The Panda Slap

If you run a website and have basic interest in SEO, you probably heard that Google recently released their so-called Panda update, a change in algorithm aimed at getting rid of the shitty sites such as eHow.com and similar content farms.

The change in the algorithm came in 2 iterations. The first one came out on February 24th, in the US only, affecting about 10% of search queries. The second one was released on April 11th and was rolled out in the rest of English-speaking countries, also making a slight change to the US algo, which supposedly affects an additional 2% of US queries.

On the morning of February 25th, I was glad to see that my iPhone blog had gone through the update and came out unhurt. Even better than that, it seemed I was doing even better in search engines. It was nice to see Google recognizing me as a good resource. Then on April 12, everything changed when I realized the second iteration of the Panda update had slapped me in the face. Big time!

A quick look at my Google Analytics account revealed the damages. Week over week, I lost 31% of my traffic, going from an average of 90,000 visits/day to about 60,000. That really hurts, believe me.

At first, I kinda panicked a bit. Oh my god, what am I gonna do? You know, that kinda ritual every time Google tweaks their algo. Then I tried to rationalize all this.

First, this is not the end of the world. Taking a 30% traffic decrease sure isn’t pleasant, but I was there before and I did fine. As a matter of fact, this 30% slap takes me back where I was about 4 months ago, when I was averaging a little over 60,000/day.

Second, and maybe most importantly, I felt like the growth I had seen in the last few months was just insane, almost unnatural. Yes, I do admit that I was surprised I was receiving so much traffic from Google for very important keywords.

What really bothered me the most was the drop in revenues I expected from this. I now have several writers that I pay to write on iDB, and a drop in revenues means either a drop of my writers’ pay, or at least the freeze of their pay. To this day, I’m still not sure how the Panda slap will affect my bottomline so I haven’t really strategized about it, but a drop in pay for my writers is very unlikely.

So after the freak out period came the relaxed period. I just dealt with it, sucked it up, and moved on. It’s just the way it is, I said to myself.

Then I had a chat with my friend Shane from TC Geeks. Shane had been hurt much more than I was as he had seen a 50% drop in traffic. Ouch! And, as ironic as that can be, Shane, who wanted to work full time on his blog, had happened to give his 2-week notice the day of the Panda slap. Double ouch!

Shane was kind enough to tell me about what he had learned about Panda while browsing the various forums and blogs posts about the topic. Shane found out that we were not the only sites being affected, and that a large amount of web publishers were hit by the panda. Some of them just lost their business overnight.

The most interesting find to me is that Panda appears to hit those sites with numerous ads or affiliate links. iDB sure is one of those. I admit I have more ads than I really would want to have on the site, but again, this is my only way to generate revenues, allowing me to pay myself and the other writers.

What’s strange is that after the Panda update, many sites that rank better than me actually have more ads than I do. Even worse, Google now seems to rank crappy spammy sites better than my own blog, that is 100% original and legit.

I tried to analyze what had happened, or rather how I was affected. Turns out that instead of ranking #1 for many high value keywords, such as “iPhone 5″, I now rank much lower. It’s not as if Google had kicked me out of their SERPs, it’s just that they lowered my ranking, and you know as well as me that being anything but #1 for a query doesn’t bring you much traffic.

So I still have the graces of Google, simply not as much as I did before.

One of the advice that Shane gave me was to not do anything drastic to the site. When Google changes their algo, many publishers freak out and completely change the way they manage their sites (ie. by changing the URL structure), but this is actually the biggest mistake you can make. As Google is fine tuning the Panda, things might get better, and those spammy sites ranking better than me today, might even be gone tomorrow.

This whole episode confirmed my realization that we, web publishers, are extremely dependent on Google. One slight change in the way they rank websites and my business loses 30% of traffic, and most likely revenues. What can you do about that?

The logical and somewhat stupid answer is to get traffic elsewhere. The obvious is to not be dependent on Google. Sure, but how do you do that?

I think a real answer to that question could be a blog post in itself, but in a nutshell, I believe you have to build your reader’s loyalty. If they’re loyal, they’ll come back, and even better, they’ll sen people over to you.

But of course, creating a loyal readership is easier said than done. It involves great quality content, a compelling voice, constant engagement of your audience, an omnipresence on Twitter and other social media avenues, and a lot of luck.

I have decided not to over-analyze what happened with Panda because I’m tired of SEO. SEO good practices change all the time. What doesn’t change is Google’s quality guidelines and this is where I’m going to focus my efforts for my blog, and so should you.

Tags
  • Vik071

    Dude, don’t worry. I read your blog every day and believe me, it’s not because Google ranks your blog as #1. ;)

  • rippingviper

    Same here. I read your tweets everyday and read every post that comes up and blogs and it wasn’t cause of google! I just like to stay informed of the world around me =)

  • http://www.sebastienpage.com Sebastien

    Thanks for stopping by here and taking the time to leave a comment :)

  • Rune Hansen

    Hi there,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight about your site vs the Panda.

    I Think its cool that you handle the situation so calm and planning to focus on the guidelines. Im sure I would still be panicing :-)

  • http://www.tcgeeks.com Shane

    Thanks Sebastien – as we talked about this was a slap in the face but the reality is that we have zero control over the algo changes…what we can control is our own environment and creating loyal fans :)

  • http://www.per-lund.dk Per Lund

    Hey Sebastian,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Panda. I completely agree with you. Being solely dependent on one traffic channel/customer/ or any other thing isn’t healthy for business. Good content is the main ingredient to successful blogging – and I think you have a great blog here.

    I also like your no panic approach to change. It is better to take time to analyze and then react if needed.

    Keep it up!

  • http://www.sebastienpage.com Sebastien

    Hey Shane, thanks for the comment. Hours after posted this, I thought about it and realized I shouldn’t have posted about your situation without your consent. I hope I didn’t piss you off or anything. If you don’t like having your situation exposed out there, please let me know and I’ll edit this paragraph.

  • http://writers-elite.com Robin Hale

    Excellent and informative article, Sebastien. I am a freelance SEO writer who has always prided myself on unique, well written, well researched content. It used to really bother me (and worry me) when all the content mills and content spinners came around offering ghost writing services for $10 an article. I thought I’d lose my business. Bottom line? I rode out that small storm and now I have more work than ever because I never played that crappy content game. I kept my prices at a fair rate that would create a win/win situation for both parties. I’m now glad to say that was and still is the right decision. Bravo for this post!

  • Jeff

    Nice post, very enlightening. I think iDB will recover stronger than ever. You’re right about user loyalty. SEO tactics do not replace creating compelling and well thought out content.

    It’s all about small ball; trying to get your runners to 1st base, then 2nd, then 3rd, then eventually, home. It’s nice to have a homerun every now and then, but playing small ball usually wins championships.

    As long as the content is good, people will come, and they’ll bring plenty of people along to sit in the stands and watch the game.

  • http://tyronfbchambers.tumblr.com Obese Dog Blog

    I Liked it. Respect. Keep it up.

  • http://www.technoriztic.com/ ameen

    Yes same with me i have also lost 45% of my traffic.

  • http://www.makesavemoney.com Nipon@Make money online

    We are very dependent on Google.Big G can turn anyone upside down.Social media marketing is the new surviving kit for small business

  • http://bewitched-accessories.co.uk/scarves.html ladies scarves

    Readers tends to bookmark sites that are informative or simply awesome. I think I just have you there on the list. Some of my blogs got hit with the new algo but what can I do, Google does their thing and I must do my thing too in relation to this (awful) Google move.

  • http://www.scandalousmuffin.wordpress.com Candice

    That’s unfortunate to hear. I’ve had a pretty good experience with WordPress hosting my blog and SEO, even post-panda. I didn’t start freelance writing until recently though, so I never got to cash in on the glory days of content farms: http://scandalousmuffin.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/how-google-panda-hurts-freelance-bloggers/

  • http://facebook.com/askeric Eric

    Dude,

    I’m glad I checked out your post on Google’s Panda-Slap!

    I found your main site iPhoneDownloadBlog.com (now iDownloadblog) a few months ago, and have become addicted! I even find myself commenting on various posts almost every day now!

    Funny thing, I think that Business Insider’s “SAI” section copies your blog every day. I always see posts on your site first, then usually later in the day or the following day BI’s SAI will run it!

    Back to your article on Google’s Panda-Slap – it was very eye opening.

    I don’t have the energy to go BIG with a blog like you have done, but I have dabbled using WordPress (the greatest system ever) and am really REALLY impressed with your WP Theme for iDB.

    Oh, BTW, how can I get a customized avatar for my posting on iDB?

    - Eric

  • http://www.sebastienpage.com Sebastien

    Thanks for your comment, Eric. You can get an avatar when leaving a comment by creating an account at gravatar.com.
    S

  • http://melliftshitz.multiply.com/ Melly Lifshitz

    Constant engagement to your audience is actually very, very important. Your readers are living testament that you have a well-written, high-quality blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PSPaceJAM Peterson Peter

    Maybe if I & everyone start to +1 your website, Google will start to rank you much better. :)

  • http://giamsatgps.vn gps

    Google always change, Panda now but maybe Rabit tomorrow :D
    We have to follow them and keep working to archive 1# in SEREF or you’ll lose :D

  • http://www.gamerzpedia.com Mark

    Excellent article mate. No doubt Panda has wiped out crappy sites like ehow.com but it have also wrecked havoc for those who were working day and night to generate quality content and were dependent on google for traffic.

  • http://www.downloadmaxi.com ismael

    i have the same problems , im too dependent on google .
    i m really frightned that google which seems to like worpdress change its policy

  • http://www.pakistancricketblog.com Bil

    So time to switch to “alternate plans” I guess

  • http://www.walksandwalking.com Walks And Walking

    I was caught out by the update and lost a bucket of links that took 6 months to build for my new http://www.walksandwalking.com website. However, it did me my link building back on track and now I spend more time writing unique content and now that it has settled down, albeit for how long we don’t know, and we sort of understand where Google are going in terms of G+ I balance my time more evenly between traditional Organic Search and Social Search optimisation. So far, so good. My links have increased just beyond where they were prior to Panda, my main target keywords are above the fold and my traffic has increased by 30%. All for a site that is only 10 months old!

  • http://www.freeislamicwallpaper.com Islamic wallpaper

    Thanks Sebastien…