The Google Panda update has many webmasters scratching their heads. After many years of having a quality website, getting high authority links, and creating unique compelling content, the Google Panda update rolls out, and takes with it half of their organic search traffic. Ouch.
In February 2011, Google launched it's Panda Update. The update was designed to get more quality into their search results by removing websites that they determine - through a series of algorithms - to be high quality. It's named the Panda update after one Google engineer that has the nickname of Panda, and came up with this idea. I'm all for higher quality in the Google search results, but this update missed it's mark. The result was that while it did remove a lot of spam from the Google search results, it also took with it a lot of good sites, and pushed up a lot of bad sites. It's a mess.
There has been lots of discussion around the internet from concerned webmasters on what to do to bring their traffic back. Many of them have tried everything and have not regained their rankings. The point of this post isn't to talk about the Panda update itself, but rather trying to determine what the Panda update was going after, since Google is very secret about it.
After doing a lot of research, and speaking with a lot of people, I am going to try and debunk some myths, and give my opinion on my observations through my sites as well as some customer sites.
Panda Update Myths
I keep hearing things such as The Panda update targeted Adsense sites to such extreme thoughs as the Panda update targeted only sites that have dark backgrounds. The fact is that the update did not target only sites that have Adsense, it also targeted E-Commerce sites. It also didn't target a specific background color - let's be realistic. It's not one specific target that people hope to fix in a second and regain their rankings. It's much deeper than that.
It's a site wide penalty
Wrong. Just because many of your pages were devalued doesn't mean it's site wide. On many sites I work on, lots of terms still rank high even through the site took a 30-50% traffic hit. Take a look at your site and look for how many thin pages you have. I know many people generate tons of thin pages with little to no content so they can rank for long tail. However, how many of these pages actually rank? You're diluting your site with garbage pages.
People forget the rule that the general rule of thumb is the amount of PR you have is proportional to your Google allotment. What this means is that if you have a PR10 site, you can bet that every url on your site will be indexed and cached. If you have a PR1, and 1 million generated pages, you can except only a few thousand of thoses pages to be indexed and ranked. Grow your site proportional to your page rank. People can argue that page rank means nothing, but it's an easy measure for an overview site status.
Panda update was to promote big brands
This isn't true overall. Many of the sites that still rank high are smaller sites that are simply better. Just because you are a brand site doesn't necessarily mean you have what I'm looking for. Many big brands are out of touch with the people, and smaller sites fill that need.
Panda update went against ecommerce sites that used manufacture descriptions
Besides the fact that many manufactures require for you to use their description, I don't agree with this. Build an extra link or two to this product page, and you'll outrank 90% of your competitors. Why rewrite descriptions? It's the same thing just in your words... if you think that in 2011 Google can't figure this out, maybe you should be doing something else
You have a high bounce rate
This is also a myth. Google doesn't calculate bounce rates for their Panda ranking algorithm, but they do measure how many people click on your link, and then click back to go back to Google search. Bounce rates can't be a measure because think of how many sites could have a high bounce rate... Groupon - People go to the site, check the deal, and leave if it's not interesting to them. CNN - Hit the homepage, scan the news stories, and leave if it's not interesting to them. Does this mean the site is low quality? No.
Article Submission Sites and Press Release Sites
These are some of the hardest hit sites, and rightfully so. Most of the content on these sites is regurgitated garbage. Sure, some sites review articles submitted to make sure they aren't duplicated through other sites, and so forth, but most of the articles are poorly written, offer the user little or no information, and are only done for link backs. Now imagine this... these article sites have gained huge popularity because of one indicator - their page rank. If an articles site has a page rank of 6, it's going to get flooded with people trying to fill it with articles to link back to them. But step back and think of how that article site got to a PR6 in the first place. Do you think CNN linked to it? How about Yahoo News? It got it's PR6 from hundreds of thousands of links from poor quality SEO sites encouraging you to submit articles. So naturally, when Panda rolled out, and devalued all of these junk SEO sites and blogs, it devalued the authority of article submission sites. Therefore, your articles on there, were devalued, and those links pointing to your site were devalued as well. The result? A chain of lowered search results from your site, to article sites, to all these bunk SEO sites.
Press release sites aren't far from it either. Many sites don't even review the Press release being submitted, it's usually bogus or junk. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but that is the minority and not the majority.
User Generated Content
People complained that their sites that are 100% user generated content took a hit, and cried about it since they believe it to be unique content. Sure, I agree it's likely to be unique content. But 90% of it is junk. Take a reviews site or forums site for example. The person asks about a review of a certain product. Of the replies that come in, how many are longer than a sentence? How many are "this tv is great, thumbs up". Same with a forum. Someone asks a question, and have of the replies are "why don't you search?" or "bump". User generated content yes... junk? yes.
But my site has a lot of links from authority sites
Awesome, that's great news for your site! But you still got hit in Panda right? It's because the other links to your site were devalued, still causing some devaluing of your site, so you still took a hit. Imagine if you didn't have those authority links. You'd be laying off staff like Mahalo or some online furniture stores.
So what do I do post Panda SEO?
If you were doing white hat SEO before, and took a hit, and aren't sure what else to do to regain your traffic, go back to the drawing board of building links. Do this in addition to making sure you have:
1) Good site navigation.
2) Compelling content that makes the user want to come back.
3) Nothing black hat or fishy like having H1 tags, and then changing the CSS to make them 12px. You think Google is dumb?
4) NoIndex your thin pages (quantity does not equal quality)
5) Build high quality links to deep inner pages
6) Don't pay for links. It's expensive, and it's a short term gain. When Google finds out you paid, then not only will you get deranked, but the years you spent building your brand is down the tubes.
7) If you are an affiliate site, give a reason to go to your site. Just copying a description and posting a link is short term, and won't last. If you can't come up with a unique idea, then this isn't for you.
Think about it this way. If 1,000,000 sites are doing what you are doing, only 10 can appear on the first page of Google search. The top 10 do something differently to differentiate themselves. Take this advise.