As 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:
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.
Journalistic style features short and easy to read paragraphs.
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.
More often than not these sites have lean pages. Properly formatted footers without tonnes of boilerplate content.
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:
- Install a responsive magazine theme and make all the images look gorgeous. I used a beautiful magazine theme from Themeforest.
- Properly formatted the sidebars to show popular posts, latest posts, random posts, each with thumbnails.
- Add social media icons to header.
- 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.
- Reduced ads above the fold.
- No more than two affiliate links per post. At least 50% of total posts without affiliate links.
- Make my footer more lean, just with copyright notice and links to main pages sections on the site, plus legal pages.
- Reduce keyword density on all pages to 1-2%.
- Add at least two images to every post on the site. All of them are unique.
- Embed rich media and videos where appropriate.
- More bullet points and lists.
- Reviews featuring “both sides of the story”. Amended all reviews to have positives and negatives of each reviewed item.
- Related posts with thumbnail beneath all posts.
- Added Disqus comments.
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.