Google Panda – How To Survive

Beware – Straight Talk That Might Not Be Popular

Oh, this Google Panda thing is nuts, isn’t it? Sites dropping like flies, the SEO community in a whirl-wind of guessing….and tons of marketers crying, “Why me? My content is GOOD!! It’s not fair!”. The latest list of “losers” with the most recent release of Panda includes some big name sites…and Google-owned sites? Well, surprise, they are doing well. So how do we survive this craziness?

Panda Update 2.5

This latest and confirmed Panda run in the Google SERPs brought forth an interesting list of losers. We’re talking “big” and popular sites like ConsumerAffairs.com, savings.com, KillerStartups.com…Entrepreneur.com… Technorati.com. Just nuts. Oddly, HubPages.com made the “winners” list this go-round – supposedly with their use of subdomains.

What’s really nuts is that a site that was severely nailed by the first Panda release, then recovered…was hit AGAIN by this most recent Panda run. Let’s make it even MORE interesting. After that site publicly reported that they were hit again, Matt Cutts with Google made a Tweet stating that we should “expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks, but will have less impact than previous updates”… and then that site that was hit twice somehow reported a full recovery from Panda…again.

Out of 90 or so client sites…and hundreds of my own sites…there are 2 sites that seem to have been hit by either a manual review or by Panda. The time line for these 2 sites could point in either direction as to the “why”, but both sites have been handed a heavy pair of cement shoes and have sunk drastically in the rankings.

Here are some details about these sites: (in case it helps anyone)

  • Both sites are affiliate sites.
  • Both sites have unique content that is good, in my opinion. One site I am clueless about the topic and after reading, I learned things about it, so to me, it is “useful” content. The other site talks about many types of similar household products and I found the articles very good, very well-written, and if I was in the market, I would appreciate the info on those pages since it put it all in one place (as opposed to searching all over the internet for bits and pieces).
  • One site had ONE AdSense block below the fold…the other site didn’t have AdSense at all.
  • Both sites had Google Analytics installed.
  • Both sites WERE ranking #5 or better for their targeted terms.
  • Neither site has video on their home page.
  • Both sites have a PR of 2 or better.
  • Neither site has any “social signals” on it (ie, Google +1, Facebook “like”, Tweet This, etc)
  • Both sites are getting fresh content on a regular basis.
  • Both sites danced oddly in their rankings right before the confirmation of Panda…and then after the confirmation, the cement shoes were in place.
  • Both sites get the same gentle “off page” work done as the other 90 or so client sites I have…which is the same as all my OWN sites and my teams sites (which have NOT seen changes in rankings).
  • Both had a nice raise in their rankings to Page 1/ Above the fold in the Google SERPs…and stuck there for quite some time.
  • Both sites are in very heavy affiliate query spaces. This means that if you search for their keywords on Google, you come across a TON of affiliate sites in the results.
  • One site no longer even ranks well for it’s domain name phrase…the other DOES still rank well, but the root domain is NOT the page that is ranking… Now an internal page with a video is the page that ranks.
  • When I do a “birds-eye” view of the stats of the currently ranking Top 10 Sites…I see no obvious reason why these 2 sites should not still be ranking as they were before all this madness started.
  • OK, that’s an over-view of these 2 affiliate sites that have been hit by either Panda or a manual review…or both (?). The sad thing is – when I look at each and every url that is NOW ranking on Page 1 of Google for these search terms… well, it’s sad.

    For one of the sites, the Top 10 in a Google search now look something like this:

    #1 – Product owner site (this makes sense)

    #2 – ANOTHER product owner site on a different domain (not exactly the same as #1, but it takes 2 seconds to know it’s the same).

    #3 – An Affiliate Review page with TWO pop-ups when you try to leave (note: Google Analytics does NOT appear to be installed on this site). This site also has video..and a “resources” page for link exchange (I felt it important to mention this because I am seeing this kick my butt in the rankings more often these days).

    #4 – Yet ANOTHER copy of the product owner site on another domain name.

    #5 – Another affiliate review page with video and “only” one exit pop up when you try to leave.

    #6 – Amazon page for a related book (this makes sense based on my feeling on keyword intent)

    #7 – Another affiliate review page (this one is a keywordBonus.net type site)

    #8 – A Forum thread from 2005

    #9 – Another Affiliate review page with THREE hyphens in the domain name (note: the only way OFF this page is via an affiliate link to the product)

    #10 – Another forum thread, but this one is from 2006.

    Now, please…someone tell me – How are these BETTER results for search consumers?

    How in the world can we affiliates survive this Panda madness when THIS is the “quality” Google is showing me it is going for?? When I am searching for a specific product, HOW is it a better experience for me to go to a forum thread from 5 or 6 YEARS ago as opposed to going to a site with fresh and NEW content?

    As I’ve been researching for this post, I feel as if all I’ve been doing is shaking my head in that way my grandmother used to do to me when I did something “disappointing”.

    I am disappointed. Yes, I know it takes time for a new algo or algo signal to really start working…but man, this is frustrating.

    Before I get into how to survive Panda, let me show you one more thing that really frustrated me.

    Think You Can Fix What Caused Your Panda Penalty? Think Again

    Over at Aaron Walls SEObook SEO Blog, he shows the following image capture of a Twitter conversation between a site owner who had cleaned up his site and Matt Cutts from Google (in this post about Panda here)

    Pay close attention – please.


    Do you see that final answer from Matt Cutts? Because Will’s site USED to have offending content on it, it was denied for reinclusion??

    In fact, ALL of the content from the site was deleted. All of it. 1400 posts – deleted.

    Denied because of what the domain USED to have.

    Do you hear that?

    The content was deleted 30 days BEFORE Will submitted a reinclusion request…and it was still denied because the site USED to have that content on it.

    Nothing is ever “deleted” with Google. Ever.

    Ok, now that you have all this in your thoughts – let’s talk survival.

    And another warning – I may not say what you want to hear. This is not a “fix” for Panda as in “more links” or “less links” or “better content” or “add a video” or anything like that.

    This is me, a fellow affiliate marketer, offering straight talk to you.

    How Affiliates Can Survive Panda – and other Google Madness

    Alrighty – here we go….

    Panda Survival Rule #1 – Be Honest With Yourself

    We are affiliate marketers. We make websites and web pages with one main intention – to make commissions.

    Ask yourself this – “Would I make this site if I knew I wasn’t going to make a dime from it?”

    Now, ask yourself this – “Would I make this site if I KNEW Google would never send me even one visitor?”

    You don’t need to say your answers out loud, just be honest with yourself, ok?

    I will be the first person to hold up my hand and say, “I make web pages for affiliate commissions. It’s what I do. I put very few things online without the intention of making money from it somehow.”

    There is absolutely no shame in it – it’s our business model. I just want you to have it straight in YOUR head as we move forward, ok?

    Panda Survival Rule #2 – Put Google In It’s Place

    Who owns Google? Do we own Google? Does the government own Google?

    Google owns Google.

    It’s their sandbox… it’s their toys. We have NO rights at all when it comes to Google including our web pages in their index or when it comes to where we rank or if we rank at all.

    Feeding the PandaIt’s theirs.

    Let me ask you this…. When someone comes to your blog and leaves a obviously spam comment just for the link, what do you do?

    Me? I delete it. I also have serious spam catching software in action AND I close my comments after x amount of days all to protect my site from it.

    It’s MY site… *I* decide. Just like YOU decide on your sites, right?

    Why is Google any different?

    They make the rules for their site – and even if we think we are playing by those rules today, the rules WILL change tomorrow….

    And what you did yesterday can STILL kick your site’s butt.

    Once we have a clear head about WHAT we are doing and that we have no “right” for Google to participate in what we are doing by ranking us well or sending us traffic, it makes it easier to survive.

    Google is ONE potential source of traffic. Yes, they have the potential to send you a LOT of free traffic, but do not rely on that. Keep Google in it’s proper place in your business plan.

    Panda Survival Rule #3 – It’s Not “If” – it’s “When”

    For all general purposes, Google does not “like” affiliates. I read somewhere that Google considers affiliate sites “an unnecessary step in the sales funnel”. (note: if I can find where I read that, I’ll link to it. Edit: found it – it is here.)

    The odds are good – especially these days – that it’s not a matter of IF Google will nail your site and no longer love it…. it’s WHEN.

    Sad thing is, this doesn’t seem to apply to only affiliate sites these days… no site is exempt.

    Frustrating? YES, absolutely. Fact of life these days? YES, absolutely.

    Panda Survival Rule #4 – Stop Relying on Google

    If you are making money with your site and Google accounts for the majority, if not all, of your traffic – you are setting yourself up for failure.

    ESPECIALLY if you have any Google products on your site (ie, AdSense, Google Analytics, etc).

    Let’s be honest.. if you paid to have YOUR ads on a site, wouldn’t you want the right to decide if the site was “good enough” to show your ads (by your standards)?

    Why do we feel that Google does NOT have the right to decide if they want THEIR ads on OUR sites?

    Plus, every Google-owned product that you add to your site is one more way Google can know a lot about your site… and penalize you for it if they want – ie, THEIR standards.

    If you have a site – or sites – that are making you money via free traffic from Google – protect yourself.

    For goodness sake, BUILD A LIST. Take control of the traffic to your site. As it stands, if Google dumps you, you’re all alone if you have no other way to gather traffic to the pages of your site.

    Get videos and articles out there. Get 2.0 properties created that take up other spaces in the Top 10 of the Google SERPs for your keywords.

    Heck, I have a site that was de-indexed over a year ago (why? really have no clue…lol), but that site STILL makes me money from Yahoo, Bing AND from all the effort I put in to have OTHER web pages rank and flow traffic to that site.

    Don’t leave your earnings in the hands of Google’s whims.

    Here’s a really crazy idea… make ANOTHER site… or TWO more sites. You already know how to rank there… you already know what keywords convert and HOW to convert the traffic those keywords bring…so why not have OTHER sites in that query space?

    If one gets dropped from Google, you’re still ok. If they all stick on Page One – you’re GOLDEN.

    Protect and grow your efforts that make you money – and step one of that is to NEVER put all your golden eggs in ONE basket (ie, in Google’s basket).

    Panda Survival Rule #5 – Get Under The Radar

    When you’re researching your next affiliate site, take a GOOD long look at who else is working in that query space. I don’t mean use a tool, I mean GO LOOK.

    Are there tons of affiliate sites already there? Look at the domain names – do you see a ton of keyword.com, keywordbonus.com, keywordreview.com, keywordreviews.com, etc etc etc. You know what I mean.

    Then ask yourself, “Do I REALLY want to work in a query space that is saturated with other affiliates?”

    While this is my opinion, I think heavily saturated affiliate query spaces are prime for the pickings when it comes to where Google strikes next.

    Now, you might have a huge staff, deep pockets, and endless resources (money, time, etc) – I don’t. I have no desire to throw myself in the deep end against a) others who DO have all those resources, and b) where I am putting a big ol’ bullseye on my site.

    I am just one little woman working from her home in a little town in Georgia. Every minute I spend working has to count. Now, for testing purposes, I will throw myself in the deep end of very high-competition and high-affiliate query spaces – that’s how I learn.

    But for my revenue streams… I’m in the shallow end and staying under the radar.

    That’s how I EARN.

    Staying under the radar is one of the main things David and I teach with Perfect Storm Blueprint (yes, it’s new and it’s really good). We show you how to get into very low-competition query spaces that have very few affiliates (if any at all) – and stay under the radar with your affiliate campaigns.

    That action plan is at PerfectStormBlueprint.com if you’re interested.

    Above all, pick your battles and try and stay under the radar.

    What If My Site Was Already Hit By Panda?

    If you think your site has already been hit by Panda or by some sort of manual review/penalty, you’re probably feeling VERY frustrated – especially if that site was making you money.

    So – what do you DO about it?

    crying over my breakup with GoogleWell, first step for me, based on my mentality from my own survival tips above is – first, feel like a girl whose boyfriend just dumped her out of the blue (c’mon – that’s what it feels like when Google breaks up with you, isn’t it? lol).

    I’ll play some sad songs, wonder “why me?”, eat a pan of brownies…and then move on.

    Next, I’ll ask myself this – “Did that site make me money?”

    If the answer is Yes, it did make me money, I will pack that content up and put it on a brand new domain.

    I’m not gonna stress about it – just move it and do what I once did for the now “un-loved” domain.

    Will it work? No one knows FOR SURE if it will “work” or not, but if it does not work, I’m out what, $10 a year for that new domain name?

    However, if it DOES work, I’m back in business…until the next “when”. I will also follow my own advice and make sure the new site is not dependent on Google for traffic.

    Why Not Just Try and Fix The Site That Got Booted?

    I used to be of the mindset that if I could just take some time and figure out WHY Google broke up with me, that I could fix myself…be better…be lovable again.

    But since reading that Twitter conversation above, along with hearing other things, I realize the chance of Google ever loving THAT domain again is probably very slim. Even if I delete everything on the site and start totally fresh, that domain has a history attached to it that Google won’t forget – and probably won’t forgive.

    Believe it or not, that simple change in my mentality from “fix it” to “let it go” has been a BIG help for me. I have spent way too much time on trying to figure out what went wrong… when I could’ve spent that time moving forward. And the stress that comes from trying to figure out why and how to fix it is more than I care to have at any job.

    My boss told me (and that boss is me…lol) to just let it go. We can’t win ’em all.

    I have a feeling that my thoughts on this are not going to be popular and that’s ok with me. I totally get the feeling of working so hard on a site and then POOF, it’s gone – letting it go feels like giving up – feels like failure.

    But if you’ve worked so hard on that site and the content, why NOT just move it all to a new domain and give it a chance? Letting the old site sit there useless is not a solution to getting your revenue stream back. Spending hours and hours of your valuable and limited time is not a solution either.

    If someday Google falls back in love with your old site, Awesome! If they never do, so what? You’ve moved on from that.

    Letting them win by giving up or sitting stagnant is not what I’m going to do. That’s failure to me. Moving forward as stress-free as possible IS what I’m doing – and that feels like success.

    Should I 301 My Old Site To My New Site?

    This is a good question and one that is sure to open up a lot of debate.

    In short, 301-ing your old site/urls to your new ones can potentially pass power to your new site based on all the back links and power your old site has.

    It also keeps all the articles and other pages you created for your old site from having broken links and making sure that traffic gets to your new site.

    However, does a penalty from the old domain pass to the new domain?

    This is I do not know for sure so I am not going to say, “Yes, do it” or “No, do not do it”.

    You have to weigh the pros and cons in your unique situation.

    Personally, I’ll try it without 301-ing it at first. If the new domain ranks great, then I won’t risk it. If it doesn’t rank great, I’ll try a 301 from the old site to that new site.

    To me, my old site is not gone offline, it’s just not ranking in Google. If all those other pages I have on the internet are still pushing traffic to that old site, that’s fine with me. I only consider a 301 from old to new if I think I need the power from the old domain and I am willing to risk a penalty being passed.

    Again, that is MY opinion on that. Please form your own and test things for yourself.

    Summing Up Panda Survival

    This post was directed specifically at my fellow one-man and one-woman affiliate marketers.

    Our time is valuable because it’s limited.. and usually our resources are limited too. Surviving Google Panda and everyday Google craziness comes down to our mentality of what we are doing online as a business model and being sure we are clear in our own thoughts as to what Google “owes” us – and what they do NOT owe us.

    The odds are not in our favor when it comes to long-term free traffic from Google so we have to plan accordingly and NOT rely on Google for that revenue stream.

    Staying under the radar in low-competition markets and low affiliate query spaces is really important, in my opinion – as is trying to make sites that ARE important steps in the sales funnel.

    But even high-quality, totally unique, majorly useful sites are not exempt from any of this.

    It’s not “If” – it’s “WHEN” – and that simple change in mentality can save us all a lot of stress as we move forward with our affiliate marketing campaigns.

    Comments, questions, rants? Blast away in the comments area.

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