Webmaster Tools. Click Labs and select Site Performance.
We found that our site’s load time was slower than 59% of sites. With Panda’s focus on providing users with high quality sites, a slow load time could cause a decrease in rank. You can also view load time for each page on your site to determine if this is a site wide issue or just a problem for particular pages. Since this site is a retailer with lots of product photos, we had the website developer decrease image size.
Google’s Webmaster Tools is a helpful in figuring out where to begin making changes to your site. You should spend time clicking through all the tabs in Webmaster Tools and begin resolving any issues Google has found. If Google says it’s a problem, it’s safe to assume fixing those problems will make Google, and the Panda, happy.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an instant fix for Panda recovery. Making sure you are following SEO best practices seems to be the best, although not very specific, answer. Have any of you been hit by the Google’s Panda Algorithm Update and if so what steps have you taken to recover?
**Although Google won’t manually go in and change site rank, if you think you have “a high quality site that has been negatively affected by this change” you can let Google know about it here.
Bethany is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.