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.
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.
Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality "exact-match" domains in search results.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 28, 2012
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Improve other measures of quality on the site. This includes removing or fixing thin content and other duplicate content onsite.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.