My Google Panda Recovery Story (And insightful analysis..)

Matt Cutts PandaAs some of you may or may not know, i have been subject to the wrath of various Google critters over the last couple of months. My last post summarized the causes of this, basically it was because i got greedy and cared more about profit than user experience.

That being said, i have now recovered a couple of my sites from Google panda.

These are more or less full recoveries. And i am talking about recoveries after being taken out of the top 100 for all of the terms i was targeting.

Basically Google nuked my traffic and then i got it back by taking the steps mentioned later in this article.

My Main Google Panda Theory

I can’t take full credit for this, a number of my ideas came from Michael Martinez and ¬†a few other people who posted intelligent analysis on forums.

So first of all, lets take a step back and talk about the origins of Panda.

Panda first came about as an algorithm to weed out bad sites. Google got together with quality raters and made samples of good sites, and then samples of bad sites. If you showed characteristics of good sites you didn’t get penalized, if you showed characteristics of bad sites then you got penalized.

Now if you were Google what would the quickest, easiest and most cost efficient way of doing this?

You see, a lot of marketers have gone down the wrong path and have wrongly assumed things like time on site and bounce rate are incredibly important to this algorithm. My opinion is that, although they MAY play some kind of role, i think the biggest role is actually the look, feel and usability of the site.

You see, lets take a sample of sites that Google quality raters would rate as very high quality, here are 10:

  1. http://www.webmd.com/
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  5. http://www.imdb.com/
  6. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/index.html
  7. http://edition.cnn.com/
  8. http://www.wikihow.com/Main-Page
  9. http://www.tripadvisor.com/
  10. http://www.forbes.com/home_usa/

Now i could name plenty more, and as you may notice, many of them are news sites, however i am confident when Google raters look at sites like these, they definitely feel favorably about them.

I won’t go in to the negative side of sites to deeply at the moment, because right now i want to make a list of commonalities between all of the sites Google looks favorably at and then hint at ways you can make your site look like these.

So the main qualities that these sites share are:

Lots of images and interactive media

One of the key qualities i see between all sites is that they feature a lot of images and rich media. If you look at posts on any of the sites above, each of them have multiple unique images with captions, often slideshows, formatted quotes, bullet points and lists.

Beneath the posts you will often find related posts with thumbnails. Sidebars will often have links to other content, often with images.

Short Paragraphs

Journalistic style features short and easy to read paragraphs.

Updated Frequently

All of the sites are updated frequently. Especially the homepage.

Interlink to internal content

Not much needs to be said here, most sites interlink very well from within the body content to other related pages on the site.

Lean Pages

More often than not these sites have lean pages. Properly formatted footers without tonnes of  boilerplate content.

Large Sites

None of these sites are small. All have thousands upon thousands of pages.

Good formatting and Usability

Sites are formatted well and are super easy to use.

One commonality between most of the top 500 content sites (According to Alexa) is that many seem to have a right hand sidebar approx 300px wide. With internal content links, often with images incorporated in the sidebar.

Social media icons are often placed within the header.

My Step By Step Recovery Process

Now those are the commonalities i found between the high quality pages. You can do the same yourself, just take a look at Alexa site rankings and go through some of the most popular content sites on the web and look for similarities. (If you can think of any more it would be cool if you posted your feedback in the comments).

Anyway, this is exactly what i did to recover my site from Panda. Some of these things may or may not have helped, this is the process i took:

  1. Install a responsive magazine theme and make all the images look gorgeous. I used a beautiful magazine theme from Themeforest.
  2. Properly formatted the sidebars to show popular posts, latest posts, random posts, each with thumbnails.
  3. Add social media icons to header.
  4. Reduce boiler plate content on all pages. Previously i had about 50 links, all with the anchor text “Site name review” which looked pretty spammy to say the least. These are now gone.
  5. Reduced ads above the fold.
  6. No more than two affiliate links per post. At least 50% of total posts without affiliate links.
  7. Make my footer more lean, just with copyright notice and links to main pages sections on the site, plus legal pages.
  8. Reduce keyword density on all pages to 1-2%.
  9. Add at least two images to every post on the site. All of them are unique.
  10. Embed rich media and videos where appropriate.
  11. More bullet points and lists.
  12. Reviews featuring “both sides of the story”. Amended all reviews to have positives and negatives of each reviewed item.
  13. Related posts with thumbnail beneath all posts.
  14. Added Disqus comments.

Key Takeaways

Then as previously said, after completely changing the design and making all of these changes, the site came right back to original rankings after about 20 days (Which i assumed was the refresh of panda data).

To me when you look at things logically, it would make sense that Google uses site structure and appearance as well as a few other easily measured metrics to determine whether a site is high quality or not.

Lets be honest though, it’s easy to tell which sites Google loves, either in your niche or in other industries.

Look at these authority sites that Google would never penalize in a million years and look for commonalities.

You can definitely find similarities between all of these popular media sites.

There is a reason why it is getting harder and harder to rank low quality sites. There are literally a thousand ways you can go wrong as a webmaster. You really do need to have all bases covered in terms of content quality, layout and brand appearance, usability and internal linking etc.

If you slip up on just a few of these things, you put yourself in a difficult position, than can pretty much be avoided by making your site look legit.

11 Responses to “My Google Panda Recovery Story (And insightful analysis..)”
  1. Jess

    Congrats on recovering from Panda. It’s amazing how many stories abound about what changes are necessary to make a dent in seo.

    The old tried and true of simply observing what the winners are doing in any niche never gets old.

    Appreciate you sharing your first hand account surviving Google safari.

  2. Loz James

    Hi Andy

    Great roundup on how you recovered from Panda, I’d been waiting for you to publish this after your last post. Your findings kind of confirmed my hopes/suspicions :-)

    I’d love to interview you for my podcast on how you did this. If you’re interested please email me.

    Cheers!

    Loz

    • Andy

      Hey Loz, sent you an email :)

  3. junkdna

    Yeah, you missed one thing.

    All these goody-goody sites have one another thing in common. They do not direct link their affiliate links. Their affiliate links point to an inner site’s page of the kind: “Thank You for Visiting Us!” or “You are now leaving our site. Please wait to be redirected”. Than script takes you out to the affiliate target page on the another site.

    Possibly it can be even more elaborate than that, that script checks if you are person or a bot and than sends a bot to an inner page etc.

    • Andy

      This is super interesting, something i have seen also. Are there any scripts out there like this to purchase? I might consider getting one coded and sell it if not.

  4. Michal

    Hey Andy, care to share that wordpress template you used??? Thanks..

    • Andy

      Its from mythemeshop i have a review with affiliate link on the site if you are interested.

  5. Susan Velez

    Hi Andy,

    Wish I would’ve found your blog sooner. I had several sites that were penalized when Google made their updates. They were sites that I was building automated backlinks and making a nice income.

    They all got penalized and my traffic and income dropped like a rock. Instead of reviving them I just let them go. I didn’t think it was possible to revive them.

    But after reading your post I see that you were able to get yours back. Thanks for sharing this information with your readers…I know that it will help out a lot of people who were penalized or want to know what Google is looking for. Good luck with your online journey and I’ll be back to read some more.

    • Andy

      Hey Susan, i am glad you enjoyed the site.

      There was another Penguin update the other day, and the site i recovered has been penalized again. Will have a new post up soon talking about my observations from studying the SERPS and my site that got hit.

      Although it sucks, its definitely a learning experience :-)

  6. CY

    hi Andy:

    First time visitor to your blog and found your content useful :)

    how’s your experience with latest Penguin 2.1 update?

    I have two EMDs targetting low competition keywords.

    1 got hit badly – I built links to it with Linkchicks service, two high PR private links, few webs 2.0

    the second one is still ranking on the first page – only few web 2.0 links

    Also I observe increase in traffic for one of my authority site – I did very little link buildings..

    Go figure ;)

  7. Michal

    Hey Andy, care to share your observations?? :)

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