Google Panda 20 or EMD Update – Diagnosing an Algo Update


With Google rolling out  over 500 updates to the Google algorithm each year it can be extremely challenging to diagnose the cause of  ranking fluctuations on websites; a situation  that was made very clear to me over this recent weekend when Google released Panda 20 and the Exact Match Domain updates pretty much together.

Google Releases Exact Match Domain update

On Friday 3rd October Matt Cutts announced the release of the Exact Match Domain Update (EMD) which was designed to stop low quality sites ranking higher in the organic search results by virtue of their domain name matching a high volume search query.

At the same time I noticed a large drop off in organic traffic to one of my own websites, for which I had just recently managed to get a manual penalty removed.

The results of the release of Google Panda or EMD update.

After much stamping of feet, I stuck another pin into my Google doll and jumped into the data to try to work out what was going on.

The problem was that my site was not an exact match domain and was not using that strategy to rank in the serps.  I also noticed a lot of other webmasters complaining of ranking impacts who also did not have EMD’s.

Google Releases Panda 20

Further clarity arrived with the admission by Matt Cutts that Google had also released a rather major update to the Google Panda Algorithm at about the same time they released the EMD update. Searchengineland has taken upon themselves to name this update Panda 20 as this was the 20th update and a big one at that.

Remember Panda is a site wide penalty where a whole site can be penalised for the existence of low quality pages on the site.

As painful as this release was to me personally, it was the first of any of my own personal sites that had been impacted by Panda and so I view this as a opportunity to identify the specific causes and to see how quickly I could repair the damage.

Whilst I think Panda 20 is most likely the cause of my problems, I think that Panda generally is at the core of many of these ongoing updates that refer to quality, including the EMD update.

If you examine Matt Cutts tweet below announcing the EMD update.

He makes a reference to “low quality”.  At the end of the day wasn’t the primary goal of Google Panda to remove low quality content from the search results?

I am sure that other elements are being considered to allow them to dial back the strength of an exact match domain but primarily I feel that to successfully diagnose any of these issues, having a good understanding of Panda is going to help.

Problems Identified

So now with an understanding that Panda might be the cause of my problems I reviewed my site based on what I know about Panda and I identified the following issues.

  1. The new products RSS feed has been feeding new products into RSS directories.  This was something that I had set up years ago and had missed removing.  The result of this was that my own content was being published onto the net and ranking against the original site.  This duplication of content is a feature of scrapers that create crappy auto generated pages to rank for search terms.
  2. I had set up a new site showcasing a product range from my main site and I had not told my team to bother rewriting the page titles and metas for the products. So now this content was also competing against the original content.

The Solution

So how to fix a self afflicted mauling by Panda.  The action steps that I have implemented to fix this site are as follows:
  1. I’m completely rewriting my page titles, meta descriptions and the intro paragraphs of my product descriptions to make sure that the snippets (The consensus is that it is these snippets that are the mechanism by which Google assesses duplicated and scraped content in the serps)  that are generated going forward are completely unique.  The goal here is to ensure that the pages of the site are unique and don’t exist anywhere else.
  2. Removing the RSS feed of my new products.  I want to completely remove any mechanism by which scrapers can take my site content and incorporate it into any other sites and pages.
  3. Improve other measures of quality on the site.  This includes removing or fixing thin content and other duplicate content onsite.

The Takeaways

  1. I know I took this personally but the reality is Google owes me nothing and I need to keep on top of their changes and make sure my website, content and strategy are a match to their goals.
  2. Protect your content from scrapers or casual sharing or re-purposing of content to other sites without rewriting both the content AND the page titles and meta descriptions
  3. Start thinking about the content performance of your website?  Are there pages that have no use at all and can be removed.  All pages have to fill a need and add value to visitors.
Have any of you seen any recent drops in organic traffic in the last few days?  I’d love to hear your feedback or ideas or questions?

8 Responses to Google Panda 20 or EMD Update – Diagnosing an Algo Update

  1. Lindsey Buckle
    Lindsey October 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

    Great post, Ed. Thanks for the insight and advice. I love that you’ve given us such an honest and personal account of your experience. Hope your site recovers its traffic soon.

  2. Edmund Pelgen
    Edmund Pelgen October 5, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    Thanks Lindsey. It can be a challenge when these personal sites fluctuate but the net net is some actionable data for the next site. Still its not fun when your wife (and business partner) asks “Who did you upset at Google this time?” :)

  3. Matt Forman
    Matt Forman October 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Ed sounds like any eCommerce website that is feeding product feeds via XML to shopping comparison engines and other aggregators could potentially be penalised in the search results if the product descriptions and any meta data that is used is not unique.

    Would eCommerce sites now need to write different descriptions and meta data for product feeds?

  4. Edmund Pelgen
    Edmund Pelgen October 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Absolutely Matt, if you as the site owner are feeding your content, essentially the page titles and meta descriptions to all manner of sites, whether rss directories or aggregators, you run the risk of having your sites content be considered in a pool of duplicated content all over the web. when this happens with scrapers and spammers, google has to try to work out which is the original and which is a spammer/scraper simply repurposing your content. This is what Panda was designed to target. Panda looks at all of these duplicates and based on the sites authority and trust tries to work out which sites content it should rank.

    Guess what..many of these aggregators and comparison engines are very authoritative sites and your content on their site might end up ranking ahead of you and your site may get penalised by Panda to boot.

  5. Tony Warne October 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    An excellent article and one that clearly identifies and explains the issues.

    Being a webmaster that is not very knowlegable in SEO and the like, ive been having difficulty in understanding it all. I hear so many opinions but sadly, not all are based on fact. Now its clear in my mind i can start to address any issues that i may have.

    Thank you so much for assisting me.

    Regards :)

    • Edmund Pelgen
      Edmund Pelgen October 11, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Hey Tony, thanks for visiting. Mate I completely agree its tough. I follow most of the smartest SEO’s on the planet and they regularly disagree. So my strategy is to try to keep on top of what a few of them are saying and then validate/invalidate their perspective with my own testing and experience.

      Also I’d suggest you have more knowledge that you know in this area being an online shop owner.


  6. Ben October 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Great article Ed. Interesting to hear that all sites need to be constantly adapting to achieve results. Interesting to see where all of those who have stopped their SEO and content marketing after small drops in rankings from panda end up in a few months from now.

  7. Chris October 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your insights here Ed. I would never have thought that XML and RSS feeds could have such a detrimental effect but it certainly makes sense given the direction that Panda has taken. Do you think these automated feeds have any place in post-Panda SEO?

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