Getting hit by Panda is a horrible experience. I've helped a number of companies deal with Panda's wrath since February 2011, and business owners typically exhibit some combination of fear, frustration, and anger when they contact me. It's easy to understand why.
Most businesses hit by Panda are hemorrhaging revenue, as organic search traffic plummets by a large percentage. Some businesses have seen traffic drop by 60 to 70 percent overnight. That's a tough pill to swallow, especially when Google is a core source of revenue.
Understanding the catastrophic impact to businesses is why I'm extremely aggressive with my approach to Panda recovery. I'd rather have a client recover and build upon a clean foundation rather than sit in the gray area of Panda without knowing how close they are to recovery. And sitting in the gray area can drive a business owner mad.
The Relentless Pounding of Panda
After performing a thorough Panda audit, there are times audit presentations are 40-60 slides in PowerPoint covering the various changes that need to be made. The changes are based on my experience with Panda (knowing the various triggers that could cause a hit). Needless to say, you can sometimes hear a pin drop during those presentations, as webmasters begin to understand the amount of work involved to send Panda packing.
At that point, it's common to hear the following question: "Can we start by fixing one or two items, wait to see if we recover, and then move on from there if we don't?"
Although the thought process is totally understandable here, it's the wrong approach. My recommendations are based on analyzing SEO problems I have seen on many websites hit by Panda and Phantom. Companies shouldn't cherry pick changes.
The problems need to be rectified from both a usability and SEO standpoint, and sooner than later. If a significant amount of changes aren't made, then companies open themselves up to future Panda attacks. And if there's anything more frustrating than getting hit by Panda once, it's getting hit by Panda multiple times.
Remember, Panda targets low-quality content (and poor user engagement as a result). If you only fix one problem out of seven, then you can end up getting stuck in the gray area of Panda, or worse, you open yourself up to the relentless pounding of Panda over time. And the yo-yo effect can break down a business owner's will even more than never recovering.
An Example of Panda Pounding
Unfortunately, several companies have approached me over the past few years for help after having experienced the relentless pounding of Panda. It's always amazing to analyze their Google organic trending when I begin helping them, as you can easily see the yo-yo effect in action.
For example, I've provided the trending below for a client who was hit three separate times during Panda updates, and once by Phantom (which also targeted low quality content). This client also recovered from Panda once, only to get hit again during the Phantom update of May 8.
Band-Aids Can Be Temporary
Temporary fixes – or making just enough changes to pass the Panda threshold and recover – are what cause the yo-yo effect. As time goes on, and other problems remain (e.g., user engagement problems), Panda might come back and hit the site again.
Then more changes are made, and again, they are just enough to recover. The pounding subsides, but only until a Panda update hits once again.
When you add up all of the time involved with getting hit multiple times, putting band-aids on the site, recovering, and then getting hit again, a company could have (and should have) made all of the changes that were recommended in the first place. Implementing all of the changes mapped out during an audit can help Panda-proof the site.
For example, let's say I analyzed a website hit hard by Panda and came up with a number of core changes that need to be implemented. Maybe they include removing doorway pages, cutting down on duplicate content, enhancing or removing key landing pages, and revamping the navigation (based on a heavy cross-linking problem).
If the company only removes doorway pages, is that enough to recover from Panda in the long-term? What if they end up recovering, only to get hit again due to thin content landing pages (or other problems)?
When you break it down, the website has numerous problems that could be impacting it from a Panda standpoint. Addressing one or two problems, while leaving several in place, isn't a long-term solution for keeping Panda at bay.
So, based on my experience helping business owners with Panda, here are some recommendations for long-term success:
- Have a thorough SEO audit completed to identify problematic areas from a Panda standpoint. Thorough audits are the most powerful deliverable in all of SEO.
- Look beyond just SEO. One important thing I have learned during Panda work is that the right changes truly make the site better. There are no tricks involved… It comes down to building a better website. Engagement matters, user experience matters, great content matters, and organization matters.
- Prioritize all recommended changes with the help of your SEO provider (whether that's an internal SEO, consultant, or agency). SEO professionals who have worked on several Panda projects can bring valuable insight about past experiences and recoveries.
- Once you have your plan (which should include most, if not all, of the changes recommended), execute at a high level and at a fast pace. Panda is supposed to roll out monthly and can take 10 days to fully roll out. The bad news is that Google isn't confirming Panda updates anymore, but the good news is that you technically have a chance to recover once per month.
- Once you make all of the changes, don't sit back and wait. Keep driving forward by building killer content, using social media to get the word out, analyzing your reporting to identify areas of opportunity, etc. As I documented in a Panda recovery case study, "act like you're not being impacted by Panda. Just keep going." This can help you send the right signals to Google, even when you are being hampered by the Panda filter.
Summary – Be Thorough, Objective, and Aggressive to Win the Panda Battle
If you leave this post with just one key piece of information, it's that band-aid fixes might not be effective over the long-term. Panda can absolutely strike again, and when it returns, you need to make sure it rolls past your camp versus stomping all over it.
Understand the major problems impacting your site, and develop a thorough plan for fixing those problems. That's how you can Panda-proof your website. Good luck.