The Panda Update And How The Penny Finally Dropped

It’s been a full month since the Panda 2 update rolled out across the US and UK, so following on from my previous posts about it, I thought I’d outline the changes I’m making now the dust has settled.

Firstly, I have always been a supporter of what Google were trying to achieve with this update. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be have been well implemented, with a raft of people being hit (it would seem) unfairly, and a load of worse websites getting an apparent boost in the rankings. This final point has muddied the waters somewhat and Amit Singhals recent post has done little to clear the murkiness. It would be easier to look at a penalised site and work out a strategy based on the guideline, but when you also look at sites that were as bad or worse, and have benefited, it becomes harder and more confusing. For now, there is little to do but follow the guidance.

The problem is that the guidance given is very subjective, and I empathise with Googles predicament here. Ideally they would give us some real world examples of websites that were hit, and ones that weren’t. But that won’t happen because Google never release that kind of detailed information for fear of it being analysed and reverse engineered. So we’re left with the guidance on that blog post, which is hard, and sometimes impossible for a webmaster to gauge their site against. Quality guidelines are all well and good, but if I’m bad at writing, that doesn’t make my content worthless.

So what are my plans?

So what do I do to ‘improve’ my hit website? Well, early on I did some fairly reactionary things:

  • removed Adsense (a small 200×200 block)
  • removed links to the website from the four Ezine articles I had written
  • reduced the number of links on the home page
  • merged some of the pages into one as described on this SEOmoz YouMoz article

In hindsight I don’t think any of these will really make a difference, but I still think they are good things to do for a smaller site like mine.

So the next real step is to take a deep breath and go through those pointers on Amit Singhals post, along with Richard Baxters response, point by point.

There were three statements that really made the penny drop for me though:

One by Michael Martinez of SEO Theory:

If your articles really ARE robust, unique, and truly “link worthy” then getting rid of all the clutter on your pages and in your site structure should free you of the Panda curse. Exorcise all those bad design and SEO choices you have made through the years.

…a brief Twitter exchange between Tom Critchlow and Matt Cutts:

Tom: “…assuming a site completely reworks their site/content after panda, how long before they will regain traffic?”
Matt: “…it’s not data that’s updated daily right now. More like when we re-run the algorithms to regen the data.”

So any updates won’t give me a quick improvement in rankings (if at all) – it will take time. That gift of time actually makes things a lot easier, and when you consider Matt Cutt’s statement about wanting websites to be packaged like Apple products, it makes the penny finally drop.

What I need to do

So, in my case I’m going to:

  1. Remove thin content – Yes, I did have some, and to be honest I surprised myself. They were so old, that frankly I had not looked in them over two years and had no cause to – they were dead as far as I was concerned, but still there in case anyone still needed the information.
    Google should probably have ignored them because of the date of the articles but they didn’t and in the case of the ‘Apple’ statement, I now think of them as those annoying advertising postcards you get stuffed in parcels from Amazon – they’re useless bits of the whole experience. If Apple were posting me something, I doubt they would be there.
  2. Redesign the website – I know it won’t make any difference for Panda but this update has caused me to be less scared about making changes. I would not change anything before for fear of it knocking me out the rankings but now I plan to simplify the site a little and trim of some of the fat – to be a little more focussed.

I’m almost glad for this opportunity to change things and improve, but it could have been done a whole lot better. For such a big update, I still thing they had the dial turned up too high. We’re probably still in the middle of it all and it will settle down, but at least I think I’m making progress, whether I actually do is another matter.