Google's Panda update is the hot topic in the affiliate world and with good reason. Affiliate sites, in general, are more susceptible to the effects of Panda, which have caused some sites to lose anywhere from 20 to 95 percent of their organic traffic from Google in a single month.
What is Panda?
Panda is a series of updates to the Google search algorithm designed to distinguish high quality sites from low quality ones, with the ultimate goal of providing the user with the most relevant and useful content for their search query. Simply: if an affiliate doesn’t add value to their site beyond what the supplier provides, they could see a negative effect to their page ranking through Panda’s criteria.
How will you know that this drop in rankings is a result of Panda and not another kind of penalty? If your drop in traffic from Google coincides with one of the Panda rollouts, then there is a good chance it’s Panda. Check your analytics and investigate which pages and keywords have been most affected.
Also, if you haven’t done it already, read the Google Guidelines to make sure your site isn’t involved in any practices that may result in a penalty.
Panda’s Criteria For Website Rankings and How to Respond to its Changes
Many affiliates are run by small teams that don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to constantly create fresh, quality content. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here. If you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, you will need to take action.
It’s important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach. However, after analyzing many affiliate sites, there are a number of consistencies, along with a few pitfalls to avoid.
Content taken directly from other sites is a huge red flag as this is likely to add little value to the user experience. If your site has content from other sources it is imperative to rewrite, edit and provide your own take on it according to what your niche audience needs.
This is a good business practice anyway as content created specifically for your audience will be more applicable and should help drive conversion. A good tool for this is Copyscape.
A thin affiliate is the negative term given to affiliate sites that don't produce what Google considers to be valuable online content. Basically, if an affiliate site exists to solely make money and fails to offer value beyond that then the site is a thin affiliate.
The Google Quality Guidelines Handbook, used by Google to manually review sites, is very explicit in what it considers to be a thin affiliate. The guidelines aren’t related directly to Panda, but it’s safe to say that many of the points it specifies also apply to the Panda algorithm. Any content that is considered thin should be rewritten so that it focuses on adding value to the user.
High Bounce Rates & Number of Page Views
When users visit a site and consistently click back to return to the search results, that is an indicator to Google that the site isn’t relevant to the search query. It is important to build pages that engage the user and compel the user to stick around and explore your site. Check your analytics to see which pages have the highest bounce rate and work on making them more valuable.
Number of Times the Site Has Been Blocked by Users
If your site appears in the Google search listings and a significant amount of users select the option to block it, this could have a negative impact on the rankings. On the other hand, if users show an interest on your site by bookmarking it (or hitting the +1 button), this is a clear signal to Google that your site is useful and engaging. Again, it all goes back to having content that is helpful and applicable to the market you are trying to serve.
Amount of Ad Space
Sites with a high ratio of ads to content have a greater chance of being impacted. If your site must have ads, keep it to a reasonable amount and be sure to put them below the fold.
Use of Templates
The days of laying out a template and relying on a paid search campaign or making use of SEO shortcuts to gain traffic are gone. Sites that use templates need to add fresh content and keep everything tailored to the target audience.
While Panda can result in a negative hit for some, it also offers a huge opportunity for those affiliate sites with a clearly designed value proposition and a purpose to excel.
Your challenge is to take advantage of this opportunity. Going forward, successful affiliate sites need to carefully determine and aggressively pursue their niche, whatever that may be.
Think about the customer and what type of content they want to read and interact with. This is essential to differentiating your site from others.