It's early days still, but it looks like my April 2011 hit site has made a full recovery. It was a hobby site, so didn't really pay much attention until recently, but decided to take a swing at fixing it at the start of January.
I just checked the top 50 keywords for 2010 - resulting in 300k visits / 1.2 million. 40/50 are back in the top 30 on Google.com, of which 30 are top 10 - aka pre-Panda rankings (some improved).
So here's what I did; Overview
There were two sites involved;
- Site 1 - 10 years old, high traffic (150-250k per month), poor design, blog (200 pages) / forum combo (40k pages), forum reasonably active, some thin content on the blog.
- Site 2 - 3 years old, same subject area, 17k per month, custom WP theme (looks pretty good), 50 or so posts
Both hit on April 2011 with 80% traffic loss, etc.
Tested the ad ratio theory earlier last year on the second site - didn't make the slightest bit of difference. It's all about the content (although I should point out that although the sites run 3 Adsense blocks, they were never too "in your face"). The Plan
Decided to forget about Panda for a bit and think more from a business point of view. I came to the conclusion;
- Merge the sites - easier to maintain and realistically there was no point having two (other than the original plan to rank for similar phrases, which wasn't that well thought out!).
- Ditch the forums - they weren't Panda hit (takeaway = Panda is folder specific, or at least can be), but tough to maintain and no real return.
- Redesign the main site - it was static HTML pages. Shifted it to a custom WP site.
- Embrace social media - setup Twitter accounts and Facebook page for the site and integrated social share buttons on the site. More of an alterative solution to Google than a Panda remedy.
- Improve ad positioning, etc.
- End of Dec - transfered content to new WP install. Decided on a case by case basis which articles to remove or rewrite. Ended up removing about 10 articles (out of 200) and rewriting a handful more (a couple were merged together.
- 301'd ALL old URLs to new versions. Even for stuff that was removed (or old cases of duplication, but there wasn't much of that). Site had just been hacked a couple of weeks previous (changed host as a result) - also 301'd the subfolder of spammy links that was installed (WMT showed 30k+ inbound links to those pages from spammy sites).
- Removed forums - 301'd all forum URLs to site homepage.
- Added content from site 2 and 301'd all URLs. Implemented site address changed via WMT.
- January - tested various changes to the site to improve ad CTR, time on site and social shares.
- Social shares - bigger buttons at the end of posts worked better.
- Adsense - well blended ad below the post performs well - revenue at 40% of what it was pre-Panda, but with much less traffic.
- Stickyness - tested positioning for related posts, popular posts, random article snippets, etc. Dropped bounce rate by 15% and increase time on site by 30%.
- Google+ - created authorship for my posts. Kicked in a week ago.
That's the core changes implemented - the rest was really down to developing a content strategy for the site, which has been going well. Since launch I've added regular content each week and been active on Twitter. Some notes & observations
- I don't think removing the forum had any impact on this at all - it was just a business decision.
- While social shares have increased during the 2 months the new site has been live, I don't think these have any particular impact on Panda.
- There's been some speculation about how to manage old content - I 301'd everything to an appropriate page. Seemed to be just fine.
- Not particularly convinced bounce rate or time on site is a factor.
- There were some fluctuations in rankings throughout January - old rankings returning and then dropping. Think this might have been minor Google fluxes, etc but could potentially be down to the scale of 301 redirects being factored.
- There were a LOT of visits from Googleplex a few days before the Google+ authorship kicked in. ;)
- The Panda refresh mid-January didn't have any impact on the site - although much of the old content (40k+ pages) was still in the index. Down to 2.5k today, but that's still a bit high.
- Had a floating social share bar on the left hand side of the site. Removed it at end of Jan - no impact on the amount of social shares.
- Site 2 only became "unverified" in WMT in the past week (meaning the rankings transfered to the new site). I can't comment on whether or not this impacted the recovery of site 1 though, but the rankings did improve with the recovery.
If pressed to theorise, I'd say the combination of some thin content (which was ranking well) and poor design let the site down. Looking at the site then and you wouldn't think much of it. But now, it looks clean, some guest authors on board, there's regular content being produced and growing social profiles.
It's a weird test though - did lots of different things (mass 301's, authorship, merged sites, cleaned up content, redesigned sites, more active social presence) so it's difficult to pin down what the solution was, but if you take a step back from looking at Panda in those terms, then realistically all those things make good business sense too.
The interesting one is the authorship kicking in a week before Panda recovery. I'm absolutely not
saying their connected - it's just coincidental timing. But if I was a search engine that developed a qualitative aspect to my ranking algorithm, I might want to counterbalance that with positive signals of quality (WMT, authorship, social, etc).