Simple Site Changes to Please Panda

Many webmasters found themselves thrown for a loop when Google unleashed the Panda update to its algorithm early this year. Cries of dismay arise anew each time Google tweaks Panda. You might find, though, that making a few tweaks to your own website will decrease and possibly even prevent the pain of a Panda attack.

Before I can talk about the simple changes you can make to your website, however, I need to explain how Panda works. The new algorithm came on the scene in February; since then, it’s been updated four times. Cyrus Shepard, writing for SEOMoz, notes that Panda works a little differently from your typical machine-based algorithm: “Panda starts off with human quality raters who look at hundreds of websites. Computers, using machine learning, are then brought in to mimic the human raters. When the algorithm becomes accurate enough at predicting what the humans scored, it’s then unleashed across millions of sites across the Internet.”

The take-home lesson is that Panda’s eyes may be digital, but they get their original guidance from human ones. In other words, any human ought to be able to look at a website and see the kinds of problems that make Panda penalize a website. Shepard also notes, by the way, that Panda delivers site-wide penalties. In other words,  “if a So if a certain percentage of your pages fall below Panda’s quality algorithm, then the whole site suffers,” he observes. “Fix enough of these pages and you may recover.”

Panda hates the same kinds of pages that normal humans looking for rich content hate. Anything that gets in the way of enjoying that content merits serious reconsideration, especially if it’s not difficult to fix. For example, take a look at your site template’s footprint. How far must a visitor scroll down before he or she sees original content? And how much original content will they see before they must scroll down for more? Nobody wants to spend time scrolling past ads and formatting to find the meat of the page. If your template takes up a huge footprint, and you show any evidence of being penalized by Panda, you need to think about using a template that puts your rich content where it belongs: up front, and in plentiful quantities. 

How do you handle internal links? Does your site contain pages whose only content is links to other pages? One or two of these might not be a problem, but if your site boasts more than that many, you might want to redesign its information architecture. If that’s not feasible, try adding good content to the pages (perhaps a paragraph summarizing the content at each link).

The third factor Shepard suggests you consider on your website reveals why Panda hit content farms so hard that it was originally called the Farmer update. Are you discussing a different topic on each of your website’s pages, or merely writing about a slightly different variation on the same keywords? The first approach addresses humans, while the second approach aims for a high score on the SERPs. Remember that Panda’s algorithm starts with what human eyes see, and you’ll understand why your website doesn’t need twenty pages with slightly different articles on “Acai Berry Cleanse.” “Combining these articles into a few, highly usable resources would cut down on the confusion,” Shepard notes.

I know I’m probably going to get skinned alive for the fourth change you might want to make to your website to be more appealing to Panda, but seriously – take a look at your pages’ ad ratio. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, I know even Google AdSense suggests you fill up your site with ads. Please remember that they’re not the same people who put Panda together. It breaks my heart when I’m looking for real information and what I see looks like a tiny picture of real content surrounded by a huge “frame” of ads. As Shepard says, optimizing for AdSense and optimizing for search are two different things. Less really CAN be more in this case.

Finally, Shepard brings up the issue of affiliate links and auto generated content. At this point in time, anyway, most computer-generated pages constructed without a real human touch look ugly to human (and Panda’s) eyes. Someday, that will change, but it hasn’t happened yet. “If a machine built your pages with minimal human intervention, Google wants to devalue you,” Shepard states.

So what does this boil down to, if you’re looking for the fastest way to fix your website in the face of a Panda penalty? Look at your website with fresh eyes – or if you can’t, tap someone else who can – perhaps someone who has never visited your site before. Ask them to look at your website as if they’ve just arrived there from clicking on a search engine link. Find out how fast they’d click back to look at the other links in the search engine’s results – and more importantly, what turned them off about your site. Increasingly, if it’s a problem that’s obvious to human eyes, Panda will see it as well. The answer to this problem is the same one it’s always been: build your sites to be attractive to humans, not search engines. Good luck!

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