Panda Audit 101: The Roadmap to Complete Panda Recovery

Have you seen a noticeable decrease in your site’s traffic? Did your site fail to recover from a Penguin update? Do you have lots of old pages sitting on your domain, or pages that have very short content created in the olden days?

It’s time to consider a comprehensive Panda audit!

In this article, we’ll go through a 10-step Panda audit that enables a website administrator to do four things:

  • Gather data
  • Evaluate pages to determine what to keep, what to modify, and what to throw away
  • Perform a technical audit based on observations gained from the use of webmaster tools
  • Optimize every page for Google’s standards

Ready to recover your Google traffic?

google-panda-logo

Google’s Panda update runs on an ongoing basis and can significantly impact how pages are ranked.

1. Start by Creating an “All Pages” List

Compile a list of all of your site’s pages into a spreadsheet. This will, of course, be different for every site depending on how many pages your site contains and how the site was programmed.

There are five ways to do this.

  • Search site:www.domain.com (both with and without “www”) to locate the pages that Google has indexed for your site.
  • If you’re using a CMS site like WordPress, perform a CMS export all of your pages, including category pages, product pages, URLs, etc.
  • Download a list of top pages that Google has indexed for your site with Google Webmaster Tools. Simply go to Search Traffic >Search Queries>Top Pages and download the table with the URLs and whatever other information you need.
  • Create a similar list using Google Analytics by going to Behavior>Site Content>All Pages
  • Use an SEO spider tool and website crawler such as Screaming Frog to replicate a Google site scrape.

screaming-frog

Use a website crawler like Screaming Frog to imitate how Google would scrape your site.

2. Get Rid of Duplicate URLs

So now you have all of your website’s URLs in a spreadsheet. Use Excel’s internal duplicate remover to get rid of the duplicates. If you don’t like Excel’s functionality, there are third-party tools that remove duplicates just as easily.

3. Gather URL Data and Page Metrics

There are three steps to this process. The first requires the help of URL Profiler.

URL Profiler is an amazing, intuitive tool that makes Panda auditing a whole lot easier by helping you gather information about your URLs. Your export will contain more than 50 metrics, which you’ll use to analyze your site.

For seamless data collection, link URL Profiler with API to your SEO Tools and Analytics. You’ll now have metrics such as word count, reading time, readability score, and multimedia content.

The downside is that Webmaster Tools (WMT) does not currently allow users to export top pages through their API. It would be incredibly helpful if they did. If you have the time, or have an assistant, consider adding columns for WMT data manually.

The second step is to weed out duplicate content. Panda hates duplicate content, and it is one of the primary triggers to the diminished Quality Scores that have plagued so many webmasters since Panda’s release.

Finding and removing it requires some help from Copyscape.

You can use a feature on URL Profiler that adds a link to the Copyscape profile of a page containing duplicates. Or, you can just create a separate report directly from Copyscape. This way usually makes it easier to read and decipher. Also, it enables you to run a batch search on Copyscape and export your results to CSV.

Next, go through every one of the alerts and deal with them independently.

The final step of gathering data and page metrics is to evaluate your content. You now have five options for each page:

  • keep it
  • refresh it
  • add to it
  • redirect it to a more relevant page
  • get rid of it altogether

Add five columns on your spreadsheet next to each URL to indicate which of the preceding actions you’ll take for each page. But how do you decide what to do? Sort each page using five qualifying factors.

  • Page views: For this category, sort the domains listed by URL from low to high. You’ll get a clear snapshot of the URLs that are getting the least traffic. Before you ditch these low-value pages, make sure you’re not just using the wrong keywords. Also check word count. If they don’t have enough content to justify their presence, especially if they have bad keyword optimization, these pages may not be worth keeping.
  • Average time spent on page: The most engaging, compelling content will keep visitors on the page for more than 30 seconds. Use a high-to-low filter in this category to see which pages keep visitors the longest. Google measures bounce rates, so you should, too.
  • Word count: Measure this category low to high. Generally, the cutoff is 300 words. Longer content that is more compelling and in-depth measures better. Trim the fat starting with short, choppy content.
  • When in doubt, hold: There are many reasons that a page doesn’t perform well. Unless it’s obviously too short or if it flops across all metrics, it may just have keywords that are too competitive, it may need better linking or it may need to have its content refreshed. Basically, don’t scrap it if there is a possibility that it can be refurbished.

4. Optimize Your Pages

So now you have a list of pages you want to keep, remove, and optimize. After you keep the ones you’re keeping and toss the ones you’re not, it’s time to do the hard work of optimizing the pages that you want to hang on to, but need to improve to make sure they’re pulling their weight with maximum traffic.

This happens in three phases: keyword research, on-page element optimization, and content refreshing.

First, establish a list of target keywords. Take this step beforehand by matching the best keyword with the right article or do it concurrently.

The second step is to optimize on-page elements. You can do this in a spreadsheet beforehand and then transfer it to WordPress, or just make the changes directly in your CMS. Doing it beforehand on a spreadsheet comes with the benefit of making changes as you go when you find different pages that are relevant to the same keyword. Use an On-Page Optimization Spreadsheet Template as a guide. Always be sure to consistently reference your keyword spreadsheet so each page is optimized for the right terms.

The third and final step is by far the most in-depth and time consuming. Refreshing and adding content starts the recovery process. Otherwise you’ll have to wait months without seeing any results while the new content gets finished.

The first step is to beef up all of the pages that had insufficient word counts. Add updated content to old pages and make any dated material “evergreen” by removing references to dates or specific incidents. This entails re-reading all content to see which pages are filled with cobwebs. Add multi-media like photos and videos wherever you can.

If you spot new keyword opportunities, don’t be afraid to build new content around those keywords.

This third stage will be costly and time-consuming, but it is absolutely necessary if your Quality Score is important to you.

5. Run a Technical Audit

So now you have the pages you want to keep and the pages you want to get rid of — and you also have optimized the pages that weren’t up to par. Now it is time to use a variety of tools to see what’s going on with the technical aspects of your site.

For the technical audit, you’ll use Google Webmaster Tools, Page Speed, and your favorite website auditing software.

Webmaster Tools are designed to give you a report directly from Google about what on your site needs improvement, like crawl errors, page statistics, pages with too few inbound links or short meta descriptions, and incorrect fetching. Go down the interface like a checklist and export all relevant reports to a new checklist.

Optimizing page speed is imperative as bandwidth capacity continues to increase and the average Web consumer expects faster and faster browsing. For this task, use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool, and remember to start with your most important pages. Google does the work, giving you a list of suggestions, such as minify HTML and JavaScript, optimizing images, and enabling compressions.

page-speed-google

Page Speed can help you find opportunities for improvement in speed.

Two pieces of good news here. First, Google helps you fix both mobile and desktop. Second, if you’re using WordPress, you’ll only have to fix the code for the theme, not every individual page.

Finally, invest in website auditing software to crawl your pages and look for areas that need work, such as pages with indexing and crawlability problems, problems with redirects, encoding and technical issues, URL problems, bad links, and on-page issues. Deepcrawl.co.uk is my favorite tool for a technical audit.

6. Help Google by Tagging Content

Microdata tags are good for Google because tagging helps Google to determine that your webpage really is about what it says it’s about.

By incorporating schema markup code into your existing HTML, Google can see what different parts of your code means. Schema.org is the result of a collaboration between Google, Yahoo, and Bing to create relevant tags.

There are hundreds of tags available, but Google Webmaster Tools: Data Highlighter provides all you need for a Panda audit. When you go to Data Highlighter and click “Start Highlighting,” you’ll enter the URL and click “Tag this page and others like it.”

Once you mark up a few pages, Google will understand your template and do the rest for you.

If you are using WordPress, implement schema.org markup directly at the theme level if you would like the markup directly on your site. Otherwise, consider All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets or Schema Creator by Raven. If you’re not using WordPress, find out how to add these tags directly so they’re built into the code of your site.

The open graph tagging protocol directly affects social sharing, which then impacts Google organic. Use open graph tags to optimize how titles, descriptions, and images appear in social feeds. For WordPress, install the Yoast plugin, click “Social,” and add the required information. Not on WordPress? Check out Moz for all the tags you’ll need.

If your website has multiple attributes for the same URL, use canonical tags.

Tracking tags are appropriate to consolidate if you have multiple tags on various pages when using Facebook or AdWords. Google Chrome’s Tag Assistant is a great way to check your pages.

yoast

If you use WordPress, Yoast is a great tagging resource.

7. Conduct a Usability Audit

Google wants to provide more than just relevant results. They want to provide results that lead to the best user experience. Optimize your site for usability to get the best engagement metrics. Remember when you used Google Analytics to evaluate individual pages? Now it’s time to revisit this concept in an effort to gain an understanding about how users are interacting with your site overall.

Here is a great resource on how to pull it off.

Determine whether or not your site architecture makes sense by reverse engineering your site navigation. One of the best ways to do this is to use a mindmapping tool. Always look for ways to “tighten up” your infrastructure, such as getting rid of orphan pages.

Consider adding a site search engine. This enables users to find what they’re looking for on your site through an internal search. This will enhance their experience and keep them on your site longer.

Activating breadcrumbs can be an easy way to help with SEO and user experience. Check out how in Google’s SEO Starter Guide. Also, use pagination to get deeper content indexed, and to send links to internal pages.

8. Don’t Neglect Mobile Optimization

It is impossible to exaggerate how dominant mobile search is becoming and how important a mobile element is to your SEO campaign. It is imperative to evaluate how your site shows up in mobile searches. Responsive Web design is the most popular method of mobile site conversion and also the one most highly recommended by Google.

Make sure all your redirects are working properly and that users have the option of switching to the desktop version. Make sure canonical tags are enabled and that you uploaded a mobile XML sitemap.

Make sure that your site looks good on all devices, including mobile phones and tablets. Also, ensure that links are easy to click and that users can call directly from your site.

Like your desktop site, page load speed is crucial for mobile, as well. If you already implemented the recommendations of Page Speed, you may not have to take any extra steps.

9. Add Business Validation Markers

Google has declared war on shady SEO practices. The surest way to let Google know you’re not an unscrupulous practitioner of black-hat SEO is through business validation markers.

Create an “about” page with clickable contact numbers. Include a physical address, terms of service, and a privacy policy, along with testimonials, social profiles, industry associations, and secure banners.

10. Keep Track of Changes

Now that you’ve taken all the steps to full Panda compliance, it is crucial to monitor your website and see how it reacts to all these changes. Track keyword rankings, as well as page depth and bounce rate. Measure pages per session, goal completions, and average time on site. Always keep an eye on your comments and keep track of your social shares and, of course, sales. The whole point is to see if all of the pro-Panda adjustments you made improved rankings and traffic.

Google changes their algorithms frequently, and keeping up with their new requirements can be tedious and time-consuming. But the reality is, Google is merely trying to keep pace with an evolving online world. In doing so, they make changes — like Panda — and those changes filter down to you. In the end, making the effort to keep up with those changes will benefit your business.

Not Sure Where to Start?

With Google running Panda algorithmic updates frequently, Panda Audits have become an essential aspect of SEO. No amount of link-building can help if your site is suppressed by a Panda Audit. Removing any potential hindrances for your site’s ranking is important in order to improve your organic presence.

Have questions about how to complete a Panda Audit? Don’t hesitate to shoot us an email with any questions you have and request our free Panda Audit e-book.

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