Quit Blaming Your Suck on Panda

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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 OneWayFurniture.com. 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 Amazon.com. 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 Starpulse.com 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.

Ryan Jones
By day Ryan Jones works at SapientNitro where he's a manager of search strategy & analytics and works mostly on fortune 500 clients. By night... Read Full Bio
Ryan Jones

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  • I good follow up would be to give examples of sites who provide benefit and value and have been credited by google.

    I sure would love to read that.

  • Probably one of the best articles I have read in a long time, that has mentioned ANYTHING about the Panda update. I could not agree more with you Ryan.

    This title says it all, “Stop Chasing Algorithms and Start Making Your Site More Useful.”

    Enough said.

    – M

  • Ryan! haha! They can’t handle the truth! I have felt this way for a while now. But, I thought it was me and the way I look at things. My sites, were not affected at all. I stayed on top all along, for my targeted keyword. Now, I came across this new cursor ad conversion software. Which wil be perfect for getting my visitors attention, see the demo if you like. Much Success to all.

  • Hi Ryan,

    “Stop Chasing Algorithms and Start Making Your Site More Useful.” Well put! Even though it’s harder than one might think. Thanks for the perspective and outlining the difference between being a good SEO and a GREAT SEO. Stay positive 🙂

  • Great article Ryan. The point of Panda is to weed out low quality websites. It’s only natural for the SEOs looking for the easy way out to whine while the ones working hard stay on top. The saying “Content is King” does not apply anymore. The new saying is “Good Content is King.”

  • I’ve recently gotten into the blogging and SEO games, and everyone I’ve asked has said to learn Panda. They’ve acted like Panda is more important than the people they produce content for. I’ve decided I’m going to focus on providing useful content and not let an algorithm determine my business model; and as a result, my site continues gaining traffic. Well written article my friend, more people need to take accountability for their shortcomings instead of blaming Google. Google isn’t going to punish sites that help people, so more should take your advice. Cheers!

  • Nicely said and quite frank for those that are unsure or unaware of issues pertaining to rankings other than Panda. Yes, Panda did change the game for SEO by making good SEOs more part of quality control than with marketing, but keep in mind that it’s always been the case as pointed out in the article. SEOs were just not paying attention or felt that the benefit outweighed the con until Panda was released. Now, it’s time to go back and start making content useful and high quality rather than churning out pages for rankings. I for one was always with the notion that if you want to rank for something, then make a page for it. Now, I’m more about if you want to rank for something, ask why, how, from what, to where, and other types of questions to learn if the content is going to be worth it for the users. If you are just making pages for the sake of rankings, that is a flawed plan. It’s time to make pages for the sake of users. 🙂

  • The easiest way to avoid Panda penalization is to build website that is unique and natural and has quality to offer.

  • corneliu

    I guess daniweb suck !? Panda is NOT perfect. Your article is made for google not for users. What does it mean… make your pages for your user ?! Do you think google is smart enough to reward a site with no SEO ?!?! Every site on the internet is made for money. Wake up or please don’t lie. We are not stupid.
    And what is quality ?! What is quality for me could be crap for you. It’s is all subjective and google are awarding the big players. It’s all about the money… not the user.

  • I do agree with corneliu. Imagine all those poor soul who lost their job due to Google’s whims and fancy. Google has changed, but not for the better. When G came, they were like the old USA, standing up against the oppressive force and giving hope to the weak. Now and sadly, Google has turned into the biggest bully of the century.

    All I can see is, what ever done in Panda is totally hypothetical without any transparency. Only a bully does that…remember Ghadaffi.

    • +1 for trolling. You actually got me to respond.

      Hypothetical and without transparency? They’ve been saying for years to make your site unique. If you didn’t listen, that’s not their fault.

      Lost their jobs? You mean the job that wouldn’t have existed in the first place if not for Google?

      It’s easy to pick a scape goat, but the reality of our industry is that your failures are your own fault.

      • Your reply got me to reply because there isn’t a “Like” button. 🙂


      • Trolling as in disagreeing with your post? So sorry for having a different opinion from you Your Highness.

      • Jeff

        “You mean the job that wouldn’t have existed in the first place if not for Google?”
        Sorry but Google is not the only source of income online. True they are the biggest and most profitable source of traffic for most, but it is absurd to say that those jobs wouldn’t exist if not for Google. If not for Google, there would be some other massive search engine.

        Ryan you take a very arrogant view on this whole situation. When quality was never an issue in the past, it was a surprise to many when it became a bigger part of ranking sites. In the past there was a lot less reason to create content for users instead of for search engines. So of course people were going to do the bare minimum and focus on the algorithm. Do you not think it is partly Google’s fault for maintaining an algorithm that can be manipulated for so long. That gave people a sense of security and persuaded them to ignore quality.

        If you had bothered actually looking into Panda more, you would realize that it does heavily favor big brands. Of course, you don’t care about the specifics of Panda. You just care about creating a catchy title that borders on controversy.

      • No Robin. Not Trolling as in Disagreeing. Trolling as in going right to a gadaffi comparison.

    • Michael J Kovis

      @Robin Ong – Your remarks have no justifiable sustenance to them. Therefore, it is trolling. Your comparison between the “Old USA” and “Google” makes no sense along with a reference to Ghadaffi.

      I can accept different opinions any day of the week, but when you your comment adds absolutely no value whatsoever to the conversation, once again, therefore it is trolling.

  • Leila

    I was pretty smug too after a previous Panda update put my traffic through the roof. But now I am down significantly more than I was before the boost.. I also see a lot of junk websites at the top of searches. So I think Panda will have to be continually improved and you never know who is going to be moved down. I can say that it has motivated me to improve my site.

  • this was really great read..i belive..SEO needs to get back to basics…..Great read….

    They have come up with +1 ..now that too will make people make fake ids and promote it with their +1….

    it seriously sucks…..

  • Shane

    Hello Ryan. My site got hit by panda recently and am on my way to improving the site qualify. I have identified about 30 pages that need improvement and another 30 pages that i feel has to be removed for improving my site quality. Is it okay to remove 30 pages in a single day? Or should it be done gradually? Your response will be a lot of help to me. If you could take a minute to respond, i would be much obliged. Thank you so much in advance.

    • It’s fine to remove 30 pages in a day. There shouldn’t be a penalty with that at all. In fact, it’s very common. (think, product discontinued or what not)

      What I would do before I remove them is decide if a.) there’s a more relevant place I can 301 those URLs. or b.) decide if I need to create a more useful page that I can then redirect them to.

  • “Chasing an algorithm will always lead to bad results.”

    Amen! Too often we lose the forest for the trees with SEO. We get to bogged down in trying to pick apart the algorithm piece by piece that we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

  • Ryan, I’m glad you wrote a blog about Google Panda as I’ve encountered a plagiarism incident a few weeks ago with one of my blogs. What’s sad is that when you check the ranking of the article, the scraper’s site is showing on top of ours in Google – when that site copied everything verbatim from our site. But, in Bing – that site don’t even show on their searches. I looked further on that scraper’s site and I took an action to notify other folks whose blogs/articles were copied as well and I got positive replies. It’s not about the ranking that I’m bothered, but giving credit where it’s rightfully due. I have to agree that search engines are just a part of your sales funnel; you have to post great content as well and offer something valuable to your audience.

    • You brought up a good point Aaron. I wouldn’t stress too much about companies copying your content and it causing you a panda penalty – it shouldn’t.

      Google is pretty good about knowing who owns content. They’re even better if you use rel=author (however for an e-commerce site that probably doesn’t make sense. Although I’m curious to see if it applies once Google unleashes brand pages on + That could be powerful, especially if the scapers scrape that too with your descriptions)

      anyway… you should still use your means to try to get them to stop scraping, I just wouldn’t worry too much about it causing a penalty.

      As for why the scraper is outranking you, that sucks – but they’re probably using some other means to generate more links, etc. Sadly, I’m not the person to ask about what to do when somebody’s copying your content and outranking you.

      • Thanks Ryan – it was pretty weird, that incident and all. It seems that I’m not the only one complaining as I’ve found blogs ( or rants ) about it as well. I think that there will always be those folks who’ll try everything to game the system and it’s an insult really to their audience… as people are simply smarter these days and numbers can mean absolutely nothing if your traffic is not converting into qualified leads – customers – brand advocates. I appreciate your reply and I’ll keep you updated. Cheers!

  • Goodness, angry elves yesterday evening.

    Enjoyed the article, Ryan. Always nice to see articles from smart people who can see how important content is–not just for content’s sake, but for how imperative it is for the value of your site in the spectrum of an industry. Unique perspectives (like addressing Panda instead of general SEO to stress content) are always refreshing. Thanks.

  • At the end of the day any SEO professional who is hit by the panda should not of put themselves in a position to be classed as Grey hat, if you look behind the ‘horror’ stories you will quickly see a bad seo ‘guru’ is behind it. Roll on the next update.

  • Thanks for this, Ryan!

    It makes me sad to see hundreds of eCommerce sites using the same canned manufacturer’s descriptions. Many Web shop owners think of adding optimized, original product descriptions as an expense when they should really be looking at it as a sure-fire, proven investment.

  • Anit P

    “There is nothing to set them apart from their competitors.”

    Not only are you an idiot but you are a douche too, judging by the replies in comments.
    Prices, customer service, shipping policy sets them apart, for good or bad. Two lines of description mean nothing, especially when Google ignores them on big sites. What’s more important to visitors, those two lines or prices?

    “for every website that gets hit by an algorithm change, another one benefits.”

    More stupidity from you, 5000 sites can fall and ebay might take all their traffic. Or Google with ads and their ever increasing profits.

    For a ‘know it all person’ person you sure don’t have a clue.

    • Michael J Kovis

      Can you even back up any of your mindless and ridiculous drivel? Your remarks are not only uneducated, but completely ignorant. Especially when your first response to is to call the author a “douche.” Stay classy Anit. Stay classy.

      Judging by your comments, you obviously must be one of those, so called SEO’s, that really does not understand what it takes to truly optimize a website for search engines.

  • Anit P

    “Lost their jobs? You mean the job that wouldn’t have existed in the first place if not for Google?”

    Hahahahahahaha! I guess you were born after Google and that can explain a lot of things.
    FYI: They were search engines and directories before Google and will be after Google, so Google didn’t create jobs. But now Google is commercializing everything for their profit$ and causing people to lose jobs.

  • Unfortunatly we can say this all we want, but people just don’t want to put the effort in and regard ranking in Google as a ‘right’ and if they don’t cry freedom of speech or favortism or whatever their particular problems happen to favour, probably based more on the way the wind is blowing than anything else.

    I’ve noticed that most of the clients that follow our SEO advice do well, even a couple of really crap websites, with not great design but have shed loads of unique content are ranking on the first page for really competitive keywords, simply because the content is good, regardless of the quality of the website code e.t.c. (Please note, we didn’t build these sites, we just inheritied them from other companies, our code is much better 😉 )

    So yes, content issues are always going to be one of the major things that kill websites, if the website owner can’t be bother to make decent and unique content, its going to bite them in the arse. That simple really.

  • It certainly has been an eye-opener for many e-commerce sites about how much work they should put into a product sheet’s content.
    The example of this site whining about being unjustly pandalized when they were copy/pasting product descriptions is hilarious. Not that they did it to begin with (copy/paste from their dropshippers), this can be tempting when you manage 100’s of products and just care about getting them online asap. It’s the fact that the reason they were pandalized was so obvious (copy/paste) and they complained everywhere about unfairness…who was doing their SEO?

  • Jeff

    Before making your statements about duplicate content, get your facts straight. Matt Cutts himself made a video addressing duplicate content. He acknowledged that there are plenty of circumstances where some duplicate content is fine. They are not going to penalize every site that uses the manufacturer’s product descriptions. Had you not considered the manufacturers who are strict about their product description text? If every site with any duplicate text was penalized, half the sites on the net would be penalized.

    • You’re right. there are several instances where duplicate content is fine. I was simply saying that without an extra value add, simply having the same product descriptions as a larger brand site won’t get you rankings. If you want to compete in an area where there are larger brands (generally favored more by competitors) then you can’t just use the basics. You’ve got to set yourself apart.

      • Agreed 100%. Some people forget that on an eCommerce site, sometimes the item description is a bulk of the page as far as text goes. It is very important to offer something extra like linking to a pdf owner’s manual or something similar with good anchor text. There is only so much Google has to go by when distinguishing same product pages on two different sites.

    • Istvan

      @Jeff: Think about 1on1 marketing. What is the plus value in the eye of the visitor if all the websites show the same product description?

      I would say that creating the “unique” content for each product means to add a + flavor to the content. And this way you can avoid any problems with Google Panda.

      Also think about working on the “visitor experience”. As I understood (from various forums/discussions) one of the factors that are included in G Panda is the user metrics. This why you should work on user experience, even if there are no negative experience in your rankings, but it can help you overrank the competitions with it.

      I hope my comment helps you 🙂


  • Anurag

    Okay, so can someone tell me why do poor user-created YouTube videos appear in the SERPs every time a user types in the key phrase hoping to get some “useful” content?

  • OPO

    “It is NOT Google’s fault your site isn’t useful.”

    And you assume that all sites hit by Panda are not useful.

  • “They are not going to penalize every site that uses the manufacturer’s product descriptions. Had you not considered the manufacturers who are strict about their product description text? If every site with any duplicate text was penalized, half the sites on the net would be penalized.”

    Who said about them been penalised?
    However if a site has basically nothing but copied content on it’s products which are the vast majority of the site, then yes they got hit, which was what we are talking about. Matt Cutts was referring to ‘some’ content been duplicated, not the vast majority of it.

    In the end of the day the duplicate content will never add value to the site, if there is no other content on the product pages, then the products aren’t going to rank. You may not get penalised for it, but you won’t get any credit for it either!

    If Panda sees a massive number of pages, with no unique content on them, it IS likely to hit the website, this applies to any site, e-commerce or otherwise. Just because a site is e-commerce doesn’t protect it from this.

    “And you assume that all sites hit by Panda are not useful.”

    Actually from what I’ve seen the VAST majority of them are either useless, copies of content available in many places on the web (Useful yes but why display multiple sites with the same content) or just really badly built (content hidden in flash)

  • OPO

    “Actually from what I’ve seen..”

    You’ve seen very few sites. 99.99+ % never post on forums so what you have seen is irrelevant.

  • Thomas

    I hate panda because I can’t find jack shiz that used to be easy to find. It sucks for the END USER.