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Is it a Penalty or Panda? Total Noob.
Frost_Angel




msg:4403023
 8:24 pm on Jan 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was hit by Panda on April 12th (approx.) - I've had SEO people tell me it wasn't Panda - but I feel like it was.

I have done many things to my site to help recovery - but for nine months it hasn't gotten better. My site ranked well for many of it's keywords for 10+ years. Never an issue. No black hat, original content - blah blah blah.

I've even submitted three reconsideration requests and I get nothing back that says I'm violating TOS or guidelines.

My question is....
If I were ranking for two keyword phrases beforePanda - and ranking well - bouncing around SERP page 1 and page 2 --- and now post Panda I rank the same +100 spots, that's a penalty, right? Like some kind of OO penalty? Or maybe a BLOOP penalty? (I'm using terms I read here at WW, but by no means do I understand it all.)

Because if I ranked #16 at the beginning of April and now for the last 9 months rank #116 and the page that ranks isn't even my HOME page - then it seems "penalty-like". Am I right?

And if it is a penalty - is there nothing you can do? It's just "go to jail - do not pass go"?

Thanks in advance for your time. I know this is a major NOOB question.

 

tedster




msg:4403025
 8:38 pm on Jan 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

First, the date you mentioned would be about right for a Panda problem reference [webmasterworld.com]

Here's a thread more specific to your question: Google's AdSense Farm Update Was a Re-ranking - NOT a Penalty [webmasterworld.com] (early on, Panda was called the "Farm" update and was thought to target Made For Adsense "content farms"0

Not every ranking drop is a penalty - although many webmasters do use that word rather casually and I appreciate that it can cause confusion.

The challenge you face is understanding whether it's a Panda demotion (a new re-ranking algorithm) or an actual penalty. Yes, both can cause significant losses in traffic and rankings, but the way the two situations are activated is quite different. Google tells us Panda is their attempt to measure "quality" via algorithm.

Panda is not about guideline violations - those bring about penalties on a specific site basis. Instead, Panda is a re-ranking algorithm that evaluates all sites and tags some as being lower quality - sites that they feel ranked well for all kinds of legitimate SEO reasons, but whose content did not measure up to their quality criteria.

We don't know exactly what all those criteria are, but the threads here are full of learnings gleaned over the past 11 months. If you would like to study up on things, you can start here:

Panda Farm Update Directory - key discussions [webmasterworld.com]

martinacastro




msg:4403067
 2:05 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

hi Frost_Angel

you can test if your domain is penalized searching for specific strings of your homepage. If your content is unique it must appear in the first page, otherwise your site is penalized.

I recommend you to read the thread of Panda as tester told you.

About the reconsiderations, what kind of messages you recieve? No manual penalization?

Frost_Angel




msg:4403076
 2:55 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Martinacastro,

Every request I have I sent to Google gets this response:

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider how we index the following site: #*$!#*$!x

We've now reviewed your site. When we review a site, we check to see if it's in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines. If we don't find any problems, we'll reconsider our indexing of your site. If your site still doesn't appear in our search results, check our Help Center for steps you can take.

Planet13




msg:4403079
 3:53 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Welcome to the forums, Frost_Angel:

Please do what martinacastro said and try to search for a unique string of text on your home page (or another page that used to rank well) and see if it ranks on page 1 or not.

Also, I would really, really suggest you get someone to look for any technical problems with your site. I know a couple of other webmasters who were SURE they had been penalized, only to realize later that it was a technical glitch. I've done that too...

Frost_Angel




msg:4403083
 4:27 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

What would be considered a "technical problem"?

Also Martin - my site ranks #1 for a unique string of content. So that means there is NO penalty? That seems really weird since Google will NOT rank me for two similar keyword phrases at all that I ranked for in the top 20 for 10+ years?

Planet13




msg:4403091
 4:49 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

What would be considered a "technical problem"?


Well, once I accidentally put a noindex tag on my home page. It was there for a whole month before someone else pointed it out to me. Not really good for SEO purposes...

The thing was, I had checked the code of that page probably four or five times looking for errors, and just looked right over it. Now THAT was a noob mistake...

You probably have a google webmaster tools account. You should try and use the fetch as googlebot* to see if the pages return a valid 200 response and that the code matches what the code of your web site looks like when you do a view source (this helps to check whether anyone has hacked your site).

Also, you mentioned one other thing:

I've had SEO people tell me it wasn't Panda...


1) Did those people actually LOOK at your site?

2) What DID they say the problem was?

Also, do try to search for a unique string of text. That's really going to help in terms of discovering whether it is a penalty, Panda, or possibly some other algorithm based ranking issue.

*That is one reason I miss the google cache. When looking at backlinks of my competitors, I would often see links from some pages that were unrelated. I would visit those pages in my browser and didn't see any link to my competitors on them. But if I looked at the google cache, I could see that those pages had been hacked and were serving up different content to googlebot than to standard web browsers. It's good to let a web master know when his site has been hacked - especially if it will rub out a link to a competitor.

gyppo




msg:4403124
 9:45 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Cache still exists, it's just on the instant preview now.

suggy




msg:4403125
 9:50 am on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Frost_Angel - sounds like classic Panda to me and similar to my own experience. After 9 months and massive changes, I am finally starting to "get it" and pull my site out of the mire.

Have had to accept the all conquering days of my 7 year old site are probably behind it; I just don't think Panda allows you to stretch yourself so thinly anymore unless you have the 'brand' factor.

Small and tight seems to do better these days. And, if you think of bashing content farms, this makes sense: they had lots of content on lots of subjects and lots of it overlapping. And, it's worth noting domains like ehow that appear to have stronger brand factors were less scathed than others.

Personally, I have deleted 30,000 pages and canonicalised plenty more. And, each time I consolidate, the remaining pages do better and better.

Start by looking at very low visit long tail pages - they're the ones that are hurting you and pulling the rest of the site down. Also target high bounce pages and improve or remove.

Best of luck.

Suggy

martinacastro




msg:4403199
 4:09 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

hi Frost_Angel, did you search the string without quotes?

It must be the string without quotes

you can also test making this:

yourdomain.com Keyword

Frost_Angel




msg:4403209
 4:53 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

@Suggy
Yep - our website situations sound similar. I have removed SOOOO many pages and really tried to tighten up my site. But I don't really understand what you mean by "long tail pages". Does that mean pages with long titles?

@Martin
I did a search for yourdomain.com Keyword - and many results for my site comes up. So does that mean NO penalty and that it is/was Panda that got me.

@Planet13
Gotcha. I feel like I have checked over the site pretty good. But I didn't want to super bore anyone with details on my site. The site WAS in HTML for 11 years. I switched it over into a "test" WP format right before I got hit by Panda. The site LOOKED just like the HTML site but was in WP format - I wanted to test waters before I flipped it totally into WP and a new design. I officially flipped it into the new WP design on Mother's Day in May. Because at that point, it was doing so horrible I felt I had nothing to lose. I also switched the site to a new server right before any of this and the host left an entire copy of my site on the old server and the company re-doing my site design left an entire copy of the WP test site on THEIR server. (Niiiice! And I paid money for this?) But - I explained all this to G in my reconsideration(s).

Yes - SEO people actually looked at my site. I even made the HUGE mistake of going over to G's forums and asking for folks there to give their input. In some ways it was helpful - there was a technical issue I was unaware of - I had a search engine running on my site for my visitors and though I "thought" I was keeping G out - they were indexing these pages - like 70,000 of them! All thin content - my site is only around 315 pages! So I got rid of that search engine quickly.

I also went to GWT and did the fetch thing for my homepage. All looks ok. But will go over it a few more times to be sure.

I feel like - whatever the issue is - it's unfair. And I know everyone says or at least thinks that. But if you saw what WAS ranking in the top 10 for my keyword phrase - you'd feel the same. It's sites that are doing everything that Panda says NOT to do. So for me... you feel a little defeated. And to make matters worse, you're not making any money - so you can't bring in one of these hot shot SEO people because they cost your first kid and a kidney.

But I am trying to figure it out. I feel like there is some good that has come from it all. I update more, my site is more user friendly, I've gone back to basics where money isn't the motivator - it's writing to my audience and having rapport with them. Those are good things.

But I come to WW and read the forums and I swear it makes me more crazy and frantic. I think.... "oh gosh - I should be doing what this person says..." or "I need to remove these 100 pages because they think maybe that could be an issue." It's madness. It's upsetting. Because I'm like a child mimicking my parents and parents aren't always right. LOL

Sometimes I sit here and think... I'll just flip the site back into it's old, ugly, ancient FP 2003 format and see if the site jumps back up.

Planet13




msg:4403226
 5:24 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

I even made the HUGE mistake of going over to G's forums and asking for folks there to give their input.


Why was that a mistake? What sort of advice (aside from the technical error you mentioned) did they give you?

But if you saw what WAS ranking in the top 10 for my keyword phrase - you'd feel the same. It's sites that are doing everything that Panda says NOT to do.


You can, of course, set up some new domains and duplicate the methods of those sites that are currently ranking well post Panda, too. Just don't associate them in any way with your legitimate site(s). Getting a domain name is cheap, wordpress is free, hosting is inexpensive, software to "promote" your site's is affordable (also people can be found to do it for moderate prices as well if you don't have the time / money to use the software).

I feel like - whatever the issue is - it's unfair.


Yes, it is "unfair," which is why it is a bad idea to have a business plan that makes you dependent on something which you have little to no control over. Complaining won't help. Neither will pressing for "government action" help.

also, if it were "fair" you would have a LOT MORE competition. Every mom and pop site that doesn't have a clue about SEO would be ranking above your site.

Just remember that google owes you nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. They aren't in it to support your business. They are in it to make as much money as they can for themselves. That's capitalism 101. Fortunately, for us webmasters, their business model allows us to exploit their services to a certain extent for our own personal gain. If you do SEO, then you are riding the coattails of google, so to speak.

I feel like there is some good that has come from it all. I update more, my site is more user friendly, I've gone back to basics where money isn't the motivator - it's writing to my audience and having rapport with them. Those are good things.


And those are things that SHOULD earn you money and push you to the top of the rankings in the long run.

But I come to WW and read the forums and I swear it makes me more crazy and frantic. I think.... "oh gosh - I should be doing what this person says..." or "I need to remove these 100 pages because they think maybe that could be an issue." It's madness. It's upsetting. Because I'm like a child mimicking my parents and parents aren't always right. LOL


Don't chase the algorithm; chase your customers instead.

Another poster in this forum occasionally reminds me that I need to look carefully at the market place and see where there is a void and fill that void with my sites. That poster is 100% right. I think that if you really look at what people want and what is not available (or what is available but is not easily found due to poor optimization), then you will be on the right track.

synthese




msg:4403326
 10:59 pm on Jan 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

@suggy

Personally, I have deleted 30,000 pages and canonicalised plenty more. And, each time I consolidate, the remaining pages do better and better.


This is interesting. I also have been thru 9+ months of tweaking - and eventually deleting about 70% of the site. However I have not noticed any marked improvements in remaining pages. Keyword distribution is bizarrely flat (no stand out pages like there were pre-panda). This makes it very difficult to figure out what panda is hating.

Thanks for your insights.

suggy




msg:4403740
 8:59 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi synthese - no worries.

A good example of this phenomenom on my site was a branded section. I used to have [brand] widgets, [brand] gizmos, [brand] gadgets, [brand] everything, [brand] synonym. They were all unique, all focused on a different sub-range of [brand] or were an overall agreggator. All had original content. It wasn't a particularly competitive term and my domain authority was great so we ranked well. Then Panda hit!

First, I rewrote every section. Doubling the content. Putting unique video on some pages. Making the formatting more rich with blockquotes, lists, more unique images (to that page). It started working until May update, when we tanked again!

Then I started removing the synonyms/ alternative spelling pages. The most redundant. Things started improving a little for the original section/ oldest url.

So I got more and more agressive. Removing more sections. No I only have two left: the catch all brand (oldest) and the biggest sub range and the rankings of both are vastly improved.

I see people on the forum talking about combining product pages and I think this might even be a way forward too. Because when I search for specific products within the brand in question, often many products to the page pages are showing up as well as the specific product detail page.
Anyone else noticed that?

In fact, Google seems loathed to give us anything too specific at the moment. Type in a specific coding or technical question and you may notice that many of the results don't really match the detail of your question, eventhough it feels like there should be better results out there!

Anyone else noticing this?

tangor




msg:4403747
 9:19 pm on Jan 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've said this several times before, the web is bigger than Google. And with as many new websites coming on line every DAY, it just keeps getting bigger. Panda was a quality change... nuked many sites that are programmatically generated (spun) for the Adsense income, pushing out thousands, to hundreds of thousand pages (some into the millions). QUALITY has become the current mantra... and that actually turns out to be "just as many pages as necessary to cover the subject/topic and no more". As Panda interates through the webmaster community... those of us with the ability to generate thousands of pages the warning is out: "don't do that".

Add to that the number of pages in different languages, DOING THE SAME THING, and it becomes immense.

What to do? If one is a retailer with thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of products, you have that necessity to have those pages.

How many is too many? We don't know. But, those chasing the algo have been forced to look at how they are doing things and have discovered, they CAN consolidate, refine, combine, publish the same info in far FEWER pages and seen some SE "love" return. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever regained 100%+ of their prior Panda levels.

Panda is a wake up. That said, Bing takes a slightly different approach... they don't bother with really low quality sites (humans are involved), just a different approach to the same problem all SEs are facing these days: the EXPLOSION of content, good or not so good, which tasks their ability to provide reasonable results.

Frost_Angel




msg:4404583
 8:06 pm on Jan 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

Also, I would really, really suggest you get someone to look for any technical problems with your site.


I've been really going over my site trying to make sure I'm not missing anything - something occurred to me and I thought I should ask if this is a technical issue.

When I flipped my site from 11years in HTML to a wordpress format it changed EVERY 11 year old url. These are all obviously 301's now. Care was taken to make sure everything had a 301. That means over 300 pages have a 301 redirect now. Is that hurting me? And if it is - what can you do? I don't want to lose 11 years of backlinks.

I did mention this format change in my reconsideration to Google - but of course nothing changed with rankings.

I'm just worried now it's too many redirects and how/if there is anything else I can do that helps with that.

Thanks in advance.

Planet13




msg:4404599
 8:49 pm on Jan 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

did you use fetch as googlbot to try and access the old page URLs? Are you sure you are getting the correct redirect response?

suggy




msg:4404722
 8:01 am on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

HTTP header check been done to confirm that headers are going out as 301?

Frost_Angel




msg:4404775
 4:00 pm on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Do I do a check for each page?

Planet13




msg:4404780
 4:25 pm on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

How many is too many? We don't know. But, those chasing the algo have been forced to look at how they are doing things and have discovered, they CAN consolidate, refine, combine, publish the same info in far FEWER pages and seen some SE "love" return. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever regained 100%+ of their prior Panda levels.


I think there is evidence on both sides though, right?

Certainly many sites that had a model of "content sprawl" were brutalized by at least one of the Panda iterations. ehow, for instance, took it on the chin when Panda 2 rolled out.

However, in the niches I watch closely, ehow has made a comeback. For example, their four paragraph article - which cites as a reference my 9 paragraph article full of sample images and an inline glossary - ranks above my page.

Heck, the ehow article ranks ABOVE the wikipedia page of the same topic. :[

Also, another site I seem to run into at the top of the SERPs when I am looking for something on google is about.com - which may rival ehow in terms of subject numerity and content dearth, while still shoving ads into every empty space on the page.

Why this is, I have no idea. But I would just kindly suggest that there is something out there that we might be overlooking.

suggy




msg:4404812
 7:00 pm on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

@Frost_Angel

I check every single 301 I set up to ensure it's returning the correct status (google "HTTP Header Check") and that it's resolving to correct final destination.

@Planet13

Don't forget, Panda is just a big impotent bear playing snap with your page versus what it thinks searchers want for that phrase. It's supposed to be learning and get better and better at matching pages to searcher intent. I'm not sure it is though! Junk goes down in one iteration, only to be reborn in next (and vice versa for good sites). I think it has a real problem with short-sightedness. Doesn't seem to be able to 'think' beyond the obvious conclusion, which often has undesirable consequences. Then it's "DOH!" time again!

tangor




msg:4404842
 9:53 pm on Jan 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

When I flipped my site from 11years in HTML to a wordpress format it changed EVERY 11 year old url. These are all obviously 301's now.

When was this change made? Perhaps 60 days before the loss occurred?

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