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Recovering From Google’s Panda Update

April 15th, 2011 | | Advanced SEO Tips, Site Rank

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.

The Situation

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Go to Traffic Sources and select Search Engines to just view organic traffic from search engines. (Click to enlarge)Google Analytics Chart to Measure Panda Update Effect
  4. Click on the source “google” at the bottom to view site visits from Google’s organic traffic:

Effect of Panda Update on Google Visits

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.

Webmaster Tools HTML Suggestions for Panda Algorithm

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.

Google Panda Update 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.

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  • Anonymous

    Bethany, thanks for your post.

    My site was panda slapped since Feb 24 and again on April 11 and so far I’m not seeing much recovery. 

    I have:
    1. Fixed everything under the HTML suggestions in WMT
    2. Removed low quality content. (Any page with PR = N/A)
    3. Removed / rewrote posts with duplicate content
    4. Removed most ads and leave only 2 adsense block
    5. Redesigned the site layout

    I’m starting to believe that there may not be a recovery. Some are saying to trash the site and start a new one but I don’t want to do that yet.

    Can you please help look through my site for any other areas to improve on? 

    Software for Enterprise

    • http://www.hanapinmarketing.com Bethany Bey

      Hi Wareprise,

      I have good and bad news. The good news is, I took a look at your site and it’s great. You have good keywords in your meta data and content, you have updated content, and from everything you described above it seems like you are on the right track. 

      The bad news is that nothing stood out to me as a major cause of the decrease in traffic. For the client mentioned in this post we just began to see traffic increase in the past couple weeks, and it hasn’t been the normal SEO honeymoon growth we see when optimizing content. 

      One piece of advice I can give is that we narrowed down the amount of keywords we optimize for on each page to just 2 or 3 keywords. That more targeted focus has seemed to help with rankings. 

      Good luck and hopefully you will start to see turnaround soon. Thanks for reading.

      • http://www.wareprise.com Bob Lee

        Bethany, thank you for looking through my site.

        I’ll take your advice and try to optimize each post with just 2 or 3 keywords. I remember tweaking the content on some of my posts and did see some improvements in terms of rankings, but nothing as compared to pre-panda level.

        I noticed that before Panda came, my posts ranked for a bigger variety of keywords but once hit, fewer keywords were getting ranked and even if it is, the rank is much lower than before. I guess that’s what causes the drop in traffic for my site.

        Hopefully we will see some positive turnaround. :)

        • http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/member.php?58352-sedwardsswift SEdwards

           Very Use ful Information.

  • Kaw

    chill baby

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Onona-Adf/1798428190 Onona Adf

    This was an excellent article. My site got hit pretty hard, drop 90% and still dropping… I still debating if i want to try something else altogether. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/dopdf doPDF

    We’ve been recovering from google panda, wrote a post here
    with the changes that we did, looks good so far.

  • Sportsbun.com Website

    Many websites that depend on Google for an income saw their traffic cut by anywhere from 20 to 80 percent when Google’s Panda algorithm update rolled out in February. Now there are reports that at least two websites have finally started to see more search traffic and higher Google rankings. How did they do it?

  • Anonymous

    I was writing original contents but my site http://symbian60v5.com effected yesterday which is really disappointing. I am trying to recover it following your tips.

  • http://igtsoft.com David Wong

    Those are good instructions and I learned about the Diagnostics – HTML suggestion where I found some problems with duplicate titles for my site. Not serious but good to resolve them nevertheless.