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How To Identify a Google Panda Update Penalty

panda-3Also known as the farmer update, Google’s “Panda” update is a ranking algorithm filter designed to lower the rank of low-quality websites. When a website is triggered by this filter, it can have severe consequences on its ranking and ultimately it’s traffic. Hundreds of webmasters have reported seeing their sites drop completely off Google’s radar as a result of this update. Such significant drops in the search engine results page (SERPS) can have detrimental consequences for an online business.

Google originally rolled out its infamous Panda update in February 2011. Google claimed the initial phase of its Panda update significantly affected approximately 12% of searches, but if you frequent some of the leading SEO blogs and forums, you’ll get the impression that a higher percentage of sites are negatively affected buy the Google Panda update.

There’s nothing more discouraging than checking your site’s rankings for the day only to discover a free fall into the abyss. The first step in bouncing back, however, is to determine whether or not you are a victim of the Panda update.

What Triggers a Panda Update Penalty?

According to a blog post published by Google Web Spam team leader Matt Cutts, “This update is 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 remains the world’s most popular search engine because of their proactive approach towards delivering quality, relevant search results. If Google allowed junk sites with little-to-no value clog their index, users would looks for a different search engine to use. This of course would result in less advertising revenue generated by the search engine giant.

In keeping up their past behavior, Google remains somewhat ambiguous as to what exactly triggers a rankings drop during a Panda update. Sure, we know that “low-quality” and “thin” websites are at risk of lower rankings during a Panda update, but how do we classify websites this way?

Here are some factors which may contribute to a lower ranking during a Panda update:

  • Duplicate content (page or site-wide).

  • Using keywords or phrases excessively.

  • Irrelevant page titles.

  • Generic, low-quality content.

  • Low Google user click-through rate (CTR).

  • Large portion of visitors exiting out of your site without visiting an additional page (known as bounce rate).

  • Content riddles with spelling and/or grammar mistakes.

  • Cross-linking unrelated sites.

  • Unnatural link-building practices.

Careful With Your Link Building!

Building “unnatural” backlinks pointing to your website will increase your chance of getting slapped during a Panda update. In March 2012, Google released a statement saying the Panda update would include “over-optimized” websites in an effort to level the playing field for other webmasters. Cranking out an excessive number of backlinks in a short period of time is one example of “over-optimization.” In the past, webmasters could get away with this type of deceitful behavior. Now, though, Google is knocking sites down left and right for unnatural link building practices.

Generally speaking, you want to let the backlinks come to you. I know some webmasters are eager to spend their free time pumping out high-PR backlinks, but this really isn’t helpful in today’s age. Instead, focus on building quality content that people actually want to read. In turn, your visitors will share your content on social media and other mediums, which generates free, natural backlinks.

Is a Panda Update Really To Blame?

>Before you start pointing fingers at the cute little Panda, you should perform some investigative work to determine if it’s truly to blame. If a website has severely violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, they may ban it from their search results. It’s important to note, however, that a ban is not the same as a Panda-induced ranking penalty. Banned websites won’t show up in the SERPS at all, while Panda-penalized sites will show up, but with significantly lower rankings.

One tool (free to use) I recommend to help identify a Panda penalty is Panguin. This tool allows users to compare the site’s Google Analytics data against recorded Panda and Penguin (another infamous algorithm filter) updates. You simply sign into your Google Analytics account and compare your site’s Google traffic to recent Panda updates. If there’s a significant drop in traffic around the time of an update, Panda is likely to blame.

If you don’t have Google Analytics installed (you should), you can view a list of significant changes in Google’s search engine algorithm at moz.com/google-algorithm-change. Look for updates around the same time when your rankings/traffic began to die off.

It’s oftentimes difficult to determine whether or not a Google Panda update is to blame for a drop in rankings. Since Google doesn’t come out to say “Hey, your site is suffering from a Panda penalty,” webmasters must use other means to identify triggers.