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Quit Blaming Your Suck on Panda

Is it just me or has Google’s panda update become the scapegoat for poor SEO? It seems like every day I come across an article where some website I’ve never heard of is blaming Panda for a loss of traffic/revenue/rankings and crying about how Google is unfair.

If you are thinking about calling the New York Times or complaining to congress about your site’s rankings, STOP. It is NOT Google’s fault your site isn’t useful.

Sure it may be convenient to blame your current ranking decrease on panda, and it may even help get the client off your back, but the first thing you should ask is if your problem really was panda related or if there is a deeper underlying issue with your business model.

Even if it is a panda issue, complaining about it won’t help. Save that energy and focus it toward fixing the underlying cause. Not every negative change is panda’s fault. It is quite possible that some other issue is hurting your site. If your rankings dropped 3 places, it isprobably not panda related. More on that later.

If you are going to blame Panda, then you should know how to identify a Panda issue.

It would seem most SEOs read every blog post about panda except the official Google post that actually said what it was. For those of you who still have crazy theories, panda was mostly about duplicate content and usefulness. That is basically Panda in a nutshell. In every site I’ve looked at that was hit by Panda, there were massive duplicate content issues – but rather than address their business model and content issues, most webmasters took to the forums to complain.

One of the sites mentioned in several articles and SEO blogs was I generally don’t pick on sites but these guys complained about Panda on Webpronews, Search Engine Watch, NPR, and in a few newspaper articles – so I think that makes them fair game. They even issued a “reward” to anybody that can fix their site. I am hoping they have caught the issue since then, but just in case they haven’t, here is why they got penalized.

Take any product description from their website and Google it. It is NOT unique. They, like all of their competitors, simply took the stock product description from wherever they drop ship and threw it up on their website. There is nothing to set them apart from their competitors. It is not only a classic Panda problem, but it’s a bigger business model problem. Where’s the value add? What makes this site unique so that it should stand out above all the others with the same content?

Here is a better example where their products have the exact same description as Which site do you think will win that ranking battle?

To their credit, they are actually one of the few sites claiming a Panda issue that actually have a Panda issue. It is pretty easy to diagnose. Whether or not they try to make their site more useful or simply alter the content to comply with Panda remains to be seen, however I wouldn’t stop at just re-writing content if I were them.

Content IS king, but Bad Kings are Eventually Usurped – Just Like Your Rankings

I took a look at a bunch of other sites whining about Panda and one theme kept recurring: terrible content and terribly lazy business models. Somewhere amidst all this preaching about needing content, SEOs got lazy and stopped caring where that content came from or how good it was. They assumed more was better and threw up whatever they could find.

Companies like Demand Media, AOL, and Mahalo spotted this trend and built entire business models around mass producing as much content as possible. E-commerce sites got lazy as well and started using default descriptions and cookie cutter sites. It worked for a while but Google’s catching on. Sadly, many webmasters are still blaming Google instead of themselves.

So as not to be accused of picking on one company, here’s another Panda example:

Search Engine Land reported that lost 61% of their traffic due to panda. Here is why. You can’t publish the exact same stories as everybody else and expect to rank.

If you have been hit by Panda look at your content and how it is different than other sites. If it is not different, then you not only have a Panda problem but a business model problem. If all of your content and products come from a feed, does your site really provide a searcher with any more value than Amazon does? If it doesn’t, why would a searcher choose your site over the well known brand? They wouldn’t – and that is why you need to focus on making your site more useful.

But Not All of Your Problems are Panda Related

Let’s do some simple math. according to Google Panda only affects between 11 and 12 percent of queries. That means 88% of queries are not affected by Panda at all – which means there is a pretty good chance that what you are complaining about is entirely caused by something else.

So if it’s not Panda, what is it? It might be a penalty, but it could also be that your competitors were making their sites more useful while you were refreshing forum threads and tracking algorithm changes. How many sites blaming Panda were innovating, adding features building links, pushing great new content, and making their site more useful? I’m willing to bet it’s a lot less than those who were sitting on their rankings and expecting the cash to keep flowing in.

Stop Chasing Algorithms and Start Making Your Site More Useful.

Panda is now, but something else will be next. Where will your site be when that algorithm change hits? Are you neglecting your site because it currently ranks well or are you constantly trying to improve it?

As I wrote in my article about sustainable SEO: “Good SEOs get hit by ranking algorithms. Great SEOs watch their traffic increase.” Chasing an algorithm will always lead to bad results. The difference is that good SEOs chase algorithms while great SEOs focus on the underlying theme of every algorithm change: Usefulness.

Google wants to return useful sites for every query. They have been telling us for years too; we just keep refusing to listen. If your site is not useful, that is your problem not Google’s. If your business model is based solely on a 3rd party’s algorithm, that is also your problem and nobody except you (not even congress) can fix that.

Take a look at your business model, re-evaluate your strategies, and take a good objective look at your site. If you put all your eggs in the Google algorithm basket you might have a problem. Stop asking “how can I rank for [keyword]” and start asking “what would I expect to see when I search for [keyword]”

Remember: for every website that gets hit by an algorithm change, another one benefits. The trick is to be that website. Instead of blaming Google when your rankings drop, you should thank them for all the free business they sent your way and set about figuring out how to make your site more worthy of that useful rating.

Category SEO
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Ryan Jones VP, SEO at Razorfish

Ryan is the SEO lead at Razorfish where he works from early in the morning until late in the evening. ...

Quit Blaming Your Suck on Panda

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