Life after the Google Panda update

Google’s latest major algorithm change, rolled out in Feb 2011, is called “Panda” and was big news for anyone doing internet market or SEO.  Many marketers reported huge SERP drops while a lesser number noticed gains.

Rumor has it that the Panda update came about from a focus group that Google held.  They had real humans evaluating actual websites and giving their opinions on different metrics.  The results of this group were then translated into a programming algorithm that was encorporated into the ranking calculation engine.

I’ve done a bunch of research and experiments on my own rankings since this update, as well as reading what guys a lot smarter than myself have published, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Domain quality is now important again

In the “May Day” update prior to Panda, a chance was made that allowed individual pages to rank higher on their own merit, regardless of the trust value or strength of their domain.  It looks like with Panda that’s been reversed and now the collective value of ALL pages for a domain is taken into considering.  This is the main reason why EzineArticles rankings dropped and they’ve lost a lot of traffic.

What does this mean to me?
  • It’s no longer beneficial to add hundreds or thousands of low-quality content pages, as they’ve drag down the rankings of your entire domain
  • It’s better to build backlinks to your home page AND inner pages, rather than just your home page.  This tells Google that many of your pages have value and other sites “like” them.

Sites are evaluated monthly

Websites are evaluated every month.  If you make an on-site or off-site SEO change today, it’ll take about a month for Google to recognize it and adjust your rankings accordingly.

What does this mean to me?
  • If you’re experimenting with multiple link building services and techniques at the same time, it’s gonna be nearly impossible to know which ones helped and which ones hurt your rankings.  Also, it’s not productive to try a service for 1 week, assume it doesn’t work, and cancel your membership.  Then 3 weeks later you’ll just be surprised to see your rankings change and not attribute it to the service you had canceled.

Click-through rate is important

The number of people who click your site when it’s displayed in the SERP’s compared to clicking the other sites is now more important than ever.  The difficulty in this metric is that there’s no way for you to monitor the click-through rates, because Google doesn’t share enough data to do this.

What does this mean to me?
  • Make sure you META Description and Title are specific, relevant, and eye-catching.  Definitely don’t have any spelling mistakes, slang, profanity, etc.   You want your site to pop-out to the searcher amongst all the other results.

Bounce rate is important

It seems like the sites that had SERP improvements post Panda are ones that have low bounce rates – where visitors stay on the site for a long period of time and view many different pages.

This is sort of a no-brainer.  Why would Google respect sites that have shitty content, are annoying to look at, and offer no perceived value, which causes visitors to immediately leave?

What does this mean to me?
  • Have a well designed site that’s easy on the eyes.  If you don’t have design skills, don’t try to do it yourself. I’ve seen WAY too many sites that have black backgrounds with white text (terrible on the eyes), annoying animated gifs, terrible logos, etc.  I immediately think “rookie” and have a perceived notion that any content on the site is going to be amateurish.  Hire someone who knows what they’re doing.  Or if you’re intimidated by or unable to afford outsourcing, find a free professional-looking WordPress theme.
  • Have quality content, that’s unique and interesting.  Make it relevant to whatever topic your page or domain is about.
  • Offer visitor interaction, like commenting, voting, polls, surveys, contests, etc.
  • Keep your site fresh, either by allowing visitors/users to continually add content , or by adding it yourself or through a VA.

Repeat visitors are important

The Panda update is taking into account how many visitors return to your site.  Most people think that “unique” visitors are all that’s important, but Google has realized that if visitors are enjoying themselves on your site, they will return, which must be your site is valuable and of high quality.  This is also why Web 2.0 sites (compared to old-school static HTML sites or sites that offer no user interaction) are becoming more and more popular and continue to rank well in Google.

What does this mean to me?
  • Pretty much the same advice as above for keeping your bounce rate low applies to retaining repeat visitors.

Exact match domains have lost their value

In the past, if you bought a domain that matched exactly to your primary keyword, such as “cheap-ipods.com”, you were all-but guaranteed a Page 1 ranking with Google.  Well, post-Panda update that’s no longer the case.

It makes sense to me that the domain name shouldn’t have much effect on rankings, because why is it fair that the first person to get into a niche, who buys the .com, should be ranked higher than someone else who couldn’t get an exact-match domain but actually has a better site?

What does this mean to me?
  • Don’t worry too much about buying an exact match domain name, but I still think you should if it’s available.  Because I can’t imagine a scenario where Google will ever penalize an exact match domain, and other search engines still rank them higher.
Turns out, I’m actually a fan of the Panda update.  I think Google has made many good decisions in this latest algorithm update.  I could never understand why EzineArticles got so much traffic as most of the content was spun garbage.  I know people who were hit HARD by Panda, but they pretty much deserved it.  They were publishing garbage content and offered very little value for visitors.  Now they’ve had to wake up and reevaluate their marketing strategies.  Which is a good thing for the internet.

 

 

 

2 comments for “Life after the Google Panda update

  1. December 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Excellent points, Kane – especially about how Panda’s _site-wide_ influences now make it so hard to ascertain _which_ low-quality pages might be dragging a site down. And how our on-page tweaks may or may not help – nor be readily apparent any more.

    Panda didn’t hit my Empire until late in the year: Oct 14th BRAND/PRODUCT update which shoved ranking keywords down to make room for Aged, Big-Boy Retailers and Product Images linked to stores at the top. (Ugh!) And then around Nov 1st Panda FRESH made Trendy/Newsy time-stamped, Social Influenced content more prominent. And most importantly – made Ranking in the Top 5 slots of Page One much, MUCH more temporary and transient for many niches.

    Expect: 1. Yet-Another Panda rollout mid-January after Holiday Shopping subsides. 2. A decidedly WILDER-RIDE in 2012.

    Ya gotta hand it to Google: 2011 was the year their noose-tightening skills put the big squeeze on many affiliate marketers. Lazy, stale sites and blogs with Krappy Kontent(tm) are significantly harder to rank. Exact Match domains aren’t an easy guarantee anymore. And perhaps worst: there is a “Blind Wall’ now in place that turns SEO on it’s head. We’ve GOT to freshen and improve our content – but there’s a disconnect mechanism in place to make it 10x harder to know what helps or hurts. The days of ‘Easy SEO’ are clearly over.

    • December 15, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Good points, I hope you’ve been able to make adjustments to get your rankings back up.

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