November 19, 2012
If you have a website, chances are, you’ve heard about certain algorithms that the search engine giant has rolled out since February 2011. Although the names that they bear are of seemingly harmless creatures, they actually caused much chaos in the online world.
A Brief Introduction
Panda and Penguin are both code names of the updates that Google implemented to decrease the rankings of low quality sites in its search results pages and boost those of the good ones. This was done to give searchers answers to their queries as quickly as possible and give them quality results.
Before the dawn of these updates, content creators freely indulged in manipulative tactics to rank high. So when a user typed in a search query, there was a chance that the results returned to them did not contain the answers they were looking for.
Having mentioned that, this blog post will focus on the former and how it affected websites and provide tips on recovering from a hit.
A Short Look at Its Update History
When Google Panda was first released in February of 2011, it affected 11.8% of search queries in the US alone. The portals that felt the blow of this update were content farms, sites with lots of advertising, and those with quality issues.
By April of the same year, another change was rolled out and this time it had a global reach. It even incorporated information about sites that were blocked through search engine results pages (SERPs) or the Chrome browser.
Google continued to unleash updates all throughout 2011 until this year. And as of November 5, there have been 21 Panda updates rolled out. The latest one affected 1.1% of English searches in the U.S. and 0.4% worldwide.
A Peek into How it Affected Websites
The most visible sign of a hit was a drop in the rankings for keyword searches. For example, I know of one particular site that used to rank highly on the first search page for ‘car hire London’, but that was no longer the case once Google implemented its changes.
Websites such as ezinearticles.com, suite101.com, and hubpages.com were affected by Panda as well. In addition to that, Yahoo even moved the good content on its Associated Content site to Yahoo Voices. On the other hand, several news sites and social networks saw an increase in their placement in results pages.
So what caused other sites to plummet from the top? There is no other culprit than content that is of low value or copied from other websites.
It is also important to note that this algorithm penalises the entire site. In short, if there are a couple of pages that are not up to par, then it will bring down the whole portal. However, Web pages that have quality content can still rank high on SERPs.
Given the fact that it implements a domain-wide penalty, it is clear to see why Panda is the most hated animal in the search engine optimisation (SEO) world. Its arrival made rising to the top of search rankings much harder to do, and those that contravened paid a tough price.
A Glimpse into Recovery
Matt Cutts (head of webspam at Google) was once asked if there was a chance for sites to get their footing back after a Panda hit. He said yes. He went on to add that since the updates are going to be periodic, webmasters can find the time to weed out bad content. By doing this, websites may garner good signals from users on the Internet and might be looked at differently when a new change is rolled out.
Since there is a chance for improvement, what other things can be done for a clearer road to recovery?
- Scrutinise the entire site for duplicate posts. Since Panda does not look kindly on this, one thing that can be done is to repurpose content by adding in new information.
- Utilise social media optimisation techniques. Since sites such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are known to boost rankings, it is best to participate in sharing content through these media. Garnering enough shares, +1′s, retweets, and likes are steps that can aid in recovery.
- Minimise the use of advertisements. Although it feels great to earn money when these are on a site, it might end up spelling disaster if there are too much of these lying about.
There is a lot more to be expected from this algorithm over the next months and years. So getting hit does not mean the end of the road because there are ways to recover. Although there is no quick way to do it, implementing the right strategies will help website owners get the results they want. In fact, Google even set out 23 questions on what counts as a high-quality site, which can be used as a guide for improvement.