Adapting to Google’s Gradual Panda Rollout
This month, Google made a significant update to its Panda algorithm, an algorithm that is designed to target low quality content. In the past, the algorithm was updated once or twice a month as it gradually crawled the web for sub-par blog posts and article directories. Now, the algorithm has been fully integrated with Google, so that it is updated continuously.
This change is, for the most part, a positive change. Marketers will no longer see “false results,” in which a site sees increasing traffic until the next Panda update, at which point they see a dramatic loss in traffic. Instead, we can expect to see more gradual changes. Low quality pieces of content are unlikely to see a large amount of Google traffic, since they will be labeled by quality as soon as they are indexed. Skilled content marketers will certainly see this as a positive mood, as they will be increasingly rewarded for producing high quality media.
The biggest problem digital marketers face as a result of this change is difficulty identifying the source of a decrease in traffic. Will we still be able to attribute a loss in traffic to Panda? To some extent, yes. However, it won’t be as simple as checking to see if a loss in traffic coincides with the latest Panda update. It will take a more detailed analysis of your Analytics and the state of your site in the search results.
Identifying a Panda “Penalty”
As far as we know, the basic design of the Panda algorithm hasn’t been changed, so the effects should be comparable to Panda updates in the past. There are actually two ways that Panda can negatively impact your traffic: through a direct penalty and through link devaluation.
A Direct Panda Penalty
First off, we should clarify that Google doesn’t really consider Panda a “penalty.” That title is reserved for sites that have been manually penalized by Google quality assurance professionals, and such penalties always earn a notification in Webmaster Tools. So if you received a notification straight from Google, you know it’s not Panda. Still, we’ll go ahead and call the impact a “penalty,” since that’s certainly how it feels if you own an affected website.
A Panda penalty happens when the quality level on your site falls below a certain threshold. Just a few low quality pages won’t do it. But after a certain proportion of your pages fall below a certain quality level, your whole site takes a hit.
One of the key signatures of Panda is that your entire site will take a hit, but some pages will be hit harder than others. If the pages that were hit hardest were also some of the lowest quality, there’s a pretty good chance that it was, in fact, Panda. This is especially true if there’s nothing wrong with the links that are pointing to the pages that were hit hardest.
Panda doesn’t always hit your site directly. In many cases, you will see a loss in traffic because some of your links were coming from sites that have been hit directly by Panda. This type of indirect penalty can be harder to spot, and this will be even harder now that Panda is being updated continuously.
In this type of situation, you are unlikely to see a sudden loss of traffic. Instead, you can expect to see a gradual decline in traffic as more of the sites that link to you are hit.
If you have seen a slow but permanent decline in traffic, you need to eliminate the other possibilities first. Is it possible that a competitor took your spot in Google with more successful marketing efforts? Is it possible that there is a declining interest in your keywords or subject matter? Consider these possibilities first, before you point the finger at Panda.
If you’re sure it’s Panda, recovery is all about content. Focus on keeping your user engagement metrics high, eliminating duplicate content, keeping the ad to content ratio low, and solving problems for the users who come to your site. The same goes for any link building efforts you’re involved with. If you build links with content at all, focus on high quality content, and only post it on sites with high quality standards.