One of my niche e-commerce sites got hit by Panda on Oct 14 losing over 75% of its traffic. Before that happened, the site basically controlled a small niche, holding #1 spot for all important keywords in the niche. After the Panda hit, all major keywords went to page 2.
In the past few days, my rankings are back to #1 spot, and it is a good time to sum up the recovery steps taken. Luckily, those were very few, so the situation is much easier to analyze and draw conclusions.
1. Root cause identified
Right from the start I suspected that the problem is with my product pages because of what Google may had perceived as a no-content template generated pages. I had over 5,000 product pages without "description". Product titles and images were the only thing that differed between the pages.
You might think that I was rightfully penalized. But before you judge my page the way Google did, consider this: I am selling a custom manufactured-by-request product, that is specified/described in great detail on autocad performed drawings. These descriptions appear on my product pages in a detailed high-resolution product image. It would be totally insane and comical to try to render these descriptions in text, the way Google likes it. In my view, my pages are rich in content and highly descriptive - it is just that Google is not smart enough to understand it. And that's what I was penalized for.
2. Actions taken
Only two changes (but substantial)
a. Applying the MC's advice to hubpages, I moved all my product pages to a sub-domain. The bots were banned from the sub-domain in robots.txt
b. The original taxonomy architecture was that the products were classified by a two-level categorization system. Every product belonged to some Category A => Sub category A.x. An additional change I introduced was to insert a canonical tag on all sub-categories specifying the parent category page as a canonical URL fro the sub-category page.
3. Result: changes in the index
All product pages and sub-category pages removed from the google index.
4. Result: changes in user experience
Nothing changed. Nothing. I haven't removed a single page on the site. I haven't even modified a single page on the site. The product pages are on the sub-domain now, and the sub-category pages have a canonical tag pointing to the parent category. But from the user's perspective - nothing changed.
Also, in that period I didn't add or delete anything from the site. Not a single page.
5. Result: rankings and traffic
Slowly climbed up the serps after the change. Got back on page 1 about a month after the changes were applied. From there continued gradual climb to the top of the page. In the past few days (5 months after the hit) got back #1 rankings for the most important keywords.
Assuming that the rankings were restored as a result of the applied changes, and not some other mysterious reason, the result is a good lesson for everyone who thinks that Panda is only about content quality or user experience. Sometimes it is just about Google being incompetent.
Remember, nothing changed from the user's perspective here.
Users haven't even noticed the change. And yet, it made google to go to such extremes as take the site down and back up to the first spot.