Panda Watch! #SESNY’s Google Spankfest Round Table

Day #2 at #SESNY picked up after lunch with a great opportunity to scream, cry, learn, prepare, & group hug. Whether your [website’s] bottom was sore from a recent Google-spanking (warranted or not), you wanted to prepare for a future inevitable spanking, or just wanted to know what the hell people meant when they kept referring to farmers & panda bears, Search Engine Strategies’ Search Engine Watch Round Table Special tackling Panda: The Aftermath was a way-worthy discussion to check out.

The SEW panel featured Jonathan Allen, Director, SearchEngineWatch, Danny Goodwin, Associate Editor, SearchEngineWatch and Frank Watson, CEO, Kangamurra Media. With  Mike Grehan, Chair SES Advisory Board, Global VP Content, SES/Search Engine Watch/ClickZ as moderator, the quartet discussed last month’s massive update the Google algorithm, now infamously referred to as Google Panda (or Farmer). Panda’s double-wave algo’ change, rolled out only in the U.S., was intended to eliminate content farms & crappy content in general from the Google index. But many victims of the update  claim their clean-cut white-hat sites were still spanked. With vengeance. AIMCLEAR live-tweeted this animated chat. Read on for shimmering highlights.

“Should you base the bulk of your potential business revenues around a mathematical equation that you have no control over?” That was the haunting question on the agenda. How much is too much dependency on Google’s algorithm? We wanted insight from the pros. Mike Grehan welcomed us warmly, encouraged us to huddle together, and somberly kicked off the round table. “We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of so many of our webpages,” he began, “…but let us also celebrate their life… and figure out a way to replace them!”

History Repeats Itself
In 2003, the Google Florida update unrolled, and really threw some for a loop. PageRank became nigh obsolete. Anchor text became gold. Mike pointed out that Panda is the biggest algo’ update since then. It was a two-sweep update; scrapers were hit February 1st, major content farmers were hit February 24th.

Fish Where the Fish Are
As marketers, we’re always looking for the best opportunities. We want to be where the best ROI is, where the most traffic is. We want to fish where the fish are. In the past, all the fish traffic was coming from Google. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — these things didn’t exist yet (or didn’t influence much). So people relied heavily on Google, as a third party, to send free traffic.

The biggest takeaway from this concept (and Florida.. and Panda) is to be prepared. Because if that 3rd party decides to change things (*cough* Florida… *cough* Panda), you have to have a back up plan.

“Never let the customer own more of your business than you do,” as the saying goes. In this case, Google was/is the customer.

It’s All About Managing Risk
Jonathan Allen jumped in to offer his two-cents: “It’s all about managing risk.” One way to prove you’re an SEO is to be spanked by an update… badly. “It’s probably a sign you were doing things right,” Jonathan said. “Sort of shows you were cracking the algorithm” when Google takes action against you. Bittersweet. But true.

Slow & Steady
A lot of SEOs shell out a management fee every month to keep up on all of the changes that are made. Smart? Sort of. The panel suggests a longer term, slow and steady approach. It’s the smarter investment overall.

It’s Google. Not the Government.
Frank  Watson pointed out, “We all know that Google’s not the government.” But they do issue rules & regulations that we should follow. However… if they’re going to issue these rules, it’s our right to push back against them as far as we can… to test the limits until we get spanked. Even if we do break the rules, we’re not breaking the law. (This teaching point assumes you’re not doing anything illegal by, you know, legal standards.)

Frank’s advice: find the loophole, find the limits – and push them until Google pushes back. Not all U.S. sites were affected by Panda. Study the ones who weren’t, find the loophole that they escaped through, and pounce on it 🙂 . Tap into forum chatter, too. Panda is a hot topic. Identify the conversations addressing ways other people are generating traffic. Learn from them.

Been Spanked? You May Have To Wait A Bit.
Danny Goodwin has been closely studying the Panda aftermath– gathering info, studying what’s working, looking into errors. Apparently, it will still be another month (estimated) before Google recrawls sites to update its index.

Red Flags That Trigger The Panda
Have you been affected by Panda & left wondering why? Here are some things that may have triggered the spank.

  • Spelling Errors. One of the more surprising tips Danny shared for beating Panda was to check your entire site (that includes tags & SEO jazz) for spelling mistakes and grammar slip-ups. “Google’s getting big on grammar,” Danny noted. They’re grading your site like a teacher grading an essay.
  • Excessive Internal Linking. Make sure you tell Google what your money pages are.
  • Duplicate Content. Same page, different titles… that is (and always has been) a big no-no. Google hates it. Pandas hate it. Kittens hate it.

Panda Killed “Poor Content.” But what makes “Quality Content?”
Mike pointed out that Google usually refers to “quality content” as ample, keyword rich, fresh content on a page. But things like currency calculators or letter counters rank really well, even though they barely have any content at all. Why?

At the end of the day, people aren’t just looking for content. They want a good user experience. It’s your opportunity & responsibility to give them that. (Put another way: don’t feel you have to redo your entire site, cramming it with content just to appease the Panda. That’s not what it wants.)

Still… Mike noted…. there’s still a contradiction of what the Farmer update was all about. If the update was really about eliminating content farms and low quality content, why does Google still index tweets? (I <3 Twitter, but… it’s not always enriching material. *cough* @kanyewest *cough*). Food for thought.

A Tale From The Audience
Mike turned to the audience for case studies. One woman stood up to share one of her big ah-ha moments. It went like this: “Oh, sh*t. Google is 93% of my traffic.” When Panda rolled out, overnight, her site’s traffic went from 90k U.S. visits per day to 15k. After being spanked… with vengeance, she combed through her site to make sure she had no duplicate content, adequate sitemaps- nothing remotely black hat. Lo and behold, traffic started coming back! But the traffic was all international. Why? Remember, Panda only affected the U.S. It might be too early for her cleaned up content to be crawled. No increase in U.S. traffic as of yet.

Moral of the Story: If you wake up and realize 93% (or a sizable %) of your traffic is coming from Google, spend every day preparing for the day that Google stops sending you traffic. Live every day like it’s your last [day of traffic from Google].

And that about does it! Big thanks to the SEW crew for an insightful round table. We didn’t end up doing a group hug. Then again, perhaps I didn’t stick around long enough after the applause. You should stick around here, though - for more conference coverage. Live-tweets from the final day of #SESNY coming atcha from @beebow, @Matt_Peterson, @AIMCLEAR & @KJalivay.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Stay Connected