The Ultimate Guide To Understanding Your Panda Penalty Recovery
If you have lost organic search engine visitors it’s imperative to pinpoint issues with your website quickly. Sometimes the problem is easy to identify but other times there could be a mix of factors in play. If you have suspicions your site may have taken a hit by a search algorithm this ultimate Panda penalty recovery guide will delve into everything you need on how to recover from a Google Panda update.
The Panda Algorithm – All About What’s on Your Site
The Panda algorithm is a ‘quality algorithm‘ in so much as it assesses your on site content and structure. It’s important to realise from the offset that if you are hit by a Panda penalty for even a few pages this could affect search engines rankings for ALL pages on your site. Although the penalty can be mixed with another algorithm penalty, usually a stand alone hit reveals how a Panda update works with a gradual decrease in rankings that eventually stabilizes. A usual drop has at least a 50% drop in rankings but can reach 90% drop with an average of about 75% with clients we have worked with.
Issues to identify
We see this all the time especially with ecommerce websites that have many product pages that scrape product descriptions from the original manufacturer. The problem with this is that so many other e-retailers are using the same product descriptions, which store does Google choose to rank higher in search? Usually the store that provides unique value added product descriptions that go above and beyond the expectations of the search user.
The Panda duplicate content penalty comes in several forms:
Sitewide boiler plate content
Boiler plate content is identical text used on many pages across a site in conjunction with unique text. This boiler plate content usually involves a paragraph including a call to action such as to sign up to a newsletter, providing discount offers to products or offering the same service across many local area pages.
Although duplicate boiler plate pages alone will usually not get you hit by an algorithm update if overused in conjunction with another ranking factor such as thin content pages it has the possibility to trigger a penalty.
Consider the amount of boilerplate text to unique content text and try to decrease this ratio as much as possible while also improving your unique content so it adds exceptional value to your visitors, on every page.
Copied or spun content from external webpages
We see this all the time especially with ecommerce websites that have many product pages that scrape product descriptions from the original manufacturer.
The problem with this is that so many other e-retailers are using the same product descriptions, which store does Google choose to rank higher in search? They most often choose the store that provides unique value added product descriptions that go above and beyond the expectations of the search user in conjunction with other ranking factors.
Spun content is different and usually involves re-writing existing page copy and articles with enough words changed to make it undetectable as copied content. There is a downside to this though especially when the process is automated.
Spun articles for SEO purposes can read like complete jargon and will do little to serve the user and thus affect rankings, just take a look at these examples. If manually written, the content may read as unique but may lack any extra value for it to outrank competing pages with better value added content.
Duplicated on site SEO issues
On site SEO issues are extremely common and range from small fixes to huge sitewide cleansing. One of the most common factors is duplicate titles and meta descriptions across many pages. You may have exceptional content on all of these pages but without applying correct on site SEO your user metrics could be way off. Let’s use an example:
You are a construction firm and have written an informative page about building schools with renewable materials. The problem is that your meta title is the same meta title used across every other page on your site and that title is automated to say “Steve’s Construction Company – Low Cost Building Projects In Manchester”.
With a title like this users who do click on your page from the search engine are expecting information about low cost building projects in Manchester and not necessarily in renewable construction of schools!
User metrics then become affected as bounce rate increases, time on page decreases and users click back to the search engine to find a more relevant page. If your on site optimisation issues spread across many pages you can see how this can easily trigger the Panda algorithm penalty and cost you many visitors in the long run.
There is no golden rule as to how much content each page requires but what is apparent is that longer content – that is valuable to a user – is more likely to rank higher and draw in more visitors. This includes well formatted, well researched content that includes images, videos and internal and external linking. If your site has many pages with little content on each page really get to grips without how many each of these pages are adding value to the users experience.
Either add more helpful content to each page, consolidate thin pages into longer more informative content or just delete them. For product and service pages, deleting won’t be an option so really bring to life your products with story based descriptions and include all the fine details.
It goes without saying that writing lots of content that is not related to your industry will only serve to confuse users and search spiders alike. Confusion is never good in digital marketing.
Sometimes irrelevant content can be subtle. Let’s say you have a store that sells car parts. You create a product page for spark plugs and on that page there are spark plugs for a variety of cars from MG Rover to Audi.
The problem here is that this product page is full of items for different cars so when a user lands on this page they have to sift through a bunch of irrelevant products until they find their specific spark plug for their model and make of car.
A better, and more Panda penalty recovery friendly approach, would be to break product pages down into silos to provide more topical authority. So, you may have a category page for spark plugs with great content about spark plugs, then from this page to sub category page for spark plugs for each type of car.
It would look like this:
Homepage –> Spark Plugs –> Make of Car’s Spark Plugs –> Model of Car’s Spark Plug
Each page on your site should be as specific as possible for content based around a set of targeted keywords. This will help the user not only navigate your store and improve user metrics it will also help you rank for specific keywords much easier, and usually much higher.
No Value Added Content
If you’re writing content on topics that competitors have written about in great depth already you may find it hard to rank for these competitive keywords if you have nothing extra to add to the topic. While this alone will not hit you with a Panda penalty, in conjunction with other factors, it could deem your site low quality. Take a good look at metrics for different blog posts and be honest with yourself on posts that would be better removed as they may be dragging your site down.
It’s becoming increasingly important to get your loading speed up to an accepted standard for both desktop and mobile users. If you have an image heavy site then reducing the size and loading speed of these larger images can provide a positive image SEO impact on page loading speed. There are many techniques to optimize your images that you can read about here and to test the speed of your site use this helpful speed check tool.
Code to content ratio
The code to content ratio ties in with thin content. If a website has more code to content it stands to reason that it is more likely to be a spammy website with little value. That’s not to say if the ratio is weighted towards more code that your website is inherently low quality. If your website offers a software-as-a-service (SAAS) that requires heavy coding you are bound to have a higher ratio. It’s recommended to formulate a solid content strategy that can improve this ratio and provide better balance for your site.
Lack of On Site SEO
On site SEO includes a range of factors from meta titles, meta descriptions, headings, URL structures, optimised content, internal linking, broken pages and navigation to name a few. Each and every page on your website should be optimised around different keywords. A full audit using free software such as Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools and Screaming Frog can provide insight into pages lacking complete optimisation or with duplicate issues.
This old school SEO tactic used to work 10 years ago but times have changed. Stuffing keywords into content, headings and titles in a way that looks unnatural to users runs the risk of a Panda penalty. It’s fine to include keywords you want to target but don’t go overboard. There is no precise ratio of keywords to content but 5 – 7% seems to be a good rule of thumb. Instead of using the same keyword over and over again consider using related thematic keywords, synonyms and antonyms.
Here’s a good example of a hairdresser writing an article about men’s hairstyles.
Main keyword: Men’s Hairstyles
Secondary Keywords: Men’s Haircut, Male Hairdo, Blokes Hairstyles
Related Keywords: Men’s Fringe, Crew Cut, Razor Cut, Buzz Cut, Men’s Grooming
All these keywords when used naturally throughout your content add thematic power to your content in a non stuffed keyword kind of way. In the world of semantic search this serves to really boost your content. Take a look through all your previous content to see if you can improve your semantic search capabilities with natural and varied keyword placement.
A doorway page is a page or set of pages or websites with the sole aim of driving traffic to one website or page with no purpose of adding any value for the user once they land on that specific page. Doorway pages come in a variety of forms but the most common is creating a set of pages based around specific theme of with each page redirecting a user to one larger category page.
Page 1: Keyword targeted is “women’s hats”
Page 2: Keyword targeted is “girl’s hats”
Page 3: Keyword targeted is “female hats”
Page 4: keyword targeted is “feminine hats”
Page 1 to 4 then all funnel the user to the same category page “hats for women”
Sometimes these are created by accident, say, you are half way through creating a new page and then you publish it. The page gets indexed but in Google’s eyes it looks spammy as it has yet to be connected to the rest of your site via the site menu or any internal links and they’re usually thin on content too compounding the issue. A site audit is required to identify doorway pages that are attempting to game the system and those that require better content and keyword targeting.
Ad to Content Ratio
If there are pages on your site that read more like a promotional page for other websites with large ad banners especially above the fold, it may be time to remove these. Keep advertisements to a minimum and preferably below the fold, that is, below what the user initially sees when they land on a page.
Grammar and Spelling
A surprisingly overlooked aspect of the Panda penalty recovery process. Make sure all page copy and articles are thoroughly spell checked. If you’re unsure of grammar we recommend our grammar guru friends over at Englist to take a look at your writing. Finally try to keep your spelling of regionally varied words in line with the main country you want to target to prevent any confusion on the user’s behalf and to increase the chances of conversions.
Correct Redirects and Canonicals
Sometimes we have ecommerce clients come to us with an issue where numerous variants of their products are getting indexed in search engines with no way of optimising the variant pages.
Main Page: Men’s Trilby Hat
Uneditable Product Filter Pages: Blue Men’s Trilby Hat, Black Men’s Trilby Hat, Brown Men’s Trilby Hat
This creates duplicate content in search engines such as duplicate meta titles, meta descriptions, page copy that automatically drags information from the main category page “Men’s Trilby Hat”. The best approach to this is creating a rel=”canonical” link from these product filter pages back to the main category page “Men’s Trilby Hat”. This tells search engines to recognise the main category page as the authoritative page and to ignore the filter pages.
Another issue for a lot of sites is that the www. version is not redirected to the non-www. version or vice versa. A 301 redirect can sort this issue out and prevent your website getting indexed twice for potential duplicate content issues.
A clean and clear navigation is a huge must if you want to keep visitors moving around your site to your eventual goal, such as a sale, email sign up or download. According to research, a user should to click no more than 3 times throughout your site to get to where they want to. This means a flatter hierarchical structure that provides easy navigation back to the original starting page, if needed. A nice way of doing this is creating breadcrumbs and offering related products/services on products and service pages.
Also check to see if any of your pages have over 100 links, over this amount can be deemed as spammy and provide the user too much choice of where to click next.
Simply put, cloaking is script code written into a website to send search engine spiders to a different page on a website than what a user would see. This is done by recognising different IP addresses that land on a website and can be used to attempt to boost rankings for a keyword while still appeasing users with the original content which may be less optimised. Needless to say this tactic doesn’t work anymore and the Panda algorithm is astute at recognising when this tactic is implemented.
One step up from the controversial pop-up is the forced download. A forced download requires a user to download a file or document before moving onto the next page of a website or sometimes even to leave. This restrictive type of behaviour is detrimental to any website and should be avoided at all costs. A much milder and accepted style is the capture of an email address via a timed pop up, it should also provide the user the option to opt out if they wish.
Behind all the above factors is the importance of understanding sitewide and page level metrics to really gain insight to which landing pages are under-performing and for which reasons. Some of the key metrics to consider in Google Analytics are:
Amount of visitors – Pages with more visitors may mean better rankings and click-through rates from search engines, pages with less visitors may need more attention to rank better.
Bounce Rate – A high bounce rate is relatively normal for blog posts but check your homepage and category page for high bounce rates, these should be in the lower percentages.
Conversion Rate – A higher conversion rate tells search engines your website is serving the user well, try improving your conversion rates with a conversion rate optimisation (CRO) service.
Exit Rate – Drill down to find pages that users keep exiting from, could there be better content to captivate audiences to click through to other pages? Are there a few pages dragging the exit rate down?
Time on Page – This is dependent on the length and breadth of the topic on the page but usually a higher time on page is a signal your content is worthy of reading and increases the chances of users clicking through to other pages.
Time on Site – A site-wide factor that can reveal if your site as a set of interconnected pages are working together to provide a thorough user experience.
Funnel Drop Off – As part of your sales funnel take a look at which pages your users land on and exit from, is there a rogue page in the sales process that’s reducing conversions?
Google Webmaster Tools can also provide Panda SEO tips:
HTML Improvements – Find out quick fixes to your HTML, do you have a lack of meta information causing problems?
Search Analytics – Find out which pages are receiving the lowest click-through-rates, could these page meta titles and descriptions be improved to relate more to the content on the page?
Manual Actions – Check this first thing, if there is a message in here from the Google Webspam Team follow their instructions to recovery first. If you have a manual action you don’t have a Panda penalty and instead have a manual penalty removal task on your hands.
Mobile Usability – Check to find any errors with your website that are linked to mobile loading, you could be missing out on a large group of visitors if these are not fixed.
Index Status – Are all your pages indexed? If not check your sitemap(s) are uploaded into the Webmaster console and are correctly processed.
Crawl Errors – If you see many errors note down the error, is it a 404, 500, 301 or 302 error? All these require different actions to improve the quality score of your website.
Security Issues – This page will reveal if your site is hacked or contains malware, both of which need to be fixed as soon as possible.
As you can see, improving all on site factors has a greater chance of improving user metric scores which in turn will provide your site a higher quality score to regain lost rankings. It’s really important to quickly identify your penalty with the help of Google penalty recovery service. If left without fixing it has been shown that further Panda updates can cause you to lose even more rankings. The sooner it’s fixed the greater chance of a quick Panda penalty recovery.
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