How to Recover from Penguin Penalties and Panda Problems
Google recently unleashed a torrent of algorithm updates onto unsuspecting website owners which saw the rankings of many plummet and traffic levels drop to a fraction of what they were previously.
If you’ve spent the last few years optimising your website with the most popular SEO techniques then the chances are that your website hasn’t escaped unscathed. These new algorithm updates are targeted at sites whose owners have implemented techniques that Google considers manipulative. Whether you consider this fair or not (remember that these techniques are just a reaction to the Google algorithm as it was), if you want your website to recover then you’ll have no choice but to jump in line.
But before you can change your SEO strategy you need to know what these updates are all about.
The Panda Update
First unleashed in the US in February 2011, Panda went worldwide in April 2011. There have been updates and refreshes of the algorithm every 4-6 weeks since.
The Panda update is designed to improve the quality of the search results displayed to users and it seems to do this by penalising sites which have large numbers of pages with ‘thin’ or low quality content. The signals it picks up on are high ad-to-content ratios on a page, pages with very little content at all, pages with little to no content above the fold (the visible part of the page just after loading) and pages with ‘spun’ content (i.e. that target particular keywords but contain no original or useful content).
You can visualise the Panda part of the algorithm like a big fishing net – sleek, good quality pages with lots of unique content and few ads slip easily through the holes whereas ugly, pointy, spiky pages full of auto-generated content and adverts get caught in the net and drag your site down in the rankings.
How to Combat Panda
If you think you’ve been slapped by a Panda then take a look at the quality of your pages. Are they providing valuable content to the user or are they just targeting valuable keywords? If it’s the latter you might want to scrap the offending pages altogether rather than letting them drag your whole site down.
Look at the user engagement metrics in Google Analytics – if these pages have high bounce rates, few return visitors and a low average time on page then they’re clearly not proving of use to your visitors so you can safely delete them or apply a ‘noindex’ attribute so that Google doesn’t crawl them.
A more serious problem might be that your page template results in a high ad-to-content ratio. If this is the case then think about changing your layout so that more of your content appears above the fold when your pages load.
The Penguin Update
Penguin went live in April 2012 and there’s been one data refresh (where Google runs the algorithm again) since. As with Panda we can expect these refreshes to occur every month or so.
Penguin has been dubbed an ‘anti-webspam’ update by Google and is primarily concerned with the links pointing at your site. Link networks, spammy blog and forum comment links, links from malware carrying sites and loads of links with suspicious looking anchor text (i.e. the terms you want to rank for) will all trigger a Penguin penalty if present in large enough quantities.
You can think about Penguin like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub – it’s looking at who you’re hanging out with. If you’ve only got recommendations (i.e. links) from known dodgy characters then you’re not getting through the door.
How to Combat Penguin
You need to try and distance yourself from the rabble and get some recommendations from trusted sources. In other words, try to sever the dodgy links and build links from high authority websites instead.
Prime suspects for causing a Penguin penalty are site-wide links from blogs, links from web directories with low PageRank and any links that look like they’ve been paid for (e.g. links to your site from a completely unrelated website but where the anchor text includes exactly the terms that you want to rank for).
Try to remove the most obviously manipulative of these links by contacting the website owners who put them there. This might yield some success and might not. The only other course of action is to drown out the negative signals with positive ones i.e. build better links from better websites using much more variety in link anchors.
These recent moves by Google form only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of algorithm updates they release annually but speak volumes as to Google’s loner term intentions for search: less spam, more quality.
The only sure-fire way to recover from Panda and Penguin penalties is to post only valuable, sharable engaging content on your website and to build only natural, varied and relevant links from external sites.
But you were doing that anyway right?
Jamie Griffiths is a writer, editor and thinker for Approved Index – the UK’s leading online B2B directory and marketplace.