A good friend of mine got in touch to let me know he'd finally reversed the effects of a Panda update that affected his site greatly in Dec 2012. His approach was to go through every page and improve them by making them more useful and targeted to various informational search queries. His is not a site that sells product.
While that sounds typical what isn't typical is that all of the pages which needed work the most were ranked in the 150 range of serps. After improving them and regaining traffic these are mostly now ranked between 4th and 6th in serps. It would seem there hasn't been a second Panda/Penguin update since his recovery and so top spots are currently off limits to him?
Do you think this yields credence to the possibility that the top few spots are baked in somehow? He'll find out after the next couple of updates if he can regain top spot or not but right now his stats do suggest a ceiling, not that he's complaining... he'll take it so to speak.
Has anyone witnessed something similar after a recovery?
@sid Did you improve the content or did you add a few lines of text? The two aren't always the same! ;)
@JS I saw something slightly different. I followed the same process - went through the site and removed content I felt wasn't good enough. The site recovered after that.
I think there is a degree of relevance needed with content - the pages I removed were all optimised and ranking for terms, but didn't really say much. "Thin content". Essentially they ranked for "product" terms but didn't actually sell the product. If this is the case with your friend, then slightly adjusting the focus of the content to informational queries might actually make the pages more relevant for slightly different terms, hence the recovery.
I don't think there's a technical fix for Panda there. It's not the case where you can say "I need to do x, y or z". It seems very subjective - particularly considering it surrounds the idea of quality and most people have different ideas of what this means.
There was a time when many people in the industry would describe "quality content" as being original / non-duplicate content. Indeed, many may still believe this.
Has your friend improved the content by adding a few lines of text? I did that and still saw no changes.
He removed very few pages but did merge several similar pages at first. As for the pages he later improved he went far beyond just adding a couple lines of text. He researched the competition, researched the subject more deeply and created the best pages he could.
'If my traffic doesn't come back and I have to stop working on the site at least it can still be useful for a few years'
It's the ranking ceiling, or appearance of a ranking ceiling, keeping him out of the top 4 spots he once enjoyed that I found most noteworthy. Are the top few spots baked in by hand so that you have to wait for human approval to attain them?
For: - New slower panda rollouts give time for human raters to double check the top results
Against: - I still see occasional spam reach #1, though not very often and never for long
Has he been watching his user metrics since he has been getting (presumably) a lot more traffic?
Are those new users LOVING his site?
I ask because there have been times when I got a Panda DEMOTION and it turns out that MOST of the user interaction metrics went up right after the demotion (i.e., time on page increase, pages per visit increased, bounce rate dropped, and goal conversion rates increased.
I would just want to make sure that the opposite doesn't happen with your friends site (i.e., the new traffic has worse user metrics).