You may see a drop in rankings or traffic and immediately panic. Have I been Panda-slapped? Even now, as we look at the two year anniversary of Google’s Panda Update, the likelihood is that you have not. Rankings and traffic fluctuate for many reasons, most of which are not related to penalties from search engines.
But, how can you tell? Instead of watching rankings overall, watch categories of keywords. If you separate your keyword categories by topic, you can more easily spot trends that have to do with a particular content area of your site. Typically, if there is a problem, it’s going to start there.
To evaluate symptoms of a bigger issue, I’ve created this handy protocol to get you started:
Help, My Rankings Dropped!
1. Have they really dropped?
- Do you see a corresponding decrease in traffic?
- If yes, wait two days and check again, they may come right back up. Rankings and traffic bobble all the time.
- If no, there’s probably not anything to worry about. Recheck in a week or so.
Keep in mind, there’s dozens of reasons a report may not be accurate. If analytics doesn’t show a corresponding decrease in organic traffic, there’s probably no problem.
2. Ok, I’ve double checked and they really did drop. My analytics show a decrease, too.
- Don’t panic!
- Look at how the drops are correlated. Are they all from one group of keywords? Are they associated with certain pages of the website?
3. If they’re all from a particular category of keywords, read on. If not, skip to Step 4.
- Check the sites that are ranking for these keywords. Are there new players? Has someone shot to the top that wasn’t there before? If so, investigate what they are doing differently. Is the content fresher, better optimized, more shared in social media? It may be that you just need to keep up with the Joneses.
- If no one has shot to the top lately, check to make sure no one has made any major changes to the site. It could be a technical issue.
- Still no luck? Sorry, you’ll have to hire an SEO to do a deeper analysis.
4. If they aren’t from a particular category of keywords, but are from the same pages or section of the site, this could be a problem.
- Check the pages that used to rank/have traffic. Are they still live? Any major changes to them lately?
- Evaluate the content with an open mind. Is it really quality content? Or do you have duplication or poor quality? You can find a complete checklist here.
- Have any of these pages been duplicated elsewhere? Take a snippet of unique text from the page and search it in Google with quotes to see if someone’s been copying your content.
- Any technical issues, such as an accidental noindex or canonical tag?
5. If you identify any of the above (except tech issues), you could be looking at the first stages of a Panda penalty.
You need to clean up this content asap, as the trend you are seeing could be an early warning sign that you could be impacted by Panda.
Truths & Myths About Panda
- Panda is an algorithm, not a manual penalty. It is only refreshed periodically. If you see early warning signs like the ones described above, you usually have plenty of time to clean up the content before the next Panda refresh.
- Panda, when applied, typically affects an entire domain or subdomain. You will likely see a significant drop in organic traffic as a result.
- It is still possible to maintain some rankings (especially in the 30s-40s and up) when hit by Panda. You probably won’t disappear completely, although it may feel like you did.
- There are usually early warning signs that you’re about to be hit, unless what you’re doing is blatantly spamming and it triggers a manual penalty.
- Most sites will never be affected by Panda.
- Panda is not only about duplication, although that is one of the most common forms of it. It’s also about poorly written or unsubstantial content.
- Duplication of a few pages, or a small percentage of poorly written content is unlikely to trigger Panda. The ratio usually needs to be pretty high.
So now you’re empowered to fight the Pandas in the room. The best advice I can give you is to remember that you are fighting a computer. Computers do make mistakes, but they are rare.
If you’ve been hit by an algorithmic update, you probably took short cuts that you shouldn’t have taken. Also keep in mind that no one but Google knows for sure how this all works. Although my opinions are based on experience, there are always aberrations and dissenters. Feel free to debate in the comments.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.