Gauging Panda`s Effect on Your Sites

It’s been about a month since we first started hearing about Google Panda, aka the Farmer update. Whatever you call it, this major change to the search engine’s algorithm left many websites scrambling over lost traffic. But sites can lose traffic for many reasons. How can you tell if you were affected – and more importantly, what can you do about it?

Actually, it’s pretty easy to tell if your websites have been affected by Google Panda. According to Michael Martinez, writing for his SEO Theory and Analysis blog, all you need to do is check your U.S. Google referral traffic for the week of February 20-27, and “if you lost traffic that hasn’t returned since, you were probably affected by the Big Panda.”

Most of the SEO media dubbed the update “Farmer” to start with because it seemed to disproportionately affect content farms. Rather like certain other questionable material, no one seemed able to define a content farm, but many seemed to think they knew one when they saw it. To complicate the issue, Google never used the words “content farmer” in its blog post (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html) about the algorithm update. Google simply explained that the update “is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

In other words, being affected by the Panda update doesn’t mean you’re a content farmer; it means that, in Google’s eyes, you have some low-quality content. Predictably, many website owners have reacted by getting rid of many pages of what they consider to be lower-quality content, either by noindexing them or removing them from the website entirely. Sad to say, many of these sites have not seen their traffic return.

That’s actually a predictable result. Think about it. If you’ve removed content from your website, that content can’t attract any traffic. Martinez guesses that “maybe 1 billion URLs have vanished in the past month – perhaps several billion (most of them probably not indexed by Google anyway).” So if you insist on using traffic as your metric, you need to compare the traffic your remaining pages received before Panda with the traffic they received after Panda.

The Return of Rankings?

Martinez actually advocates using a different metric to tell whether your site has recovered from Panda. He says that site owners who look at their traffic to see whether they’ve recovered from Panda may have in fact solved their problems but don’t realize it because they’re looking the wrong place. He insists that site owners should take a hard look at their rankings in Google. “If you can establish what your rankings were across the undeleted pages of your site before you started hacking and slashing and then compare those rankings to current data, are there any appreciable changes?”

If your rankings have recovered, the wise move is to keep adding quality content to your site. You may see your old traffic return, but it will take a while, simply because it’s going to take some time to replace all the content you eliminated and consolidated. It may be a long time before you see your pre-Panda traffic levels again, and it will certainly be a while before SEOs figure out how to adjust their methods to Panda.

How long? In Martinez’s experience, “it takes the SEO community about 6 months…to figure out what needs to be done to recover from an algorithmic change.” But Google has continued to tweak Panda, so “if Google has held true to its claims about how many updates it rolls out in a year, there have probably been about 30 or so algorithmic tweaks since February 23. So good luck with your Panda analysis – it’s already irrelevant.”

If you need to change your site due to lost traffic, rankings, and revenue, don’t think in terms of tweaks to recover from Panda; think in terms of website best practices. Build for human readers, not the search engines – and “not for the sake of advertising,” according to Martinez. If it seems like a big job to do that with what you have, he writes, maybe you need “to try something else altogether. At least if you start with a clean slate you don’t have to fix anything.” Good luck!

For more on this, visit: http://www.seo-theory.com/2011/03/31/how-to-reverse-engineer-the-google-panda-update/.

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