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Panda Recovery - A 1 Year Case Study

     
4:06 am on Jul 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

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We normally don't post links to blog articles unless they are quite authoritative, usually including information from a search engine employee. I'm making an exception here (there's not Google rep involved) for several reasons:

1. This article was printed on Search Engine Journal - a well-edited and professional source
2. The content of this article was also presented at the SMX Advanced conference
3. The detail offered here, and especially the information about the judgment calls involved, makes for some excellent reading and food for thought.

Yes, this is a long article. It's worth the time:

The results that have occurred over the course of the past year have been truly stunning to say the least. I knew the site would see big improvements in organic data. I just had no idea it would be on this scale... the client made all the changes I recommended, and, as a result, a year later they've increased organic traffic by 334%

[searchenginejournal.com...]
4:06 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Only a guess ;-)..but I think ehow have a phone line..( as do premium publishers ;-)
Yeah, no kidding! eHow Panda Recovery is THE story I would want to hear. From a slap on a wrist and a [tiny bit of] public chastising to completely dominating some very lucrative SERPs (with 3+ listings per page) in the space of just a few months. I would say it took ehow less than 3-4 months to make up for anything they have potentially lost back in (when was it?) April 2011?

My site's pages are mentioned as the source (with a no-follow link, what a low blow!) on several dozens of eHow pages and yet they rank well below eHow on relevant terms. So, what exactly did Panda achieve and what would then constitute a "recovery" as such - whatever position you have lost to Panda has already been taken by eHow and you're simply going to have to start from the bottom (or Page 2+) again.

It looks to me that with the 2012 SERPs (host crowding, eHow absolute domination, Amazon rules the SERPs etc.) you would not know if you've recovered from Panda even if the negative effect Panda had on your site/pages is completely gone. Panda may have eased its grip on you, little fish, but you've been freed into a different pond than the one you've been taken from. Bigger fish feeds better here.
4:58 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Only a guess ;-)..but I think ehow have a phone line..( as do premium publishers ;-)..and were probably told it would all be temporary for them , and not to change anything until they were told what to change and how...


I do find it hard to believe it could have happened any other way. The best SEOs in the world shouldn't have been able to backward engineer Panda that quickly. Either they had some help, or they got amazingly lucky.

arikgub, LMAO, too. That's pretty sad.

My site's pages are mentioned as the source (with a no-follow link, what a low blow!) on several dozens of eHow pages and yet they rank well below eHow on relevant terms.


Welcome to the club! We meet every Thursday. Bring a bottle. ;)

Panda may have eased its grip on you, little fish, but you've been freed into a different pond than the one you've been taken from. Bigger fish feeds better here.


+1. This is really where we're at. There's no point in a small site trying to figure out how to please the zoo animals, because then you're still facing the basic algo which seems to be strongly favoring signals that small sites just can't give, no matter how awesome they are. So maybe it's the main algo smaller sites should focus on.

Myself, I'm focusing on improving my sites from a user's perspective and building traffic from sources other than Google. If Google gets on board and gives me more free traffic, that'll be nice. If not, then at least I know long-term I'm heading in the best direction I can: creating a site people like, and getting the word out through sources I can somewhat control.
5:23 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I wouldn't call this site a spam site, but no doubt that the ads location make it ugly. Also, the 8 in-text ads per page are so irritating.
If the ad/content ration was a factor in Panda, this site wouldn't recover.

There's a site called 'what to expect when you're expecting a ..' which is an authority in this field and get 3 times more traffic.
What a difference between these two.

[edited by: Zivush at 5:28 pm (utc) on Jul 5, 2012]

5:26 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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In the interest of better covering the eHow recovery which, I suppose, is the grandest Panda recovery story of them all hence relevant to the topic, a few more things need to be mentioned:

#1 We always talk about eHow as how shallow/copied/farmed their content is but what strikes me as abnormal is that on phrases I analyzed their category pages and what seems like simple (or perhaps slightly enhanced) search pages also rank well. This is very strange - I don't remember it being the case pre-Panda and I remember Google having issues with indexable search results on people's sites since all the way back to 2005 or earlier. I have my site search URLs no-indexed just to avoid creating what Google may see as "doorway pages" (remember this term often used 7+ years ago?). eHow, on the other hand, seems the have shed any shyness about these automatically-built doorway pages, post-Panda, and does pretty well.

#2 eHow is not the only content farm out there. The site in the OP in this thread is another one. There are also eHow clones, such as Wikihow, that to my knowledge do not belong to Demand Media, and still rank very well, sometimes ahead of eHow and certainly ahead of the sources mentioned on their pages. Some of my competitors have large eHow-like sections of their sites which also rank very well. So, maybe Demand Media's clout, which I don't dispute, is not the only thing that pushes eHow pages up?

What do you think is it about eHow-like content that Google now likes, despite the stated Panda goals back in 2011?
7:27 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Believe it or not, USERS like a lot of eHow content. Specially since they seem to have cleaned up some. It might not be OUR cup of tea, but my mom and her friends happily use it (and print it out) and find value in it.

And that's what Google likes. They don't *care* what we think about it, they care what the users think about it.
7:49 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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It might not be OUR cup of tea..but it is mostly our ripped off content..re-spun by human writers who don't know the subjects they "write" about, for ehow..

Users don't know that..would they care ? probably not , society has changed too much and plagiarism is now OK unless it affects you or your family ( such as ehow ripping off the site of a son or a daughter ) personally..

Google do know that..and they definitely do not care about the ethical position of letting plagiaristic "content farms" run adsense..if they are big enough..
8:14 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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It's obvious. Every time I significantly change/update a page, that page jumps drastically to the top SERPS for a day or two, then slides back over a week or so. Sooo, if you have enough pages and if you are constantly changing enough different pages constantly you get an ongoing wave crest of SERPs to surf on... until you stop making more and more daily changes... then you get drowned in the SERPs.

An alternative analogy, it's like keeping a balloon inflated that has a tiny hole in it. Stop pumping and the balloon eventually collapses.

So his success COULD be due simply to the act of CHANGING things over that entire long period, not HOW he changed them.
8:29 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Quite possible that this is indeed having a certain effect..especially in some niches..

Google tend to reward "freshness" with higher serps position..which entices more clicks..which G see as validation of the high position..which keeps it there longer, as you say, as long as he, or the owner or the owner's little re-spinner elves, keep it "bubbling"..( which is real easy to do if you are not actually having to write your own material, and or do your own research ), then it can stay up in the high numbers and positions for quite some time..
9:05 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@MikeNoLastName You are possibly correct - I have a 'Test' page - change the page - goes up - leave for a while drops down - and I am not talking about what, for us, is a normal +/- 3 positions change per day.

Going back to the article I wonder how many failures there were using the same technique, all SEO's write articles about a success never about a failure
9:21 pm on July 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@MikeNoLastName: interesting idea, I never actually paid attention to any changes on eHow pages that come up ahead of mine (and often have mine listed as a source). Is this a conjecture (a reasonable one, I concur) or have you actually followed a particular page or pages on eHow over time and were able to detect content change despite static URL.

Well, what I mean is the actual "content" of the article, not the "Other people are reading" and other peripheral content that I presume is very often changing anyways via automatic means. Else did you mean that [automatic] rehashing of the "Other people are reading", "You may like" or other transient sections of the page is what pushes them up?
12:25 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I think this thread sums up where we are at.

tedster posts a real insight into getting free from Panda. Subsequent posts gradually talk about how spammy the original site is and then talk about content farms and ehow etc.

No discussion from anyone thinking - ok, what can I take from that case study.

I sometimes feel like tedster and netmeg are the only guys offering any help - I am useless as I know more than I post but the stuff you have to deal with doesn't make it easy.
12:33 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Ok, to back up my last post here are my observations in line with the original post.

I have made similar changes to 2 of my sites and seen exactly the same results. Of course I didn't make the exact changes but I made changes thinking about the visitor - what was significant was the increased engagement by visitors, and then our traffic increased and has continued to do so.

But what is significant is that the sort of changes were the ones mentioned in the case study - and so surely that is gold dust to everyone in Panda/Penguin hell.

Myself I can't stand the names given to Google updates - too much power to them.

I am CEO of a business that runs 10 sites, and I don't bank on free Google traffic - I look at it that free traffic is volatile, and I work on every other thing I can do to build my business.
12:55 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I see main content nav moved to left; hope this isn't crucial as lately switched mine to right [after seeing several newspaper sites with this; my sites are content focused so seemed appropriate, and I figured newspapers will do a lot of testing]
Didn't notice any change in page hits.

As to not indexing "nodes" related to keywords - something I've belatedly tried.
For each keyword entered, I get a page, with list of articles and their "teasers" (in Drupal; akin to abstracts). Such pages could help visitors wanting to find more on the sites, but I'm not too interested in people arriving directly via search engines.
I've only recently added noindex to these pages; should make the content indexed by google less "dilute". My impression being that google favours concentrated content; tho I hope it can see value of photo gallery pages with just image plus title.
Also used the site:www.example.com search to scan thro indexed pages, see if there are some others I don't really want there, likewise adding noindex [or should remove if pages useless].
No big change as yet - but at least, touch wood, I haven't been slapped with penalty for such efforts.
2:33 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I hope they didn't pay this SEO alot of money although I'm sure the increases in the traffic paid for it.

Alot more can be (and should be) done to improve this site. I don't think it's "out of the woods" just yet.
5:24 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@klark0 care to explain what else you would do?
7:05 am on July 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I took a nugget from that article: "Topic Umbrellas". Even on a 220 page site I could internal linking changes that better defined groups of content that had different but inter-related focus.
6:11 pm on July 9, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Good read, Tedster. Thanks.

> I sometimes feel like tedster and netmeg are the only guys offering any help - I am useless as I know more than I post but the stuff you have to deal with doesn't make it easy.

I'd like to see individual post ratings like you see on many sites now, incl Amazon. I think this would encourage higher-quality posts. One click to the highest-rated posts in a thread is a valuable, time-saving feature.
12:29 am on July 11, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Great case study, thanks for posting it Tedster.

I had a quick look at the site in question and was surprised that there is still an awful lot of links on each page and interlinking of topics etc. I guess improving it was enough.
5:21 am on July 11, 2012 (gmt 0)

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A question for the guru's out there. Do you really think this site would have revived in highly competitive verticals ?

Matt Cutts talks about what makes a good quality site [stonetemple.com...] and [webmasterworld.com...]
Does it really fit with being a "quality site" in the context of the above.
This 49 message thread spans 2 pages: 49