Getting Slapped by a Google Panda Update

pandaIf you’ve been running a website for any length of time then you’re probably getting used to watching your search engine rankings fluctuate slightly, day in and day out.

But have you ever had your rankings fall off the grid after major Google update? Or even worse yet – had a web site penalized before?

Well I have!

And unfortunately it can happen to you too…

So I’m gonna share my experience with you in hopes it will help you avoid getting hit negatively by a Google Panda update and fix your site if you do.

Google Panda Update 2.5.2

Most recently I had two sites hit hard by a “minor” Google Panda Update, which was update 2.5.2 on October 13th, 2011.

google panda update stats from 10/14/2011 - 1

And it’s a bit unfortunate because it’s already costing me an extra $1,000/mo or so.

I first noticed the significant drop in traffic on one of these top AdSense supported websites, and was quick to attribute it to one of the many testing changes I had been making over the last couple of weeks. However, after checking another AdSense supported site I immediately recognized the destruction of that site’s rankings too.

Luckily it hadn’t affected any of my other active websites though. Coincidentally, none of them are supported by Google AdSense either…

Which is actually one of the many benefits of running multiple websites – you have a much better chance at identifying “real” algorithm changes and ranking factors than you would if you were only working with a website or two.

Plus you’re business isn’t demolished when you’re hit by one of these updates either.

google panda update stats 10/14/2011 - 2

But getting back to what happened here, and since I was “lucky” enough to have two websites hit by the exact same update, it allowed me to compare the two sites and identify some existing patterns.

Recognizable Patterns

Potentially negative patterns that immediately stood out to me:

  • Both sites were primarily supported by AdSense
  • They had 3 or more ad units each
  • Not a significant number of backlinks
  • Aren’t the most aesthetically appealing
  • Informational only
  • Less than a year old
  • Directory / list type information
  • Low subscriber count

With a few other patterns I’m considering too. But I think one or some of these in combination is the primary culprit.

Although I’ll admit these sites would probably be considered lower-quality by most people at first glance, one of them has been “naturally” linked to quite often as great reference source, and both of them provide the most up-to-date, comprehensive information in their respective niches.

In addition to that, here are some other positive aspects:

  • Content is completely unique (passed Copyscape)
  • Very relevant to the top queries they’re showing up for
  • Thick with textual content
  • No “spammy” links

What’s funny is the sites that are now showing up for the top queries aren’t nearly as relevant as the ones that used to, but are seemingly more authoritative and generally have less ads on them too.

Which I’m not sure how that necessarily improves user-experience, since they’ll now have to dig through several more search result to find the most current information on these topics, but I guess that’s for Google to figure out.

Getting Back to Normal

Although no one besides the folks at Google can be certain why this has happened, what I can do is share with you what steps I take to get these sites “back to normal”.

Yes, I’ve read the million other articles telling me what it could “possibly” be, but most of it’s just the same old stuff people have been saying after every update since the beginning of time. I couldn’t find many “real” examples of what someone did to revive their site after a Google Panda update, and I don’t want to just regurgitate the same old speculative information to you.

Rather, I want to share with you what “really” happened, “known” patterns, and “actual” improvements and / or changes made.

So here’s what I’ve done so far: I’ve gutted them of their AdSense code, even though Google keeps emailing me there is still room for more ad placements on my sites. Gave both of them a logo, and completely redesigned one of them – moving it from an UGLY static HTML website to a WordPress site with a much nicer customized theme.

Enough time hasn’t passed yet to know whether these changes will have any affect or not, but I will definitely post future updates regarding the progress of them so you can get a better idea of what I did and what you might want do if you ever have to deal with this issue too…

But what about you – have you been hit recently by one of the Google Panda updates? Were you able to get your site “healthy” again? What did you do?

Would love to hear your experience and thoughts.

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  • November 2nd, 2011 at 5:53 am Anthony Baker said:

    I feel your pain main. I have been on this pain train since the first Panda roll out back in Fab. But I did not get hit severely until April. Panda 2.0, each Panda increment after that has slapped me hard. It’s been a nightmare to watch unfold. All my efforts for the past 10 years squashed by the Panda. ALL my content is unique and was written for the visitor. There is nothing spammy or sneaky about my website. Just a useful website to help people. You would not believe how many articles I have read and how many emails I have sent and how much redesign work I have done. All just to see a very insignificant recovery. I could write a book about this nightmare! I had a dream and Google has crushed it. I have been very unfairly punished for no reason whatsoever. Anyway, I highly suggest that you drop a complaint on this thread here:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters/thread?tid=76830633df82fd8e&hl=en

    Google is monitoring this forum. Maybe they will listen. There are already 7,000+ comments on there.

    This has been the nightmare so far and I’m sure there is more to come:

    Panda 2.6 (possibly on Oct. 13 – not official yet – but something happened on the 13th for sure!)
    Panda 2.5 on September 28th
    Panda 2.4 in August
    Panda 2.3 on around July 22nd.
    Panda 2.2 on June 18th or so.
    Panda 2.1 on May 9th or so.
    Panda 2.0 on April 11th or so.
    Panda 1.0 on February 24th

    To have a website that you have been working very hard on for the past 10 years, building a following, traffic on a steady increase for 10 years, having Google love your site to being slapped hard, loosing 80% of your traffic overnight is almost to much to take.

    Ciao, Anthony

  • November 2nd, 2011 at 9:35 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Geez Anthony, that sucks!

    I checked out your spaghettisauceandmeatballs site and it definitely looks of quality to me. Of course, I don’t know what changes you’ve made since your rankings have dropped, but it definitely looks like a great site now.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about all of your trouble, but I appreciate you being willing to share it with us here.

  • November 2nd, 2011 at 9:49 am Anthony Baker said:

    Thanks Wesley,

    It’s been an interesting ride. I feel like Rocky in the 10th round not wanting to be knocked out fighting with all I have to win. Since April I have put in about 400+ hrs of redesign. Mostly was toning down the advertising. I’m selling nothing on the site, just giving away free information that is helpful to those who want to cook Italian food like an Italian grandma. What’s wrong with wanting to make a little money in return? I so disagree with Google on the add thing. Also what is killing me (I think, it’s all guessing at this point) is the truckloads of websites/blogs that have copied my content and placed it on their sites. Scrapers can hurt bad from what I am reading in regards to Panda. So sending emails left and right to get copied content removed. A very painful and laborious process. I have too much invested to give up. We shall see how this fight goes. Ciao, Anthony

  • November 2nd, 2011 at 11:10 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Yeah, don’t give up Anthony.

    Definitely keep me informed though, and I’ll keep you informed too.

  • November 2nd, 2011 at 12:22 pm Darren said:

    I took a beating across many of the ‘Pandas’. Fortunately for me I was already changing my business model when it all started happening. I don’t think there’s any question that lower-quality pages made primarily to display Adsense or affiliate links are impacted by this.

    What used to make decent money is now not wanted in Google. This is really to be expected now that Google is the de facto content judge. They’ll only be getting stricter IMHO.

  • November 2nd, 2011 at 1:07 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Darren,
    Yeah, I completely agree they’re going to continue to get stricter.

    And I definitely don’t think it’s good idea to build a business model around Google AdSense or similar form of advertising going forward.

    Strong branding is becoming increasingly important too a companies SEO efforts too.

  • November 3rd, 2011 at 7:04 am JD Durham said:

    As a new site admin we are simply too new to have any experience with this, however I really feel sorry for Anthony that 10 years of work were basically destroyed.

    The link he provided offers some very valuable information especially in the first 3 posts. Goog is definitely trying to give everyone a road map without giving away corporate secrets and they readily admit that these changes are not perfect since they are asking for help.

    I think that we should do no less than what they suggest “getting rid of low quality content” as this they say can “take down an otherwise good site”. I would like to see some sort of peer review that allows other admins (up to 10) to comment on the low quality areas of each others site which would allow each person to improve their sites through constructive criticism.

    To poorly quote Warren Buffet “the best way to make profits is to see the main trend and get in front of it”, which I see as we can fight Goog or we can get on the bus with them, the later seems lots easier, more productive and better to me.

  • November 3rd, 2011 at 11:02 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi JD,
    Yeah I don’t have the time to resist their changes or argue with them about it either. But, I am very thankful for the people who do. Instead, I’m going to continue focusing on improving all of my sites and work towards less of a reliance on the search engines.

  • November 5th, 2011 at 8:54 am nobody said:

    My main website was hit by this Panda update and many more I had on the same VPS server.

    Tried mostly everything. I have realized a pattern:

    - my websites were having at least 3 Adsense ads on one page. They were above the fold so most of my users were either clicking or leaving probably. Got rid of them.
    - not enough backlinks. No fresh backlinks I could say. It’s interesting to see that Blogger backlinks matter as I see.
    - my website wasn’t too visual appealing. Made the change to make it beautiful, immediatly got more likes.
    - content is unique, no pre-made backlinks. Copyscape passed.
    - I improved my page speed. Loading in less than a second.

    Has your website recover?

  • November 5th, 2011 at 11:29 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Sorry to hear of your trouble as well. Thanks for sharing, though. Has it recovered since you’ve made those changes?

    Mine have not, but I don’t think enough time has passed to determine whether the changes will help or not at this point.

  • November 6th, 2011 at 12:34 am nobody said:

    Haven’t recovered yet, but with each Panda update or small update it’s getting super worse.

  • November 6th, 2011 at 10:53 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    I’m sorry to hear that.

    At some point it may be better to just go ahead and repackage the content for distribution on another site.

    If I depended on the two sites that were hit by the last panda update I would have already purchased a new domain name for each of them and started putting up some unique content to get them established.

    Then at some point I’d just cut my losses on the other two and start focusing on the new domains.

  • November 7th, 2011 at 1:53 am Tad Chef said:

    LOL, I already wondered what happened on that date. My blog over at SEO 2.0 dropped a lot. So it seems it’s low quality, hehe. Wonder why it was considered a top 10 [seo blog] for a few years. Now look who ranks at #5 and below instead of me.

  • November 7th, 2011 at 2:11 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    It happened on your SEO 2.0 blog too, huh? Hmmm…that’s weird. And sucks. Definitely higher quality and more relevant than #5 and many others before yours.

  • November 9th, 2011 at 11:23 pm nobody said:

    Thanks @Wesley LeFebvre!

    I’ve already started some new websites, but in my mind lays the question to whatever and how to get rid of that Panda. I know I shouldn’t focus so much on it, but it’s hard to understand why spam ranks so high these days.

    I was getting the idea of focusing on keyword position in Google, rather than anything else. Certain keywords dropped 200+ position, while others seem to be below 50. Now my guess is that those that rank 200+ are not useful to my searcher, either have a problem. I closely analyzed Analytics and saw something interesting. Those took a lot of traffic and dropped like a rock on a certain date. So either someone/competitor blocked it, or Google decided to put it behind and when a certain number of pages were down, the whole website is down.

    Ideas?

  • November 10th, 2011 at 10:05 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    It’s probably just the difference in competing pages on a keyword by keyword basis.

  • November 10th, 2011 at 3:58 pm Jason the hard money lenders seo guy said:

    Our site was riding high with our top 10 keywords all in the #1-5 position on Google. Then on September 28th our rankings fell back to page 2 or worse.

    It took us from 25,000 monthly uniques down to about 10,000.

    I’ve been fighting the battle on this one ever since trying to get our rankings back. Here’s what I’ve done:

    1) Completely re-designed our entire site (we have over 700 pages)

    2) Went through older pages from before I came on board and re-wrote the content and re-structured the meta data for SEO optimization.

    3) Implemented a strategy to have fresh content added to our blog 3 – 5 times a week.

    4) Been writing articles like crazy (5 a week) and posting them all over in a link wheel structure.

    5) Hired an outsourcer just to make social bookmarks on all the urls from all the content we’re distributing now.

    And several other things I can’t list here because they are part of my own SEO strategy I’ve developed.

    Finally this week, we’re starting to see our traffic rise again. But the weird part is that our old main keywords won’t come up past the #8-9 spot.

    I’m picking up the traffic on keywords I didn’t even rank for before – that are now in the #1-5 spot.

    I guess the silver lining in all of this is that the re-design increased my site conversion by over 600% in last 2 months.

    Yes – 600%, that’s not a mis-print. We are in the lending business and we went from 50 applications to 320 a month.

    Our sales team is so overwhelmed it’s ridiculous :)

    I guess my advice is that you can overcome Panda by focusing on conversion because small bumps in conversion make a bigger impact that huge increases in traffic.

    Also, I can see with what we’ve implemented that our rankings are coming back. It’s just a matter of following good old fashioned SEO tactics!

  • November 10th, 2011 at 4:26 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Jason,
    Great job and great advice. There is definitely a lot of money being left on the table in regards to conversions – that’s something I’ve been focusing more on myself.

    Thanks for sharing what happened and what you’ve done to improve the site.

  • November 28th, 2011 at 12:17 am Larry said:

    I got hit hard too. A year’s worth of gains wiped out overnight. AdSense revenue nearly chopped in half. Traffic cut in half. I have deleted a few pages of duplicate content and stripped out all rollover images and navigation .gifs so as to speed up load speed (from 5 to 6 seconds to 1.5 to 2.5 seconds). And switched ISPs to see if a different ISP could give me faster load times. I also opened up all advertisers for AdSense. Traffic is about the same as post Oct. 13th, but revenue is slightly up this week. This has made me realize how it’s somewhat foolish to build a business on top of platform (Google) that moves around like quicksand.

  • November 28th, 2011 at 6:39 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    This has made me realize how it’s somewhat foolish to build a business on top of platform (Google) that moves around like quicksand.

    Definitely something I’ve learned the hard-way too.

    My sites haven’t come back yet, but my changes on one skyrocketed my rankings in Bing/Yahoo!, and the other seems to be be gaining some ground in Google again.

    Sorry to hear about your troubles, Larry.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 4:25 am Anthony Baker said:

    Total recovery from the panda as of April 19th, 2012. Wow.. What a ride. I have fully recovered and then some. I am now friends with Panda and Penguin :-) WooHoo! Just thought I would share.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 6:31 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    That’s great Anthony, glad to hear it!

    Did you have to make any other major changes or updates you think may have of helped? That is, in addition what you mentioned previously.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 6:47 am Anthony Baker said:

    Hey Wesley,

    Well, you would not believe what I went through to recover. But in the end I am left with much improved website. It was almost an overwhelming task but worth all the effort in the end.

    I will place “some” the steps I took over the past year to make this happen. Maybe this will help others and save them from Panda and Penguin hell. ~ Anthony

    Here we go:

    1.) I condense 500 pages down to 70 content packed pages!
    2.) I don’t have a single page on my site with thin content.
    3.) I shaved off a whole bunch of advertising, no above the fold advertising. This has definitely costs me income from the site, but better to work on the traffic, then the income will slowly come back I hope.
    4.) I’ve used these tools extensively for every single page on my site and made every single page as fast as I possibly could.
    http://developers.google.com/pagespeed/
    http://gtmetrix.com/
    http://tools.pingdom.com > (this one I used the most, very helpful data!)
    5.) I’ve cleaned up my old html and used css formatting for all my text and menus.

    6.) I added 404 nd 301 redirects. (THIS WAS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!)
    404 redirect sends a visitor to a custom “not found page” if they are trying to get to a page that does not exist the site any longer, this also helps Google quickly figure out which pages I have done away with. This was something I was lacking and was a major help! This was also extremely important because I have deleted so many pages. 100’s of deleted pages! I needed to make sure Google figured that out!

    301 redirect points everything to the non-www version of my domain.
    This was a huge fix as well. I did not even know this was an issue until much studying up on the subject.
    Most shared webhosting package keep both the www and non-www version of the domain live which produces duplicate content in the eyes of Google. Extremely important to get this fixed! You also want to 301 redirect and index.html page or whatever your homepage format is to redirect to just http://domain.com.
    Again this was a problem with duplicate content for example:
    The 301 redirect cures this problem.
    7.) I optimized every single image on the site. (Still have more work to do on this)
    8.) I found all the websites/blogs I could find that copied my content and had them remove it. This took months of hard work!
    9.) I have created a Facebook and Google + page for the website and have been active on both, heavily active on the Facebook page.
    10.) Added just the right amount of social media activity on the site. Too much of this slows down you page load times.
    11.) Added no-index to many pages that I felt Google did not need to index.

    12.) I have also worked hard on de-optimizing content where I had over optimized in the past.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 6:47 am Anthony Baker said:

    Ha! I should call the: 12 steps to getting out of Google hell ;-)

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:16 am Larry said:

    Interestingly, over the last two weeks I saw my traffic go up as well. By around 40% to 60%. I removed gif navigation buttons and some other images to improve load speeds, requested that my ISP put me on a faster server, disconnected from nSphere.com (a revenue sharing company that duplicates content and shares revenue with you for their local search pages–when they stopped paying me I pulled the plug), and removed duplicate content from my website. I hope my traffic continues to climb!

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:20 am Anthony Baker said:

    On April 2012 my traffic spiked 85% up! Bringing me back to pre-panda levels and then some. Site speed is HUGE! That was one of the big fixes for me.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:23 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    WOW! Thanks for sharing all of the steps you took.

    I’ve had several sites hit too between panda/penguin, including this one for the first time ever. So I’m currently working on many of those myself.

    The only one I truly don’t feel is necessary is removing “www” from the URL; however, I’d be willing to try just anything if it comes to that. And if it’s working now, then I don’t see any reason to change it back!

    Nice Job!

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:28 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Nice, Larry! Yep, there were several major updates starting around April 19th. First Panda, then Penguin. Many sites recovered from Panda on the 19th, then gained even more exposure than they had pre-panda on the 24th, because on that day a ton of websites were hit by the first Penguin update.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:31 am Anthony Baker said:

    There is a duplicate content hit by having both www and non-www active. That basically gives you a duplicate page for every single page on your website. Example:

     www.domain.com/cheeseisgood.html
    domain.com/cheeseisgood.html

    These are considered 2 unique url’s thus being seen as duplicate content. This is what I’ve read on several forums/articles/blogs, etc….

    This is labeled as “canonicalization” or ” Cononical issues” Do some searches and research on those and you will see tons of data on this.

    I have done a LOT of research on this. Check out this page from Matt Cutts:

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-advice-url-canonicalization/

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:39 am Anthony Baker said:

    A couple good links on canonicalization and duplicate content.

    http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo/duplicate-content

    http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66359

  • May 15th, 2012 at 7:46 am Anthony Baker said:

    Oh, oops! I meant to add this one as well:

    http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=139066

    On this page there is a link to “Set your preferred domain”. That is important as well. You can do that in google webmaster tools.

  • May 15th, 2012 at 8:11 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Yeah, I definitely understand the difference, and know about canonicalization. I just don’t believe Google is so dumb it would count that (www and non-www version) as duplicate content.

    However, it could just be that I’ve been too spoiled, though; because I just remembered WordPress configures the 301 redirect for me automatically during set-up. I hardly ever work on something that isn’t using WordPress anymore, so It’s never a potential issue. In my case it automatically redirects the non-www version to the www version.

    But – now that you’ve refreshed my memory – I do remember always making my clients (who were using both versions) pick one and we redirected to their preferred version. I still don’t think Google is so dumb that it would count that as duplicate content and penalize someone for it, but agree it is important overall, and should be one of the first steps taken when optimizing any website.

    Sounds like it was a good thing you fixed it on your site!

  • May 15th, 2012 at 8:16 am Anthony Baker said:

    Yeah I would hope Google was not that stupid to do such a thing but I have been convinced since Google Panda they have. But I would not call it ignorance on Google’s part. It is intentional. They are trying to make the internet smaller so it is more manageable in regards to indexing. If you think about is you could cut the entire internet in half in regards to indexing if everyone picked a preferred domain and redirected it. I personally think this is their hidden agenda :-)

  • May 15th, 2012 at 8:19 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Probably just one of many….

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