In this search engine optimization tutorial, you will learn how to recover from traffic loss due to the Google Panda (or Farmer) update.
The Google Panda Update affects a lot of high traffic websites all over the Internet. This update affects websites that have the following 3 general characteristics:
- Low quality or thin content.
- Overall low quality site by importance and user experience.
- Massive amounts of content generated in the site, but they are written for the sole purpose of search engine optimization or advertisements and not to genuinely help the reader.
Hence the alternate name “Farm update”, because it affects content farms. Those websites that hire a lot of writers to produce content, but don’t exert much editorial emphasis on controlling and maximizing the quality of it’s content. A common example of these websites are the article directories, review sites, etc.
If you got hit and are still confused about how to bring back the lost traffic, this tutorial is will help you solve this problem. Take note that the Google Panda recovery process can be broken down into 4 major phases:
- First phrase: Determining the issues present in the website.
- Second phase: Implementation of corrective actions.
Third phase: Re-indexation phase
- Fourth phase: Final recovery phase
You may be asking how long it will take to recover from this update? Well, if you can spend one entire week examining your website for issues, then spend another entire month on implementation, Google will re-index your site completely in around 2 months after the implementation (for an average website with an average amount of inbound links from other websites). Bigger websites can re-index within up to 3 to 5 months.
Re-indexation is important because this is where Google picks up your improvement actions. The final recovery phase is where affected posts and content starts to pickup traffic again like it did prior to the update. The final recovery phase will happen after 2 months of full website re-indexation for an average website.
So for an average website, the entire process to recovery can take around 6 months on the average. This is a game of patience - you really need to wait for Google to pickup your improvements - there is no shortcut.
Phase 1: Problem Definition
There is an old adage that says: “A problem well defined is a problem half solved”. This is true if you got hit by the Panda update. Can you confirm the cause? Google webmaster central blog released a very important list of checkpoints here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html. It is elaborated further below. You should examine and admit the mistakes as honestly as possible if you want to move forward. Write each problem on a piece of paper. The check points below require you to check your entire websites content, not just a few sampled pages.
The 9 most important checkpoints are as follows:
1.) Users trust in your article.
- Do you commonly receive negative user comments or feedback? If you are receiving a substantial amount of negative comments about your content because of inaccuracies, etc then the majority of your website readers are not trusting your website and its content.
- Scan your entire websites content and look for posts that do not receive any comment, Facebook likes, inbound links, etc. Confirm this data with the bounce rate of that page as well as average time the user spends on that page.
Content that is not trusted has very low average user time and a very high bounce rate. If Google analytics data correlates strongly with social indicators, then users might not be trusting your content. Do you have a substantial amount of content that is not trusted by users?
2.) The amount of expertise shown in your content
- If your content is written by somebody else, are you sure they are an expert of that topic?
- Do you have a reputation of being an expert in your own field in which your website niche belongs?
For example, if you have an SEO blog, then at least you have some reputation and contribution within the SEO community. If you have a cooking blog, at least you are a chef of a prominent restaurant or a certified chef. Expert authors write better content than non-expert authors. These types of content are loved by Google.
3.) Do you have duplicate content issues in your website? Do you have a lot of redundant articles – the same content and thoughts, but rewritten with different words and title tags?
4.) Does your content have substantial spelling errors?
5.) Do you have original content published on your website or do you just scrape and copy content from other websites?
6.) Does your page content provide a substantial, insightful, complete, and detailed analysis and discussion? Or just consist of very shallow explanations?
7.) Has the content published been reviewed or seriously edited before publishing?
8.) Is your site an authority of the subject? You can tell this by logging in to your Google webmaster tools and check if you earn natural links from related websites or forums pointing to your content. Or if your content has been cited in other places in the Internet.
9.) Do you receive complaints about your heavy advertisements or having a higher percentage of ads compared to original text?
Phase 2: Implementation of Corrective Actions
OK, now you know the problems in your website. It’s time to implement some corrective actions. Below are the recommended actions for the common problems stated previously:
Problem 1.) Do you have substantial content that is not trusted by users?
To get the readers trust, first you need to implement the recommendations stated in this tutorial: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Google-Optimization-Help/How-To-Increase-Google-Trust/ – particularly those listed in this section: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Google-Optimization-Help/How-To-Increase-Google-Trust/2/
The next thing will be hard. If the issue of mistrust results from low quality content, then you really need to rewrite your content. Add more details and encourage user discussion. Removing the content will be fine but since you already invested some time in that content, rewriting seems to be a better idea even if it requires more time on your part.
Problem 2.) Content lacks expertise and detail
Problem 3.) Do you have duplicate content issues in your website? Do you have a lot of redundant articles?
Solution: You might need to rewrite your content to give more details. The main problem is if you have 20,000 pages of low quality and thin-content - the recommendation is to combine similar content.
200 high quality and useful article pages is better than having 20,000 very low quality pages of not useful content.
301 redirect all of the combined pages into the canonical/rewritten version: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=139394. If you cannot implement a 301 redirect, you might need to take a look at link rel canonical version.
URL1,URL2,URL3,URL4, URL5 as 5 low quality content in your website. If those URL1, URL2 and URL3 are very similar, you can write a 600 to 1000 words high quality article on URL1 (revising URL1 content).
Then also if URL4 and URL5 are of similar content, you can then combine by rewriting only either one of them (e.g URL4).
Finally, implement 301 redirect or link rel canonical tag to combine low quality content into their high quality content equivalent:
URL1<==301 redirect URL2 and URL3.
URL4<==301 redirect URL5.
The result is that you have fewer pages or URLs but they are very high in quality, unlike before. For link rel canonical, you can read this update: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/rel-canonical-html-head/
Problem 4.) Does your content have substantial spelling errors?
Review all of your content for correct spellings. It is important that before any content is published, it is thoroughly checked for correct spellings.
Problem 5.) Is all of you content original?
If there is substantial content on your website that is copied from other websites, then the recommended solution is to remove it from your website and the Google index. After deleting this content, make sure it returns a 404 header status.
Read this update about removal of URLs:
Stop scraping content from other websites if you are currently doing this practice.
Problem 6.) Does your page content provide a substantial, insightful, complete and detailed amount of content? Or just consist of very shallow explanations?
You can start by reading some content guidelines here: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Google-Optimization-Help/How-To-Increase-Google-Trust/
Spend some time writing content (e.g. 1 to 4 hours for a 600 words to 1500 words content). The more time you exert on your content, the higher quality it will be. Spend some time thinking about it, explaining the details, doing some research and putting together some credible references.
Even better, spend time rewriting and editing the content. Some freelance writers, bloggers or authors rush their schedule by publishing a lot of content without paying serious attention to details, substance, and quality.
Problem 7.) Does your site manage to become an authority of the subject?
You can read this article about measuring authority of your website in Google: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Google-Optimization-Help/Measuring-Website-Authority-in-Google/
A great place to start is your content. Then once you have it, try to get some links from reputable and trusted websites. Those top quality websites that belongs to your niche can help your site become an authority.
Problem 8.) Do you receive complaints about your heavy advertisements or have a higher percentage of ads compared to original text?
Put on a user hat and try to read the content on your website with all those ads. Can you comfortably read it? If not try changing the layout of your ads or even consider minimizing them if they distract the readers experience.
You can also hire some beta testers to get input from them regarding their experience reading your website. If some of their comments are focused on the ads, you can remove them until the reading experience of your visitors is not affected.
Third phase: Re-indexation phase
Now that everything has been implemented, try to submit another new XML sitemap of your website URLs. You can also review your robots.txt file to make sure there are no mistakes.
Make sure your website has quality internal links. This is one way of speeding up the indexation of your website. Continue to get quality links from other related websites. As discussed previously, it will take somewhere between 2 to 3 months for full website re-indexation.
Fourth phase: Final recovery phase
Starting one to two months after implementation, start monitoring your Google analytics results for your website. You should see some traffic improvement after 2 months. A conservative estimate is that you will regain your lost traffic level after 6 months.