The six month anniversary of Google's Panda update passed quietly yesterday - guess everyone was too distracted dealing with the latest tweak to the algorithm to notice. The only article I saw was by ZDnet reporting that HubPages CEO Paul Edmondson says SEO doesn’t work (seriously guys, three exclamation in the headline?).
Panda has created a scenario where publishers who don't embrace SEO are condemned to feel the sting of what happens when they don't. SEO DOES WORK but you can't rely on your father's methods anymore.
The battle between marketers and Google has been raised to a very high level and as more and more of everyday decisions are being made with the help of search, the stakes have become critical. Many businesses operate totally online without the net of a brick and mortar business to support them when things go wrong.
The intent of Panda was "designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites–sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites–sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on," Google told us on the fateful day six months ago.
While Google's intent was to clean the SERPs of low quality and duplicate content, the initial impact saw a large number of good sites experience huge traffic drops. Many have yet to bounce back, while others are starting to gain back their ground.
If you have not read Google's Webmaster Guidelines there is a good chance you have not done all your homework. Relying on articles from others to come up with your answers is not the answer. Sure, you can use them to get some idea of where to start, but the site and topics of your content are all yours (unless you are scraping or duplicating others' content) and you need your own frame of reference to make the right decisions.
What Panda has shown is that changes have been different for sites based on their content and language - the algorithm seems to have the ability to differentiate the topics and languages and use the information to create changes in the SERPs that are tailored to that information. Publishers of widespread topics have had the toughest time as what may work to help one area could hurt another, and in most cases they are using a single method to correct their problems.
For a starting point I recommend looking at the "design and content guidelines" Google outlines, but extend their suggestions and work some of the recommendations others are offering.
While I can understand why a furniture site that has been around since before Google is offering $25,000 to anyone who can get them out of the Panda wasteland, it is the proactive response of DaniWeb that has shown there is a way if you take that step back and concentrate on your content and your industry. Dani Horowitz worked on improving her content and the site's overall SEO and while Panda still hurt, new rankings helped offset some of the sting. But a new tweak to Panda had the site back and the efforts brought along even more traffic.
"Panda 2.3 went live on July 23rd and traffic just instantly jumped back up to normal that very day," Horowitz tells Search Engine Watch. "We're now seeing traffic at the same pre-Panda highs in some countries, while other countries are even better than ever. Overall, we're seeing more pageviews than ever before."
Another site hit by Panda was Pocket-Lint, whose owner contacted Search Engine Watch as he was confused about why his site's traffic had suddenly dried up. We diagnosed a few issues, and earlier this month Stuart Miles reported that "after 2 months of redesigning and tweaking, Panda 2.2 arrived, and our traffic is back. In fact, thanks to the changes we've implemented in the meantime, it’s even higher than it was before the original algorithm hit. We also believe we have a better site for it."
Among the fixes they implemented were improving the navigation, removing, reorganizing and merging content, reducing advertising, removing duplicate content, and cleaning up HTML code.
To counter the Panda algorithm you need to know your industry - many who dropped the most and are still there may have not had to do that before, as they were at the top and thought others needed to copy them. SEO has changed and Panda is just part of it - local and mobile have grown in importance, and how we interact with the search engines has also changed.
Become more knowledgable about your industry but try to include your users' perspectives. The one big tip I got from Google is that they have used their technical advances to reconnect with how they started.
Google's algorithm at its start mirrored how scholarly articles referenced other studies - those referenced most often were generally the seminal works on the subject. Unfortunately, this lead to link buying and link spam. Panda is an attempt to return to these early methods, but Google can now apply latent semantics and understands duplicated content better.
Read the articles below and then apply your own knowledge - remember Panda is not one answer fits all, if it was SEO would be easy.