How to Recover from Panda Dance

by Jason Acidre on August 28, 2013 · 35 comments · Search


In early June this year, Matt Cutts (head of Google’s search spam team) confirmed that Panda will be rolling out monthly over 10 of 30 days (or more known as the Panda Dance) on his talk with Danny Sullivan on SMX Advanced.

This particular update implies that Panda filters will now be slowly integrated to Google’s search ranking algorithm. The said algorithmic update was officially rolled out last June 25, 2013.

As the Panda Dance continually implemented tests and changes for the past couple of months on various verticals, it’s already foreseen that it will still result to a lot of ranking fluctuations for the coming weeks/months.

I’ve seen two different patterns of decrease in search traffic since the Panda Dance rolled out.

1. The first one is the gradual decrease due to ranking fluctuations.

gradual

2. While the second is a sudden drop in search traffic. sudden drop

If in case you aren’t aware what the Panda Update is, here’s a brief description (as very well defined by Mark Traphagen on his comprehensive report about the Google Panda Dance):

Panda is after site quality. Is the content really what a searcher would want to find?

In this post, I’ll be covering most of the things that we did to recover a site’s search visibility. Below are some of the optimization methods that you can try implementing to recover or somehow avoid ranking fluctuations from negatively affecting your site’s ability to rank.

Authorship and other Schema/Microdata markups

Authenticity has been a really big thing in this new age of search (and will definitely be a big part of its future as well).

Rich-snippet optimization seems to be one of the best methods to use in responding to these recent algorithmic changes, as this is one of the first things that we did that have somehow shown immediate results (since 3 of the sites we’ve optimized recently haven’t implemented authorship markups yet).

The reason may be because of the signals it can send to search engines – by making the site’s content look more authentic, easier for search engines to understand and making the site’s search listings more appealing to users (higher CTR) when displayed on search results.

Some of the markups that you can implement for your site’s pages:

Improve your low performing landing pages

Understand what your low performing landing pages lack. Check the pages of your site that have good volume of traffic but have low engagement rate (low visit duration and average page visits) and high bounce rates.

Start with the pages that you believe are important and optimize these landing pages to mainly increase user dwell time. Several areas that you can improve on your content to make visitors stay longer on the page/site are:

  • Make sure that the information provided or the context of the content matches the title of the page/keywords it is targeting (or matches the intent/search queries that are commonly used to find that content).
  • Add more thematically relevant internal links in the content – to make visitors check your site’s other strong pages.
  • Improve the page’s loading speed.
  • Optimize the page’s readability (optimize for skim readers – such as breaking down the content into shorter paragraphs, using bold texts on important phrases, etc…).
  • Reducing distractions, such as banner ads and/or pop-ups.

For more tips on reducing your page’s bounce rates you can check out these guides from Search Engine Watch and Crazy Egg.

Update evergreen landing pages

If you’re working on a site that has been around for more than a year, then checking and updating your top landing pages or content assets (that are constantly receiving good volume of search traffic) would be another great method to implement.

For example, one of our clients has ton of useful/evergreen content on their site’s blog/resources sections that are constantly driving traffic to their site.

landing pages

Although most of their content assets haven’t been updated for years now. Making them more comprehensive seemed to be a great way not just to maintain their search rankings, but also to rank better for the other keywords that these content assets are already ranking, but weren’t originally optimized for.

Untitled

Optimize your top landing pages for these other search terms through:

  • Including the other keyword variations (with high engagement rate) on the page’s meta tags and/or mentioning them within the body of the content.
  • Using the other keyword variations as anchor texts for the internal links directing to the landing page.
  • Adding more details/information as well as page elements (such as images, videos, etc…) in the content to give more ranking power to the page. In short, to make the page more relevant and comprehensive.

You can also check out the extensive guide I published earlier this year on implementing this type of keyword audit/discovery and optimization process.

Block crawlers from accessing poor content and duplicate pages

This has been the most known practice in fighting Panda (ever since the first version of its update). Aside from the overall quality of a website, Panda is also strict in targeting pages that are accessible in search results which have poor user engagement (as this signifies irrelevance and/or lack of quality).

Several tips on finding duplicate/thin content or other site errors that might affect your site’s ranking ability:

  • Compare the amount of pages in your sitemap vs. the amount of pages indexed by Google (if the # of indexed pages is far greater than the # of pages available on your sitemap, then the site probably has duplication issues).
  • Check the “HTML improvements” report on Google Webmaster Tools, and see if it’s reporting duplicates on your pages’ meta tags.
  • Check if the site has “Crawl Errors”. This feature on GWT may also show you URL parameters that are being crawled by search engines (check if these parameters are being indexed by using advanced search operators on Google search).

parameters

Make sure that search crawlers will not be able to index the poor/duplicate pages your site has (use the “noindex” tag on these pages or block access through your site’s robots.txt file).

Also, here’s a detailed guide on using Google Webmaster Tools for technical SEO audits.

Build new signals

When you start making changes on your site, it’s important to build new signals so that search engines can re-crawl and index the changes you’ve made.

Some of the ways you can do to send strong signals to search engines:

  • Acquire links from topically relevant authority websites.
  • Create and launch new content assets.
  • Build brand signals within the site, such as adding social proof to important pages, trust indicators (testimonials, badges, etc…) and including your brand name on your pages’ title tags (as this is mostly overlooked – and this is something that we’ve also implemented on one of our clients’ website), as well as building branded links to the site.
  • Sharing your updated content on social networks (social signals).

For more tips you can check out my guides on building brand signals and advanced off-page SEO.

Optimize for Local Search

Since Google is basing many search results on the searcher’s location and the device they use nowadays, local SEO might also be a good method to add in your optimization campaign (and to make sure that you’ll get more search visibility for your website).

On implementing local SEO:

  • Setup page(s) on your site that will cater geo-targeted users. This page can include your business address and local phone number (or you can also create content that’s specifically targeted to certain cities/states).
  • Get your business/website listed on Google Places for Business.
  • Build citations for your website (here’s a great list of local business directories).

If in case you’re looking for more resources on this topic, you can visit this complete guide on Local SEO from Koozai.

Wait and observe

There are times where all you can really do is to just wait (for new algorithmic updates or refresh). But what’s important is to make sure that your site is genuinely providing value to its visitors/users and that you’re doing ethical practices in terms of link building and in marketing the site/business as a whole.

Monitoring what’s happening in the search space (specifically with the ranking algorithm and SERP fluctuations) is very vital these days. The good news is that there are web sources that you can always check to keep yourself updated or to determine if your site has been hit by a new update – like Mozcast and Moz’s Google algorithm change history.

mozcast

The methods I’ve mentioned above are just some of the things that our team has tried to overcome the recent Panda Dance – that you can also try to somehow prevent your site from being affected by future algorithmic updates (targeting low quality sites) – but might not necessarily be the ultimate solution to already effected websites.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Forrester August 28, 2013 at 7:51 am

I’ve always had the feeling that Google will start paying much more attention to quality content, which is good, because nowadays you find sites with articles that are not even worth reading the title…let alone the content.

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John Gibb August 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

hi Jason

I notice quite a few bloggers are starting to publish super lengthy posts… is this the new trend? :)

Anyway, I wanted to ask you about YT marketing… when creating these video clip, trying to rank in Google (with good content, etc.) , does video sitemaps help, or how would you use the plugin yourself if you were to rank YouTube clips?

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Rohit Palit August 28, 2013 at 10:11 am

Awesome post, Jason. :)

I’ve got some always busy landing pages (don’t know if evergreen) that I haven’t updated in months. They tend to perform really good in search results. Would there be any benefits if I leverage them to link to other internal pages with targeted anchor texts?

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Steve August 29, 2013 at 12:15 am

Jason your posts help understand better and to get things done for the website. Thanks Jason.

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Fervil August 29, 2013 at 10:02 am

hello Jason, it’s been awhile since I’m reading your posts. As always, you never run out of perfect references for link building and SEO strategies. They always keep me right on track after Penguin and Panda update. I’ve been using Yext for my clients also and it always come up with very good results in their local ranking. Thanks for the tip on evergreen content, I’d be using it as well. :)

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Jordan J. Caron@Victoria BC SEO August 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Great stuff as always Jason. I’ve been having trouble with high bounce rates on my blog posts. I’m going to take a closer look at better optmizing them for skim readers. I’ll also take a look at those two links to CrazyEgg and SEW.

Cheers

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Sef August 30, 2013 at 12:52 am

These are good suggestions on how to help a website recover from being hit by Penguin. It’s been proven that quality overpowered quantity in terms of algorithmic or manual penalty by search engines.

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Jordan August 31, 2013 at 11:01 am

Thanks for this Jason. Our website hasn’t been hit yet but this Panda dance but these tips will help us just in case!

Also thanks for the link to all those local business directories.

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Olivier September 2, 2013 at 2:47 am

Hi Jason,

Authorship and other Schema/Microdata markups is good one and I have used it. one more doubt is Local Search Optimize really working?

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Mariusz October 15, 2013 at 3:47 am

I have tried markups once, but haven’t notice any gain. In other hand local optimization is working for me and I can assure You about it.

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Lisa Merchant September 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

Amazing tips to avoid the Panda Dance on your website. Thank you very much for this post. It will certainly help me improve my website!

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Jack September 16, 2013 at 5:04 am

Panda updates are often being faced by the website owners. So, in order to prevent websites from panda effects, certainly your tips are very important. Thanks for sharing. Keep posting!

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Manish September 3, 2013 at 5:27 am

Jason, I was nearly killed by panda. Now I am following your steps to recover. Hope I get out of it soon.
Thanks for the tips.

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Stephen K. Shefrin Photography September 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm

It’s taken me a few months to adjust to Panda, but I have my rankings back up.

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Shahid September 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Great tips but jason can I apply these tips on my blog it rank down due to google panda update 70 trafic droped

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Entreb September 4, 2013 at 1:47 am

Great tips man. SEO authority and social signals should be combined to get better search rankings. I also notice that freshness plays a great role in search rankings, especially if your keyword is very competitive.

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Adam September 4, 2013 at 4:54 am

It’s been proven that quality overpowered quantity in terms of algorithmic or manual penalty by search engines.

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Geoff September 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

All of these data and information is just making SEO really difficult, even if there is a new update that rolls out high PR links combined with generic links is still the best way to rank a site. I also do this for a living and I have ranked sites for keywords like SEO+country just by providing high PR links and diluting the anchor text density with generic links i get by using Senuke and other automated software.

I am not saying it is the best way, but it is the fastest way to rank. Once you rank a site then its time to worry about social signals, quality content, click through rate and whatever goal you have for a site.

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Donny @ gametipcenter.com September 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Really nice post. Hopefully this puts me back on track. My site has been slapped hard in the past few months, and I can’t really find a solid explanation. I really wish there was a more clear and concise way to figure out exactly what you may (or may not) have been penalized for. It’s also demoralizing to see a ton of spam farms and scraped content sites rank at the top, when I bust my hump to produce the content on my site.

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anthony September 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

thanks for sharing a helpful resource with us really helpful to overcome from dreadful google algorithms

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sam September 10, 2013 at 4:23 am

Panda updates have been really hard for some bloggers, however they have made things easier for others. As long as keep updated with every change and adapt to it u will be in the safe side :)

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Susan Velez September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Thanks for these tips, several of my sites were hit by the last update. I was not able to recover several of them because I didn’t know the steps to take.

This past update I was lucky that none of my sites got hit. If I ever do get affected by the update at least I will know the proper steps to take to get them back.

Thanks for sharing these tips, I know that they will help others out.

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Loz James September 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Thanks Jason

This is a great post. I guess the key to rebounding after a panda penalty is to reverse engineer the look, content, internal links and external link profile of the authority sites that are ranking very highly within your niche.

More and more stories are coming out now where people have managed to recover after panda, so your strategies will definitely help.

Cheers!

Loz

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Richard Gilbert September 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Great post in my book you should not have to worry about panda if your not trying to spam the search engines or paying for links witch is against Google’s rules. The way i see it if you get hit then it can only be a good thing for proper webmasters who stick to the white hat rule book.

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Julius September 25, 2013 at 2:30 am

Panda is also helpful with us. Not also for all the internet marketer out there but also with people that want to know about using the internet. This is a good practice also to create a quality results for the audience or readers.

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Mark October 29, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Thanks for the info.

We put a lot of the same articles from our site on all the top articles sites like ezine with a link back to the original.

I guess its time delete and close these articles/accounts?

Also will no index about 200 pages of product descriptions that have been copied from suppliers.

For your info our xml sitemap shows 2350 submitted and 1700 indexed.

Please tell me if this is the correct thing to do and also if doing too much anti panda stuff too fast could also give you a penalty!!

Many thanks and hope you can point me in the right direction.

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Amit Srivastav November 7, 2013 at 8:48 am

Inspite of recovery from Panda is not easy for most of websites. Google keeps changing it’s policies. It’s getting increasingly difficult to do SEO for a website.

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Dan Carter December 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

Great stuff as always Jason. I’ve been having trouble with high bounce rates on my blog posts. I’m going to take a closer look at better optmizing them for skim readers.

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Abhijit Gupta December 19, 2013 at 4:11 am

Thanks for sharing this helpful and in formative post. I agree with you Google is changing rapidly. This article is very helpful and clearly explained amazing tips to avoid the Panda Dance on your website. You article help me improve my website. Keep sharing all upcoming update of Google..

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Spook SEO February 2, 2014 at 9:50 am

“Jason,
This guide is just it. I will certainly check on brand signal and advanced off-page resources for more info. You really don’t miss to hit the vital points that SEO professionals must focus on nowadays. Indeed, new updates mean new set of target priorities. Thanks for this great dance instructions.

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