This is a guest submission by Pam Neely.
If you’ve been anywhere near SEO in the last month, you know Panda 4.1 rolled out in late September.
It continued to roll out for about the next ten days, causing quite a bit of turmoil in the SERPs, especially for affiliate marketers.
This update of Panda also had considerable reach, affecting an estimated 3-5% of search queries.
You’ve probably heard “Google hates affiliate marketers,” and Panda does indeed seem to target us in particular. But remember that just because you saw a drop in traffic around September 25th does not necessarily mean it was Panda.
If you saw a sharp drop, it could have been a manual penalty, which is a different beast entirely.
Also, just for context, remember that Panda generally deals with “thin” website content, not inbound links. It’s Penguin that goes after “unnatural link profiles”.
So Panda is thin content, Penguin is links. That’s a bit of a simplification of what the two updates do, but it will serve.
The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that nobody likes a thin Panda, or thin websites.
One other important thing to know is that Panda is a negative update. In other words, no site is helped by Panda directly – it only deals out pain.
However, it can appear like Panda has given you a gift. That’s because many sites did see their traffic jump after Panda 4.1 rolled out.
They jumped because their competitors dropped in the rankings, thus opening up nicer slots in the SERPs for them.
(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 101 expensive affiliate niches click here or the image below)
Here’s the list of Panda 4.1 winners from SearchMetrics. (just the sites at the top):
Here’s the list of losers (again, just the top of the list)
Another intriguing pattern of traffic lifts from Panda 4.1 is what’s called “the sinister surge” or a “Panda tremor.”
They look like this:
The general consensus is that these bumps in traffic are
1) Google rolling out little tweaks in the larger algorithm or
2) Google flooding sites with traffic so they can better assess how the site performs for users.
And, of course, they could be both.
Hopefully Panda hasn’t hit you too hard. But if it has, I’ve got good news:
Sites recover from Panda all the time.
It typically takes a few updates to see a change. Expect about a six-month lull and you might just be pleasantly surprised.
You should also know, however, that some sites take a year to come back. And, of course, there are sites that never come back.
But follow what I’ve outlined here and that doesn’t have to be you.
New Panda updates will be rolling out more often
Which means you’ll have less time to wait in SEO purgatory.
While you may have to do some extreme fixes to get your rankings back, some of them may only have to be temporary.
I.e., you may have to seriously clean up your act until the heat is off, but once the heat is off, you might be able to add some of your oldest, best tricks back. But for the next few months, it’s time to be squeaky clean.
There’s A LOT you can do to fix the problem.
I’ve put together a list of action steps to walk you through your site’s revival.
Before we get into fixing things on your site, it’s important to find out what really happened. So here’s how to:
Get the Facts About Your Site
1) Use Fruition’s Penalty Google checker tool
This gives you a nice graphic of exactly which penalties you’ve been hit with over the last two years.
The free version does have one downside: No results from the last three months. But if you’ve got $20, they’ll show you that info for two sites.
2) Follow up with the Panguin Tool
3) Do one last analysis with Pandarisk.com
… if you’ve got $99.
If you can afford this, do it. Your $99 buys you 2,500 responses from real people, recommendations on how to improve and a breakdown of 10 key Panda questions.
The Panda questions are based on the original Google Panda survey Google gave webmasters to help them analyze their Panda standing. A few of those questions were
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
See the full list of questions here (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html).
4) Use Screaming Frog
http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/ to see which pages have less than 500 words.
Yeah, I know the minimum word count is supposed to be 300 words.
Guess what – minimum won’t do, especially if you’re already in the penalty box. If you want to rank, your pages need at least 1,000 words.
5) Use Copyscape.com to make sure your content is unique.
You’ll need a premium subscription to do this (they charge 5 cents per page checked), but if you’ve been scraping content (No – not you!) or hired sleazy writers, it’s a good idea.
Use the batch search function and upload a list of URLs you want to check.
Copyscape will check each page and then tell you if you have duplicate content, or content with a “risk factor” of getting marked as duplicate content.
Fix Your Site
6) Increase time on site.
If your site has weak engagement metrics (bounces, time on site), you’ve basically got a target on your forehead, at least in the eyes of Panda.
This is especially hard for affiliate marketers, because the classic model for many affiliate sites is to attract traffic and then redirect it to a sales page ASAP.
But this doesn’t mean you’re dead in the water. Instead, slow down that redirect, and use the extra time you’ve got people’s attention to pre-sell them better.
Yes, you’ll probably get fewer click-throughs. But if you do this right, your conversion rates will go up, and that might increase your commissions in the long run.
7) Reduce bounce rate.
This is another engagement metric you’ve got to turn around. Just for a few yardsticks, here are typical bounce rates for different kinds of sites.
This is a section of an infographic from the QuickSprout blog (http://www.quicksprout.com/2014/04/17/how-to-decrease-your-bounce-rate/).
8) Increase your page views.
Adding a “related posts” widget can help with this. So can using premium real estate on your site to promote a special report you’ve created.
If that doesn’t work, consider writing several high-value reports, so you can offer them near related content. Relevancy is marketing gold.
It can double or triple click-through rates. Doubt that? Do you think Google AdWords ads would get as many click-throughs if the ads weren’t relevant to searches?
9) Cut the advertising.
For some of you, I might as well have just said, “cut off your left pinky finger.” But it’s not so bad.
If you could trim even 20% of the ads on your site, you might tip out of the red zone.
So go run an advertising audit and determine which ad units are actually generating income.
Cull the bottom 20%... maybe even 30% or 50%. Running an audit like this can be a real eye-opener.
It’s fairly common for ad-heavy sites to learn that half their ad income is coming from three ad units.
One rule of thumb: If any more than 50% of the space above the scroll line on your site is advertising, get ready for your penalty.
So what’s the safe zone? I dunno – how about half of that, like 25% ads above the scroll line.
10) Cut the thin, watery content.
The days of running your affiliate site off of $2 articles are dead as a doornail. Seriously – would you read the content on some of your sites?
If you’ve got 500 pages of muck-for-words, the idea of rehauling all that might make you a little nauseous. So don’t rehaul all of it.
Go on over to your Google Analytics account, figure out which pages are generating the most traffic, and fix those high-traffic pages. Work down the list as you can.
11) Hire writers who know what they’re talking about.
Authority matters more and more and more. It’s one of the key markers Google looks for.
While authority is hard to quantify for a bot, Google’s human reviewers can do it just fine.
And Google also still has the Authorship structure, stripped down though it may be, so Googlebot can tell if a writer has a respected identity across the web.
Google put out a questionnaire (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html) way back in 2011 to help webmasters assess their standing with Panda.
This was one of the questions. The data here is from an analysis that a Moz writer did about a month ago. http://moz.com/blog/panda-4-1. “Winners” means sites that got better rankings after Panda 4.1. “Losers” is sites that did worse.
12) Include publishing date information or “last updated” on your pages.
Google is looking for out-of-date sites, and including this information helps them. It also, um, helps your human readers. We matter, too.
13) Fix all broken links and images that don’t load.
This is just basic housekeeping.
Surprisingly, having errors on a page has not been shown to have a huge affect on Panda penalties, but it’s an easy thing to fix, and it takes one more thing off your list of Panda sins.
14) Be careful about the website template you use.
In other words, you might want to add a plugin or another tool that will change the content in your navigation column so it’s customized to each section on your site.
If the Googlebot comes by and sees 60% of your pages are the same old links and the same old copy on page after page after page of your site, that looks kinda like duplicate content.
15) Get a social media presence.
Like yesterday. Your pages need social signals – likes and tweets and pins and follows – for Google to know real humans like your content.
You should especially focus on Google +, because that’s the social media site Google weights most. Big surprise, huh?.
16) Link to high-quality sites.
This isn’t going to cause you to lose “link juice”. Google likes it when you link to high-quality sites.
It shows you’re backing up what you’re saying, and that you’re connected to the wider web.
17) Don’t link to low-quality sites and “bad neighborhoods”.
Do link to good sites… but don’t link to bad sites.
We do have the disavow tool now, and that’s great, but don’t link out to any site you think you might need to disavow a year from now.
And consider doing a link audit if you’ve got a lot of links like this. You’ll be happier after the next Penguin update.
18) Kill any duplicate content on your site.
The Screaming Frog tool can help you with this.
Also make sure your canonical URLs are tidy. Ie, check that your pages are redirecting to one format of your url, like http://yoursite.com/page.html, not http://yoursite.com/page.html and http://www.yoursite.com/page.html (look for the www).
19) Include contact information and copyright information on every page of your site.
Because it makes your site look like a real business.
20) Don’t break up your articles into endless pages of pagination.
Clever you, you figured out how to create more pages AND reduce bounce rate by breaking your articles up into not just two or three pages, but into ten or twenty pages.
And you thought it would be okay, because you’ve seen other big sites (especially magazine sites) use this tactic.
It may or may not be working for them, but if you’ve just gotten a Panda slap, it’s definitely not working for you.
So take out the extra pages of pagination.
If you just have to leave a few pages behind, keep it below five pages, and make sure each one of those pages has a hefty dose of content.
You know, like 800 words or so.
Think that’s too much, and you might be able to get away with 300 words, or 500?
Remember, riding the minimal requirements got you here.
21) Take out the deceptive ads.
Once again, you’re going to immediately remember how you saw this trick on other sites – sites that appeared to be doing well and got away with it.
But not you. Sorry, again, that those big sites can get away with this, but smaller sites can’t.
Don’t make your ads look too much like content. Don’t use deceptive ad titles that look like content.
Here and there, with one or two, and you might get away with it, but once you’re under a Google rep’s microscope, you may have to go to extra lengths to have your traffic restored.
22) Speed up your site.
Slow sites suck. Everyone knows this.
Use the Google PageSpeed Insights tool in your Google analytics account to bring your site up to speed.
23) Add “nofollow” tags to your affiliate links.
This will minimize your exposure to bad neighborhoods.
24) Minimize the outbound links.
Any more than 100 links on a page is trouble.
If they’re affiliate links, it’s even more trouble.
25) Set up Authorship.
Did you ever set up your Google Authorship profile? Even though Authorship has been stripped down, it might well be worth the 30 minutes it’ll take to set it up.
26) Fix all duplicate title and meta description tags.
Better yet, spend some time rewriting these tags for your top pages.
Remember – this is the copy people see in the search engine results, where you’re directly competing with other pages. Title tags and meta description tags are basically ad copy. Treat them like that.
Learn to Live Without Google
27) Consider a business model shift.
This one’s extreme, but is worth considering.
If you’ve got a business model that historically has thin content (like a price comparison site, for example), you might want to either start a blog, or add a section of product reviews.
This solution isn’t for everybody, but if you’ve been Panda-slammed, consider it.
28) Partner with other niche blogs.
There aren’t a lot of them, but some affiliate marketers don’t even care about Google any more.
They’ve got enough JV partners, their email list, and other resources to make do just fine without the big G.
Now might be time to go study their habits, and to go see if you could try a partnership with them.
29) Get a product, already!
Want to get out of this affiliate hamster wheel? Go create your own product.
You can knock out a simple $7 product in less than 3 days, and that one intro product can entirely change your business.
Use the proceeds to fund your next product, priced at $47, and then use those proceeds to fund the creation of your big-ticket product, priced at $247. And away you go.
30) Go to the video.
Lost some traffic from Google.com?
Then go to the next biggest search engine: YouTube.
All you need is a smartphone camera, a backdrop and a clean shirt and you’re video-ready.
31) Use SlideShare.
There’s viable traffic to be had off of SlideShare.
You can also embed any SlideShare you make into your webpages, which creates a wonderfully clickable widget that could increase your site’s engagement.
You can even capture email addresses from your SlideShares, now that SlideShare opened that feature up to free accounts a few months back.
32) Got email?
If you haven’t been building your email list, you’ve drunk too much social media Kool-Aid.
It’s time to change. Panda hits are EXACTLY why email lists rock.
Google takes traffic away all the time. Facebook can close out your page whenever they want.
That said, if you’ve got subscribers, be good to them. If you treat them right they could be your ticket to surviving until you’ve got your traffic back.
(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 101 expensive affiliate niches click here or the image below)
Any more ideas on how to thrive as an affiliate marketer in the age of Pandas and Penguins? Let us know in the comments.
Author bio: Pam Neely is a freelance writer and content marketing creator with 16 years experience in Internet marketing, specifically in SEO, SEM, email marketing and content marketing. Visit PamNeely.com to get "115 Ideas for Content Creation" when you sign up for her email updates.