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Google’s Panda Update—the Lessons I Learned

This guest post is by Kevin Sanders, of strongandfit.net.

Things were going well over at my fitness blog. I was not an A-lister, but traffic was steadily increasing.

I was starting to get ranked for several lower competition keywords. Organic traffic was improving. Then suddenly my search engine traffic dropped dramatically.

I was apparently one of the casualties of Google’s so-called Panda update. I’m guessing it’s because about 10% of my website’s content was re-posted. I wasn’t just mindlessly copying and pasting a bunch of content for the sake of content. I only posted stuff I considered valuable to my readers—and I only ever post articles with permission of the original author. Regardless, it seems this was enough to have my blog slapped with the “content farm” label.

I’ve bowed to the Google gods and removed the “duplicate content.” Maybe I’ll recover my SERP rank, maybe not. Based on what I’m reading, no one has successfully recovered from the Panda meltdown once his or her site has been affected—I think it will take some time for Google to re-crawl sites reassess sites.

But I’ve learned some important lessons from this. Some lessons are new, while others just reinforce what I’ve already learned.

Lesson #1: Never become over-dependent on one source of traffic

The algorithm change has affected my site, but it hasn’t destroyed it. That’s because I use several methods for driving traffic to my site. Staying active on forums, for example, has been one of my favorite strategies I’ve spent a little more time on forums in lately in light of the Google issue.

Lesson #2: Blog as if no one is reading

Blog as if everyone is reading. Here’s what I mean: I love lifting weights, and fitness in general. I enjoy blogging about it, regardless of how many (or few) read my posts. This passion has kept me going in spite of the setback. But I always want to make sure I’m producing high-quality, useful posts—just as if thousands would be reading.

Lesson #3: Look to other bloggers for help

I’m not an SEO guru—not by a long shot! But there are several bloggers out there who are experts in this particular discipline. These blogs have been especially valuable in learning what adjustments I need to make to my site, and why. But this tip is not limited to search engine algorithms—you can apply it to almost any issue you have in blogging. Always be open to learn from your fellow bloggers.

Lesson #4: Try to keep an eye on search engine news and anything else that may affect your blog

I didn’t realize there was an update until after my traffic was affected. I later learned Google had already warned us about the coming changes—I just wasn’t paying attention. I’m not sure I could have changed the outcome, but I would have responded sooner if I had known.

Again, this is a tip that applies to other aspects of blogging—keep an eye on anything that has the potential to affect your blog. I’m not suggesting you be reactionary in your approach to blogging. But a general awareness of things can help you make informed decisions.

I’m still learning about websites/blogs you can use to follow search engine trends. I’ll give you a few suggestions, and maybe you can recommend others in the comments:

  • SEO-Hacker.com is a blog I’ve mentioned before. I like the simplified approach to explaining SEO, and this blog has a few articles about Panda.
  • SEO Roundtable is a very helpful blog I ran across while trying to make sense of all this Panda update stuff. This blogger actually keeps an eye on forums and gives you a feel for what bloggers and webmasters are talking about.
  • The Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel is another one to keep your eye on. You’ll be able to hear direct answers from Google representative Matt Cutts here.

Hang in there if you’ve also been affected by the changes at Google. Learn from the challenges and you’ll become a better blogger in the end. If you have a Panda experience to share, or some tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Kevin is a missionary, author and fitness enthusiast. You can check out his fitness tips at strongandfit.net. You can read his devotional thoughts and personal reflections at KuyaKevin.com.

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Comments

  1. I feel you EXACTLY. Same thing happened to me, Google is great but the fact of the matter is that at the moment they still have an algorithm that can punish good websites. Good to know there’s other streams of traffic. Nice article I can definitely relate to.

  2. Doug says:

    I’m doubtful that you got slapped with a penalty for 10% reposted content unless you’re exaggerating and it’s actually more. I’d continue looking for other reasons. Dig deeper and try to see if those specific articles rank lower vs your home page or other articles you’ve written. And keep reading on SEO.

  3. Jodith says:

    Panda appears to have been very good to me. My monthly page views jumped from around 10k to 14k within a month. All search engine traffic.

  4. LA Juice says:

    My site is still too new to have been affected, I barely get any search engine traffic and no keyword traffic. Still I feel lucky to have a SEM guru at home, who warned me in advance against duplicate content.

    I liked your statement about “blogging as though everyone is watching”. Truth is you never know when people are going to find your site and fall in love!

  5. Stu Lisonbee says:

    As an SEO, I was earnestly surprised at all the uproar over the Panda update. Throughout every algo update, there have been things that continue to remain important ranking factors with Google. Do those things as an SEO, and the effect of algo updates — while you can never completely negate potential negative effects on any given site — should have minimal negative impact.

    And, to reinforce what you said here Kevin, diversify. Just like trading stocks, any traffic source has its gambles. Diversify your “portfolio,” as it were, and you’ll be better prepared for major algo changes.

  6. Dayne Shuda says:

    Interesting to see this occur on other sites.

    I thought I had survived the recent updates from Google. The traffic on my country music website had been up the past six weeks. I assumed it was partly because of the seasonality of the country music world, but I thought perhaps a few rankings had improved after some other sites got bumped down.

    Then yesterday afternoon most of the site’s rankings were shut off like a light switch.

    I’m not really sure what the cause was.

    Your point about relying on more traffic sources is key. I remember reading an article from way back on Problogger about this exact point.

    I never set out to have 80% of traffic from Google, but it kind of worked out that way over time.

    With the strange loss of all rankings I guess it means I’ll just have to keep posting while focusing on other sources of traffic.

    It’s always nice when the country artsits link to the site from their Facebook and Twitter accounts. I thought when that happened it would be a good sign to Google that the site was trustworthy ;)

    Anyway, best of luck with your blog and know you aren’t the only one.

  7. Dan says:

    What a great post, lots of good info here and great tips. Thanks for sharing!
    Dan

  8. i love the point when you said BLOG AS if EVERYBODY will read it. I mean that brings me to the basic reason why I’m blogging: because I have something to say and I want somebody to read! Thanks!

  9. Notice of the Panda Update made me check the stats for my websites. Still in good shape!

    In all this I think we need to remember that Google is a business, and they need to do what is good for business – their business. The best we can do is not put all of our eggs in the Google basket. The are a ton of ways to build free incoming links, including writing articles for Associated Content, Squidoo, WordPress, InfoBarrel, and posting images on Flickr. The more we rely on no one in particular the less we worry about what Google is up to.

  10. Great topic. This is something that I’m dealing with now. Being new to all of this makes me look everywhere I can for traffic. The good thing is, for now, I still enjoy talking to myself. LOL

    Thank you!

  11. Mine is a startup blog and has not been affected by Panda update. The traffic is increasing gradually. The article is useful and as a new bloggers I’ve learned a few tips. Thanks.

  12. I like Lesson #2. Reminds me of this post I read today: http://carpeaqua.com/2011/04/07/let-the-fear-out/

  13. i-brochure says:

    I’m still monitoring what effect this has had on me/ my sites. They are small really and niche so am hoping i am larfley uneffected.

  14. Anna Watson says:

    Thanks for sharing the points, it has become a common topic of discussion and everyone should try to get an idea of what is it all about. Great work….

  15. Martin says:

    It is very interesting that you’ve regained your standing as though you have removed the duplicate content. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  16. Seems a little unlikely that a site would get slapped for syndicating a little content. Content syndication is a normal facet of Internet publishing, Google can’t possible penalise that.

  17. Rick says:

    I check my sites frequently with Copyscape, any duplicate content is changed into something else. Not only important for content you put on your own site, but also when copied.

  18. I try to warn my clients about this stuff, I’m not an expert by far, but have learned enough of the basics from posts like this to do decent. Some just won’t listen – maybe they will learn the hard way. I have not seen any change on my analytics, but glad to have it brought to my attention. Thanks!

  19. My blog is too new as well to be affected by the Google changes, but I will use this information as a learning tool.

  20. Wise words. I think I was affected slighlty because I have some duplicate content from the blog that I migrated from blogspot to my self hosted domain name but I think it was counteracted by an increase in PR at the last update. You can never tell exactly how google is going to judge your site though so you just have to sit and hope.

  21. Trishan says:

    I’ve subscribed to Search Engine Land. I think they are the foremost SEO authority site today. BTW seo-hacker is quite good as well. thanks.

  22. Reed says:

    I have a couple websites that have roughly 2/3rds duplicate content, and have noticed a drop in traffic for short tail keywords, but an increase in longtail keywords. It took a while for me to realize this, because oddly enough my earnings have not gone down -which makes sense because longtails are more targeted. I’m not about to remove all of that duplicate content just to please the google gods because my visitors find it helpful. Not only does it increase pageviews, but also the likelihood of conversion.

    Longtail seo ftw!

  23. Josh says:

    Thanks for the article and advice. I will use it with the relatively new blog I have started.

  24. StudioKnow says:

    Our content site has seen an increase in page views since the introduction of Panda. Still, we are not mightily impressed with the actual quality of search results that Google, in general, is returning. Seems like a lot more tweaking of the algorithm is needed.

  25. I agree, using a small amount duplicated content that helps benefit your customers is probably not what what panda was created for, but unfortunately got pick up by it. I think the future of this is really going to cause problems for people with similar content in their sites. Hope you can get it resolved ok.

  26. That really sucks Kevin. But I love your optimism. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t let these hiccups slow them down. It’s got me inspired.

  27. SuzRocks says:

    I want to hug the google panda. My google traffic increased the traffic to my site by about 35%. If it stops all of the sudden, it won’t be that big of a deal because most of my traffic comes from other sites.

  28. Sean says:

    Hey Kevin!
    First of all, big thanks for the mention here at Problogger! Really encouraged by your attitude towards being a collateral damage by the Google Panda update. I really hope and pray that you get back to the rank you deserve.

  29. MusicMatrix says:

    Great post, I have learned all of these lessons myself several times (eh, slow learner lol) with other sites I’ve built up. I’ve found that sometimes people (and myself) get “tunnel vision” and focused on Google, when sometimes the Google traffic might be the least valuable. Depends on the site and what its doing, but I’ve had some where traffic from other engines was a lot more valuable because it generated visitors who stuck around more, or hit other goals better. Just got to diversify always. Not just for traffic sources, but across the board.

  30. Angie says:

    Panda did good things for my blogs, also. Sorry to hear you got hit. Above all else, I believe your recommendation for diversification is spot on. Things can happen at any time. It’s best to cover your bases in advance.

  31. Vincent says:

    Lesson no.2 made me laugh! I mean this is necessary to keep your blog alive- if you stop losing your motivation, everything is lost…
    Thanks!

  32. Jason says:

    I think writing for google specifically or syndicating / reposting content is a ultimately doomed to failure – especially when any given algorithm can significantly impact your site. Writing original content is always a winner, or at least significantly rewriting content and adding your spin to the subject. I may be in the minority on this one, but i think of readers 1st, search engines 2nd. To my knowledge google never considers bumping down unique content, and always loves something new to serve up.

  33. Mitu Rosu says:

    Hi there.
    About this post, it’s really nice.Thanks for posting it.I would like to read some more informations about what
    you wrote in this article.It helps me a lot with my businesses, inspires me.

  34. I haven’t noticed any big difference in my site rankings since the update. I am ranking in the top 5 to 8 for most of my keywords and some obscure keywords. May be in like two months we might get a better understanding of how this update is affecting site rankings and we could adapt and make the necessary changes accordingly.

  35. Thanks for sharing this. This will help me a bit to get more traffic..

  36. ibnujusup says:

    why they called it panda update anyway.. is it has something to do with china??

    but anyway, thanks for the SEO blog resource..will take a look at that

  37. Bummer on being hit by the update – I think it affected most news sites that post short keyword-laden bits of info. I think it’s upping everyone’s game though – causing people to noindex low quality content and leave the best content for the index.

  38. Mark Hunt says:

    Google wants to provide its clients with the best search results so they tune their search algorithm constantly. Anyone who bases their business on traffic from Google is one update from disaster. Never let one company control your destiny. Remember Google has a duty to its clients not your blog!

  39. Pretty simple and to the point!

  40. Ambrose says:

    Ironically Panda took a 33% bite out of my funny animals site, presumably because pictures and captions are seen as thin content. At least yours is the kind of site that by nature requires a lot of text, so just avoid dupes.

  41. Harrold says:

    I have a health related blog in Dutch which has more visitors than ever after the Panda update, but the same site in German has a traffic decrease of about 60%. The German version has less backlinks mainly because it hasn’t been around as long as the Dutch version, but how this Panda update really works is still a mystery to me.

    The annoying thing is that I’ve spend over 10,000 euros on the translations, which I’ll probably never earn back.