Panda 4.0 rolled out six weeks ago and we’ve learned a lot since then. I provided initial P4.0 findings on my blog, which covered the power of the nuclear option, subject matter experts surging, forums benefitting, Phantom victims recovering, and more. Then, after analyzing more companies impacted by Panda 4.0, I wrote a follow-up post here on Search Engine Watch explaining additional findings based on my analysis. The post covered syndication problems, indexation and Panda, keyword hoarding, and other interesting findings. If you have been impacted by Panda 4.0, then I recommend reading those posts to learn more about the signature of algorithm update.
In this post, I’m first going to cover some new information I’ve learned about Panda. Specifically, I’ll cover what I’m calling "Panda tremors," or increases and decreases in traffic over time since the algorithm update rolled out on May 20. Then I’m going to provide three offline Panda analogies to help those that have been impacted better understand what possibly caused their Panda attack. I know diagnosing Panda hits is a confusing topic, so I want to provide offline scenarios without focusing on SEO or Web lingo. The scenarios are based on actual Panda hits, and I’ve morphed them into everyday offline activities.
New Panda Information – Google Clarifies Panda Tremors
I mentioned earlier that I’ve consistently seen websites that were impacted by Panda 4.0 either increase or decrease over time. This seemed to happen weekly after Panda 4.0 rolled out. For the first few weeks, I only saw enhanced recovery or decrease (meaning that I didn’t see any ups and downs over time).
But recently, I have seen a few sites that surged each week, and then dropped back down slightly as the tremors continued. And I have seen sites that dropped for the first few weeks suddenly increase (not a full recovery, but definitely seeing a bump after seeing continual decreases).
I called these fluctuations "Panda tremors” and they have been fascinating (yet frustrating) to analyze. Based on what I was initially seeing, I asked Matt Cutts via Twitter if Panda 4.0 took longer to roll out, but he replied that Panda 4.0 actually rolled out quicker than usual!
So what are Panda tremors? Did Panda go real-time? Is it rolling out weekly now? We know that Panda 4.0 was a new algorithm with a new architecture, so it was definitely possible. So I asked John Mueller on Google+ and he had an interesting reply (and one that makes a lot of sense). He explained that there isn’t a set schedule for algorithm updates like Panda (although we know they try to roll it out once per month). Instead, Google will tweak the algorithm to make sure they get the best results.
So, the Panda tremors must have been tweaks to Panda 4.0 that were released into the wild versus the algorithm being real-time (or closer to real-time). Technically, Matt was right (and telling us the truth). P4.0 could have initially rolled out very quickly. But that doesn’t cover subsequent tweaks and updates. Those could have been rolling out weekly, which makes sense given the massive impact of Panda 4.0. So, if you are seeing tremors, just understand that Google could be tweaking the algorithm and pushing smaller updates out over time (without that being a full-fledged Panda update).
Now that we’ve covered some new Panda information, let’s work on diagnosing Panda hits via offline analogies.
User Engagement and Low-Quality Content - Offline Analogies for the Ailing Webmaster
After hearing from many companies since February of 2011 that have been negatively impacted by Panda (including P4.0), and speaking with a number of them about the algorithm, their websites, content, etc., it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of confusion. From not understanding the signature of the algorithm update to confusion about the timing of the rollouts to unrealistic expectations about recovery, there’s a ton of Panda confusion.
Diagnosing Why Your Site Was Viewed as Bamboo
I believe the most confusing aspect of Panda for business owners is understanding why they were hit. Forget about the rollout, the dates, realistic recovery percentages, etc., let’s talk about the root causes of a Panda hit.
I’ve mentioned many times before that Panda targets low-quality content. But "low-quality content" can mean many things. I’ve seen Panda target duplicate content, thin content, low-quality affiliate content, technical problems that cause content quality issues, scraped content, etc. This is why I’ve always said that Panda should have been named "Octopus." It has many tentacles.
This is an extremely confusing subject for the average webmaster that isn’t neck-deep in SEO, Panda work, and algorithm updates. Add the other factors I mentioned above like release schedule, recovery percentages, etc., and you’ve got the perfect storm of confusion for those that have been impacted. I can literally hear the frustration in the voices of business owners that have been hit when I first speak with them.
Panda Diagnosis – How Do Users Really Feel?
During my Panda work over the years, I’ve found that some webmasters are simply too close to their websites to understand how typical users feel about their content, their site design, how they navigate users through their websites, their advertising situation, etc. So, I’ve crafted some offline scenarios based on actual Panda hits that can hopefully get important points across (without focusing on Web or SEO lingo).
Sure, we have the 23 questions from Google, but those are older, and still confusing for some people. My offline analogies are tied to actual Panda hits, so my hope is that you can compare these scenarios to your own website. Then you can hopefully take action.
I recommend reading through all of the scenarios below and then taking a hard look at your own website. If you’ve been hit by Panda, you might see a connection or two (or more). If you do, then attack those problems, and fast.
Diagnosing Panda Hits Via Offline Analogies – How Would You Feel?
1. Steak Dinner and the Portion Problem
You’ve been looking for a great place to eat on Friday night. And you’re really hungry. A "trusted source" points you in the direction of a steak house, which sounds like an incredible place to get a serious filet mignon. You check the menu from outside the restaurant and see claims of "award-winning filet," "we are the authority on steaks," and "our 500K Facebook fans wouldn’t lie."
Well, you’re sold. You enter the restaurant and immediately notice the place needs some work. There’s a hole in the ceiling, the pictures on the walls are slightly off-kilter, there are a few lights out in the dining room, and you can literally see into the kitchen through a hole in the swinging traffic doors.
After reviewing the menu, you order the 14-ounce filet and can’t wait for it to arrive. The waiter, who you see through the hole in the swinging traffic doors mentioned above, puts the final touches on your dish and approaches the table. He places your entrée in front of you, and this is what you see.
You were expecting a fantastic 14-ounce filet mignon, at an elegant restaurant, with claims of awards, but what you received was an anemic steak in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You get up and bolt out the door, not even looking at the waiter on your way out.
And your next stop? It’s to the "trusted source," whose last name begins with a G and ends with an E, who recommended the establishment to let them know it was horrible. And that "person," well, they mark that down in a very special notebook. One that can be used in the future to tailor the recommendations they provide.
2. The Staggered Diagnosis
Your schedule has been crazy recently and you’ve come down with a nasty headache. Actually, it’s more like an extended migraine. Since it’s gone on for a few days, you are starting to get a little worried. You make an appointment with your doctor and she runs a series of tests. Then she calls you into her office to explain the results. You are both eager and nervous to hear the full test results.
She begins with an introduction to migraines, but stops only after a few paragraphs. She then asks you to step into the next office (down the hall) where she can continue providing information. You find that a little strange, but you’re eager to hear the full results. So, you end up moving to the next office.
Your doctor continues explaining more about the problem and begins to reveal your blood test results. But again, she stops and asks you to move to the next office where she can continue. Now you are frustrated and getting angry. Why do you need to move to another office just to hear the full diagnosis? Can’t you hear the entire diagnosis all in one office?
So you move once again to the next office, but in the hallway you are interrupted by a sales rep for an over-the-counter migraine medication. The rep says, "This will only take 15 seconds, but you can continue to the next office if you want." It reminded you of one of those roadblock ads you’ve seen online. You choose to move on to the next office and the sales rep disappears.
This goes on and on until you finally hear the full results (in the seventh office). By the way, you’re OK. "You’ll be as good as new," the doctor says, as she marks the number 28 on her whiteboard in the seventh office. "What’s that number?” you ask as you get ready to leave. "That’s the number of pictures you saw on my office walls during your visit. It’s an important metric for us to track as a medical practice. You know, sort of like a "cost-per-thousand picture impressions."
You leave the office nearly exhausted from the runaround. You’re happy with the overall findings, but the experience was horrible. You take a quick look around before getting in your car and you see a dozen other patients all as frustrated as you. You get the feeling all of them just had the same experience you did. And in aggregate, that can’t be good for the medical practice. They just may lose patients in the coming months. Heck, maybe all in one day.
3. Time Warp Dance
It’s summer and blockbuster movies are upon us. So, you gather your friends and head to a Mega Movie Plex with 24 theaters. You plan to see the latest action flick, based on incredible reviews.
Upon entering the theater, you quickly notice a problem. All that shows up on the screen is a still frame of the movie. There’s no motion, no story, and no audio. There seems to be a button next to the screen that says "Watch Now." So one of your adventurous friends runs up to the screen and hits the button. You are all transported to another theater in the Mega Movie Plex that has one employee, a computer, and a sign that reads "Download Now." The employee explains that you can watch the movie, but only using the Mega Movie Plex mobile app.
Confused, you and your friends run out of the theater trying to get back to the original theater you were in (to see the full movie on the big screen). But by running out the door, you now end up in the candy isle in the center of the Mega Movie Plex. Confused yet?
Based on the craziness you just experienced, you and your friends take out your phones to post what’s going on to Facebook. But as soon as your phones come out of your pockets, a message in the candy aisle quickly flashes "smartphone detected" and you are immediately redirected back to the room mentioned above with one employee and a "Download Now" sign. Yes, you were automatically redirected to the room where you can download the mobile app.
No matter how you try to watch the movie on the big screen, you end up being forced to download an app where you can watch the movie on your phone instead. As you are about to say something to the employee in the download room, another three groups of movie-goers zap into the room, all holding smartphones, and all with a surprised and confused look on their faces.
You and your friends run from the theater, never to return. You didn’t get to watch the movie, you were redirected all over the Movie Plex, and you were nearly forced to download a mobile app for watching movies. You go back to the "movie theater directory" to find another theater to watch the movie. The "movie theater directory," which rhymes with the word frugal, takes note of the influx of unhappy movie-goers and provides a new venue to visit. It also provides a link to learn more about theater problems like the one you just experienced (which includes a case study of how not to treat visitors).
Summary – Read Between the Lines for Panda Diagnosis and Recovery
If you have been hit by Panda 4.0, and are confused with why you were negatively impacted, then you should read through the scenarios listed above several times. Again, the analogies I provided are based on actual Panda case studies, including sites that were hit by Panda 4.0. I simply provided three scenarios in this post, but there are dozens more I could cover.
As I mentioned earlier, user engagement is critically important for Panda. If you anger users, provide a horrible user experience, present low-quality content, or deceive them in any way, the mighty Panda may pounce. Google can pick up when users are unhappy, and if that happens enough, you could be heading down a very dangerous path Panda-wise.
I recommend taking an extremely objective approach to analyzing your own website. Get unbiased third parties to review your site, your content, your design, your ads, etc. After having that analysis completed, you just might find a smoking gun (or a battery of smoking guns). Then it’s up to you to take action.