Google Panda Two Years Later: Losers Still Losing & One Real Recovery

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles looking at the aftermath of Google’s Panda algorithm update, which launched February 24, 2011.)

panda-birthday-anniversary-iconTwo years ago today, Google sent shockwaves through not only the SEO industry, but also through online publishing in general when it launched the Panda algorithm update.

It was originally called the “farmer” update because Google’s prime target was “content farms,” a name used to describe sites that created high-quantities of low-quality content that sometimes ranked highly in Google’s search results. Although Google didn’t specifically say it was targeting content farms when Panda launched, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, told us at the time: “I think people will get the idea of the types of sites we’re talking about.”

People did.

And Google’s targets became more obvious in the days after Panda launched when several search and software companies began issuing lists of winners and losers — websites that had been hurt or helped by Google’s algorithm change.

Of course, for every loser that lost search visibility, there’s also a winner that gained search visibility. But few of those winners have spoken out in the two years since Panda.

As you’ll see below, on a list of nearly two dozen of Panda’s original losers, only two websites have returned to the SEO visibility that they had about three weeks post-Panda. The others have all continued to lose search visibility.

Some other Panda-hit websites have recovered, though not all of those recoveries have been permanent. We’ll look at all that later in this article. First, some background.

Background: Panda’s Original Winners & Losers

It only took two days for the first look at Panda’s winners and losers to come in. Companies like Searchmetrics, Sistrix and others used their own tools and data to tell which websites lost or gained visibility in Google’s search results. Though these reports are far from official, many of the sites impacted eventually stepped forward to confirm that they were hit.

Panda’s early winners included several major content destinations like YouTube and Wikipedia, plus large brands like eBay and Amazon. Hundreds of other sites, big and small, no doubt saw their visibility go up as others were hurt. As I said above, for every loser that drops out of Google’s search results, there has to be a winner replacing it.

Our reports on Panda’s early losers listed hundreds of sites; here are some that were commonly included:


You might’ve expected to see some of Demand Media’s sites on that list, but they were largely left off the first lists of Panda losers. More on that in a moment.

How Are The Panda Losers Now?

In a nutshell: Still losing.

In fact, some of Panda’s losers no longer exist and others have completely changed their name and/or business model. That’s the topic of tomorrow’s article.

We recently asked Searchmetrics to go back to one of its original lists of Panda losers from two years ago, and run its same “SEO Visibility” report on some of them. The company did that last week, and provided loads of information. (Note: We also contacted Sistrix with a similar request, but didn’t receive a reply in time for inclusion in this article.)

Searchmetrics looked at 22 Panda losers and compared their visibility in Google’s search results at three points:

  1. Before Panda (February 20, 2011)
  2. After Panda (March 13, 2011)
  3. Now (February 17, 2013)

The results? None of the 22 sites has returned to its pre-Panda visibility, and only two sites have improved their visibility today compared to their post-Panda visibility.

Here’s a spreadsheet that Searchmetrics shared with us (you can click to see a larger version):


(Note: The numbers reflect Searchmetrics’ “SEO Visibility” score, which doesn’t reflect estimated traffic losses, but instead reflects how visible a domain is in Google’s search results across millions of keywords that the company tracks.)

In the image above, the key columns are to the far right: H and I. The way to read it is this: has seen its SEO visibility drop 96 percent since before Panda and has dropped 81 percent from its post-Panda visibility.

If you browse down column I, you’ll only see two sites with a positive number: Both and have rebounded enough to have their current SEO visibility score be better than it was after Panda launched. But, as column H shows, both are both still far less visible than they were before Panda came along — as are all of the other 20 sites in this Searchmetrics list.

The SEO visibility chart for, shown below, is an eye-opener.


Panda’s impact is obvious in February 2011, and the site’s visibility looks like a seesaw after that. It appears to have won back visibility in late 2011 or early 2012, around the time of Panda 9 or 10. It’s bounced a few times since then and today is doing a little better than it was right after Panda, but nowhere near pre-Panda visibility.

What About Demand Media Sites?

They’re not included above because, for the most part, they weren’t originally among the big Panda losers.

The company’s flagship site, — a site that many associated with the term “content farm” — was actually reported to have gained visibility when Panda launched. That didn’t last long, though; eHow was hit a couple months later when Google rolled out Panda 2.0. Searchmetrics’ chart shows eHow gaining visibility in February 2011 when Panda launched, but losing it in April 2011.


Although the site’s visibility appears to have gained a bit since September 2012, it’s still down 63 percent in Searchmetrics’ SEO visibility score compared to pre-Panda levels.

Another Demand Media site,, spent much of 2012 on the rebound from Panda.

Searchmetrics says its SEO visibility dropped 35 percent in the first few weeks post-Panda — far less than some of the others mentioned above. But, as the chart below shows, it not only rebounded in 2012, but also far exceeded its SEO visibility … at least until the latter portion of the year.


After regaining visibility all year long, it appears that Livestrong was hit hard by Panda Update 22 in late November. It’s been dropping ever since. Today, is about 13 percent below its pre-Panda visibility.

Panda hurt Demand Media: A year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that Panda was to blame for Demand suffering a $6.4 million loss in Q4 of 2011.

But just last week, in its latest earnings report, Demand Media said that page views were up 24 percent in 2012 (compared to 2011) on its owned and operated websites, “driven primarily by strong traffic growth on and” In the statement, CEO Richard Rosenblatt said the company “improved content quality” in 2012 and is “now prepared to significantly increase our content investments in 2013.”

Despite that optimism, Demand Media’s sites appear to be a mixed bag at this point in terms of post-Panda recovery.

At least one other site, however, has done better. A True Panda Recovery

Motor Trend is a long-running magazine with a presumably trusted website, and its annual “Car of the Year” award is about as prestigious as it gets in the auto industry. I’m not a Motor Trend reader, nor have I ever spent quality time on the website. So, I can’t speak to whether it deserved to get hit by Panda. But it certainly did, as this Searchmetrics chart shows:

panda-motortrend was obviously hit in the initial Panda update, then recovered in July 2011 around the time of Panda 5. It dropped again with Panda 7 — and we mentioned it in our coverage — then quickly recovered again a couple weeks later with Panda 8.

Today, the site appears to have steady visibility based on Searchmetrics’ scoring — and better visibility than it had pre-Panda. I don’t recall ever reading about Motor Trend’s trials in dealing with Panda, but it might be an interesting read (assuming the magazine was aware of that five-month visibility drop).

The irony of Motor Trend being hit by Panda, and then recovering as it has, is that one of Google’s 23 questions for Panda-hit webmasters was, Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

Perhaps Google realized the answer to that question, in this case, was “yes.”

Further Reading

For more about the Google Panda update, read through these categories in our article library:

This series on the second anniversary of Google’s Panda update continues tomorrow with a look at its aftermath and impact on several of the sites that were labeled as losers. (UPDATE: That article is now online: Google Panda Two Years Later: The Real Impact Beyond Rankings & SEO Visibility.)

(Stock image via Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Panda Update Must-Reads | Panda Update Winners & Losers | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • TmWe

    Maybe there would have been more recoveries from Panda if Google didn’t give so much instruction misleading webmasters to believe that noindexing, removing or deleting no-value pages was the answer.

    Google could always deal with supplemental type pages, like ?replyto, /archives and so on. Whilst it may be good practise to canonicalise them, Panda wasnt targeting technical issues and it would have been great for Google to set out the limitations of spending time cleaning up cruft.

  • Chris Ching

    Thanks for the Panda update! It’s interesting to watch as the Search Engine landscape unfolds and evolves.

    As someone who was once on the content farm bandwagon, I’ve got to say that the Panda update made the internet a better place for writers and publishing quality content.

    Now I’m trying to build an audience and build trust with cornerstone content.

  • Durant Imboden

    As the publisher of an information site that got hit fairly hard by Panda 1.0 (despite being the recipient of frequent “Thank you for the great site” e-mails from readers), I think Google got it wrong with Panda and is continuing to get it wrong. Instead of looking for signals of “low quality,” Google should be looking for signals of “high quality.” And maybe Google is finally starting to do that, if the Google AuthorRank project is a hint of better things to come.

    As far as “content farms” are concerned, I used to look down my nose at sites like eHow until I need to reprogram the electronic key of my VW Jetta. As I searched various sites for information, I learned that VW uses the same key on VWs, Audis, Skodas, Lamborghinis, and other brands of cars. So it stands to reason that a site like eHow would have a dozen different (but largely identical) articles on “How to reprogram your [Insert VW-owned car brand] key.” If I’m trying to figure out how to get my VW Jetta key working again, I want a page on that topic, and I couldn’t care less if it’s similar to the same site’s pages for owners of dead car keys from Audi or Lamborghini.

    Just recently, I’ve been writing more than 100 pages of walking directions to hotels in a certain European city, complete with hand-edited Google Maps that are more accurate than Google’s own maps. Inevitably, some pages are very similar to others, and I’ll admit that I’ve wondered if Google will see the similar pages as “thin” or “content farm” material. In the end, I’ve decided to let value to the reader trump worries about Panda, and I’m hoping my instincts are correct.

  • Vic

    Very disingenuous of Matt and SEL, Panda above all hurt a lot more than content farms, it killed many small business owners. Now let’s look at the winner of Panda: Google’s revenue, earnings and especially Clicks on Ads. For those that don’t know, so-so content equals more clicks on ads and forces sites that lost traffic to advertise. Google used Panda to make even “organic” search on transactional keywords as Pay-to-Play. Every update means less traffic for all sites, especially smaller ones, and more revenue for Google.

    Google Services
    “Organic Search” = Advertiser sites.

    If you think that Google changes the algo without looking at the ad clicks, I have a bridge to sell you.

    I challenge Matt to write about the obvious.

  • Vic

    Google’s advice is buy ads to get traffic, that’s obvious. Google doesn’t want you to recover, they do not care about you or your family or your effort, they care about their revenues. Compare your earnings pre-panda with Google’s pre-panda earnings and see.

    The number of searches has been going down too but their earnings increase by 30% each quarter.

  • Akash

    Few Panda recovery stories you have mentioned here based on traffic are purely apparent. Because, 2 yrs is quite a long time, and the traffic should increase by 50% more than Pre-Panda time (assuming 20% y-o-y growth).

  • Danny Sullivan

    Demand Media was one of Google’s biggest AdSense partners. So was Both got slammed by Panda. Less revenue for them was less revenue for Google. And we’ve written about that obvious fact plenty.

  • Durant Imboden

    The “Google wants to make you buy ads” argument would be more convincing if Panda had hit large, deep-pocketed e-commerce sites that have more money to spend on ads than the average mom-and-pop business does. (In other words, “e-commerce content farms” like Amazon, which seem to be doing just fine in the post-Panda era.)

    Also–and perhaps even more important–information sites (many of which were hit by Panda) typically can’t justify the cost of advertising. If Google’s primary motive in launching Panda had been to jack up its ad revenues, it would have skewed its search results away from commerce and toward information.

  • Matt McGee

    Vic, I have one last client that I consult with in addition to my work here for Third Door Media — it’s a small business with about 10-12 employees and a small, e-commerce website selling about 125-150 products, I think. And with every Panda update except one, this small business has seen more visibility, more traffic and most importantly, more revenue. (The one Panda update that hit the site, we waited it out because we knew that we were doing things the right way, and sure enough things got even better with the next Panda update.)

    Did some small businesses get hurt? Yep. I’m quite familiar with some. And in the cases I’m aware of, it was often small businesses that took the same kind of shortcuts the big companies took in terms of trying to get found by searchers — not focusing on long-term strategies and tactics (either by themselves or by the SEO agencies they hired).

    Panda wasn’t (and isn’t perfect) and Google has said as much. Look through our archives, or do a search for the Cult of Mac story — high-quality content that was hit when it really shouldn’t have been.

    As I said multiple times in the article, for every loser there’s also a winner.

  • Bradley Anderson

    Hey, would be nice if you include that infographic – within the article, would be more user friendly with some nasty graphics involved!

  • ServerBear Stu

    Been battling Panda for 2 years on one of our coupon related sites (which took a bit of a battering), seeing lots of lower quality sites than us ranking, with thinner content & not much “added value”. Just no indication of what we need to do to beat Panda.

  • sheila219

    If you think Ricky`s story is terrific…, 5 weeks ago my dads best friend also got a cheque for $4504 just sitting there a ninteen hour week in their apartment and they’re classmate’s step-aunt`s neighbour has been doing this for five months and earned over $4504 part-time from a computer. follow the instructions here… jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • Chenzo

    It is all about that white hat

  • Chande

    $5 click on google property or $0.35 on ehow (and sharing with ehow)… I bet that was a tough decision :D
    This is pure money-driven game…

  • Fernando Rigotti

    Same here.

  • Kenneth Trueman

    Is there not a contradiction between saying that a blog is loved by its readers and then indicating that a search engine update caused you to lose 2/3 of your traffic? Were your readers not bookmarking the site ? (Were they even repeat visitors if you were that dependent on SEO traffic.) Were you not engaging with them in some other fashion other than asking them to type some terms in to a search engine to find you ?

  • Kenneth Trueman

    I have no issues with coupon sites, or sites that sell meds, or other performance enhancers, etc., getting hit by Panda. Hopefully some SEL visitors come at it from the other side of the street.

  • Michael Martinez

    Interesting numbers but the Search Visibility Score doesn’t take into account how many pages these sites may have deleted post-Panda, so it’s conceivable/possible that some of the sites you claim are “losers” have, in fact, moved into the Recovery phase with less content (thus continuing to earn less visibility).

  • Vic

    >> “The “Google wants to make you buy ads” argument would be more convincing if Panda had hit large, deep-pocketed e-commerce sites that have more money to spend on ads”

    You seem like a Google spokesperson. Is it scratch my back and I’ll scratch your or do you really believe the nonsense you just said?

    Amazon and other big brands are already advertising. Those MBAs designing the algo want non-advertisers to advertise, pushing prices higher. Google has a CPC problem and total searches are decreasing.

    Commerce is already skewed, all ads and advertiser sites in “organic” search. Me and you can lie, Google clicks on ads and revenue is more accurate, unless they are lying to the Feds (unlikely)

  • Vic

    Demand Media my ass, they escaped the first Panda (ironic, the King of Spam escaped) and are now back on page one, often 2-5 times in 10 results. They are huge partners in Youtube too.

    Even with that, do not mistake Adsense with Adwords, on the first Google keeps less than 30%, but 100% on Adwords. Let’s talk numbers Danny, head to SEC and find the revenue forms and increases in revenue, ad clicks and earnings before mention Demand media’s supposed emotion as proof of Google being unbiased. Do it.

    You are not impartial, you have totally ignored the bias of a search engine also selling ads and their ad revenue skyrocketing after each update. It anecdotaly corresponds with more webmasters pulling their hair out.

  • jasoncalacanis

    A conspiracy theorist could say Google wanted to keep any one site from getting too much traffic so they basically set a height restriction (traffic) in their town: no one site is going to get above X stories tall on average. By cutting the top 20 players from 100 stories high to 15 stories tall (i.e. 10m uniques to 1.5m), they made room for more players–and perhaps better content.

    Of course, this was done in a horrible, horrible fashion with no notice. Which basically sent a message to folks “you can’t trust google.” As a result, everyone has given up on the “adsense publishing model” of 2000-2011.

    at the same time Google pushed organic result 25-75% down the page on important searches, putting an answer up top (zagat, movie times, wikipedia summaries, etc).

    the timing of those two things looks really bad for google…. but Google can do what they want. it’s America and a free market. Everyone needs to just move on and embrace the things that don’t require search: apps, social, email and–ummm—direct traffic.

    that’s what we’ve done and it’s working… we gave up. you can’t fight city hall… i tried. hard. @jason

  • jasoncalacanis

    Just make an App, an email list and be active on Twitter…. give up on search. It’s a waste of resources.

  • Wendy Boswell

    The thing is though, Google’s results have gotten increasingly worse. There’s more spam now in SERPs than there was two years ago, by a long shot. If anything, this series of Panda updates is doing nothing but giving Adsense-heavy, shilling-for-Clickbank/CJ/affiliates-galore sites the top berth while the higher quality sites quietly molder away on the second, third, or more pages. This isn’t rocket science here; to me, it’s obvious that Google is making the cra* sites come out on top purely because it puts more money in their pocket.

  • Joe Youngblood

    a good observation that doesn’t appear well seen. upvotes all-around.

    however, i am with the majority that believe panda is incredibly flawed.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Vic, one thing — if you’re going to comment here, and that’s welcomed — you need to fill out your profile more so that it’s not anonymous. Otherwise, that’s a violation of our commenting policy.

    As for not being impartial, I raised the issue of Google having a conflict of selling ads on pages it lists back when it first launched AdSense. You know, like about 10 years ago.

    I raised it well before Google faced any anti-trust action in 2007:

    I raised it again after an anti-trust action was filed and neglected this important point:

    The whole “Panda killed small business” is exactly like the whole “Florida killed small business” back in 2003. I suggest you read up:

    If Google killed all the small business back with the Florida Update in 2003, then how is it there were so many around to get killed again by Panda?

    You seem to be arguing that Google used Panda in a way to somehow get more “so-so” content into its search results, as a way of boosting ad clicks there. I can’t say that Panda greatly improved its search result (Google believes it did), but I certainly haven’t come away with the impression that results are now so bad that more people are being driving to click on its ads.

    Frankly, if Google wants to push up revenues, it has a much easier way to do that — paid inclusion. Which is exactly what it did with Google Shopping:

    There is plenty that Google can and should take fire for, especially the ways that it does try to churn up its revenue. But Panda really didn’t seem motivated by that.

  • Matt McGee

    Well, I’m not taking on any new clients. Haven’t taken any new clients for about 2-3 years now. And don’t plan to take any new clients ever again. I have this one client that I’ve worked with since 2008 and that’s all I’m doing.

    And you obviously can’t be reasoned with, so I’ll just say thanks for sharing your comments. I respect your opinion, but disagree with it.

  • David Chevalier

    Demand Media, Inc. admits in the notes to their latest 10Q that they removed content assets. Why are they still allowed to amortize media content on a straight line basis over five years? Isn’t that now proven (because of Panda) to be too long?

  • Vic

    I am going to send you a scan of my passport, it’s in Cyrillic, and you can send it to Google’s Critics Outreach Office :)

    but anyway, we’re not slandering anyone and just having a discussion with different ideas.

    >> “Frankly, if Google wants to push up revenues, it has a much easier way
    to do that — paid inclusion. Which is exactly what it did with Google

    Google is a public company, they live quarter to quarter, and paid inclusion was for the last quarter or 7 quarters after the initial Panda. This quarter they are forcing advertisers to more or less bail out mobile and they have more in store for the quarter after that. It’s a never ending Wall Street story.

    >> “but I certainly haven’t come away with the impression that results are
    now so bad that more people are being driving to click on its ads.”

    Having 10 pages from one site in in the top does make you wonder but Panda is not a monolithic update, true to Google’s official line, it changes and people notice the lack of converting users. Results suck but ads on top, side and bottom are perfect. Hmmmm…

  • Ryan @ Linkbuildr

    Just looking at the SERPs I don’t see much of any improvement. Tons of link spammers dominating, thin to no quality content…any medical related term and its a complete mess and downright dangerous almost.

  • Durant Imboden

    I don’t know if there’s more spam in Google’s SERPs than there was two years ago, but if there is, it isn’t because of Panda: It’s probably because search spam has grown faster than Google’s ability to block or filter it. And let’s be realistic: A lot of that spam comes from megasites that automatically crank out millions of keyword-driven pages. (Is there anyone here who hasn’t been sent by Google to a “review” at CNet or ZDNet with only a few price-comparison links for content, a TripAdvisor page that invites the user to contribute a review on a given keyphrase, or a Wikipedia stub page?)

    Forget Panda: If Google wants to improve the quality of its search results, all it needs to do is implement a “stub filter” that works.

  • Michael Martinez

    So the new source of traffic is Twitter? That’s just replacing one egg basket with another.

  • Michael Martinez

    I still know people making comfortable livings on AdSense. I wouldn’t say everyone has given up on it. Maybe just the investors who shouldn’t have put their money into made-for-advertising Websites in the first place.

  • Lior Zitzman

    We at Motor Trend were very much aware of the Google Panda hit which prompted some optimization. I tried to notify Google of their mistake in various ways and at one time I think it was at SMX West I met one of Google’s Webspam Team members (Michael) and told him about it. It is hard to determine what is the real reason for the recovery.

  • Yakezie

    We are always more bullish on our content. Is is the human way.


  • Yakezie

    So what did you guys do exactly to recover? Why do you think you guys got hit?


  • Peter T

    I did really well out of Panda, my site is Drupal base with an XML of cruise content integrated and uses a click to inquire methodology. My Organic Google is up 44% and my direct traffic up 54%, Bing & Yahoo are up around 40%. How ever I need to do a site redevelopment due to the aging version of drupal I am on, site speed issues and some changes in the local online travel market. How do I make sure I take the positive achievements with me when I develop the new site? I am planning to use a different site development team this time around. Any tips in a post panda world ?

  • Matt McGee

    Thanks for clarifying that, Lior.

  • Matt McGee

    By “their” do you mean “your”? Because I’m guessing you must be involved with in some way, Ted, to know about that. And if that’s the case, we’d love to learn more. Might make an interesting case study.

    In any case, I didn’t include them as an original loser – I simply mentioned that the companies which developed the lists of early winners and losers often included on their loser lists.

  • Dan Sharp

    Hi Matt,

    I tweeted you earlier, but was ignored so will drop a comment here :-)

    We performed a two year later analysis of Google Panda a couple of weeks ago for the UK market which you can read here –

    It performed the same updated Search Metrics analysis as you can see.

    We found that just 6 out of 96 (6.25%) have experienced 100% recovery or more.

    82 out of 96 (85.42%) have under half of their original pre Panda visibility.

    Hence, a few more recoveries than your analysis, but the majority are still losing.



  • Lior Zitzman

    The list is long and I’ll have to dig into it to find all the specifics.

  • Lior Zitzman

    No problem.
    A few of our other sites never recovered, but mainly which no matter what we did, and we are talking about 1-1.5 years worth of dev time, re-org, hiring a dedicated editorial staff which work hand in hand with the Motor Trend staff, redesigning, consolidating & killing/blocking millions of shallow or low quality pages, cleaning our backlink profile, you name it we did it. No love what so from Google. Even with all that going on the traffic never stopped declining until recently, and it now steady.

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