Thursday, October 13, 2011

Forget Zombies! Beware the Google Panda!

“You’ve been Panda-slapped,” my SEO guru explained to me. Understand, this was the man who, when Facebook was a distant rival to MySpace, had “poked” me and, failing to get my attention, “thrown a cow” at me. So, being Panda-slapped sounded like a fun new app; it wasn’t.

I was reviewing the Web traffic on several of my sites and had consulted him when I had noticed a disturbing coincidence. From January to June, traffic was relatively stable on all the sites; then, it dropped off about 30% in July – on all the sites. Still, it was summer; maybe people decided to visit the beach instead. But, in August, traffic fell another 60% and remained down 90% in September from previous levels. Not just on one site, but on all my Websites!

My first thought was it might be a server issue, but my SEO guru diagnosed the situation immediately. It was a Panda attack. Ironic that something so devastating would be named after the adorable bears from China. Almost as ironic as a company with the motto “Do No Evil” engaging in an evil, capricious assault on millions of small business owners trying to survive the Great Recession. Google claims an honorable intent: eliminating spammers and so-called “content farms” from its search results. It launched Panda, a series of monthly examinations of Google’s ranking of Websites. If Panda determines a site is “low quality”, the site loses its ranking in search results, falling to the bottom of the rankings or even being deleted from the results.

The laudable idea was to eliminate spam sites by designating them as “low quality”. The problem is, Google lacks the proper criteria to tell a spam site from a legitimate site, so it relies on certain factors that have resulted in “collateral damage” – legitimate Web sites being lumped in with the content farms. E-commerce sites are particularly at risk of being miscategorized. Estimates are more than 40% of all Websites have been affected, so far. Some businesses have lost so much traffic, they fear bankruptcy.

SEO blogger Mark Munroe writes: “Panda is, by far, the most significant change in the algorithm I have seen in the 8 years I have been optimizing for search! New sites that get off to the wrong start can have their domain poisoned from and they will never know.  Businesses that have been on the web for years can be destroyed overnight.” He adds, “this went far beyond the (content farms). Most Q&A sites, almost all the shopping comparison engines, travel, automotive, local, ecommerce, UGC dominated sites, large dynamic sites as well as small sites with a collection of completely unique content” are affected.

For example, Panda penalizes a site if it lacks repeat visitors. One of my books has its own Website. People come to that site for information about the book, click the link, and buy it. They have no reason to return after they’ve purchased the book. The site acts as it should and the purchaser is happy; but since the purchaser never returns (remember, it’s the only item for sale on the site), Panda penalizes it as a “low quality” site.

Blogger Adam Audette, of SearchEngineWatch writes, “Panda is a profound change to Google’s algorithm, and it's no surprise that there are sites out there being hurt that may not deserve it. Panda has left sites starved and depleted of traffic, crushed in its wake.  There is too much bloodshed out there. I don't remember a Google algorithm that has done so much damage – so much collateral damage.”

Collateral damage. Do no evil. Did I mention Google Panda reportedly shows a marked preference for brands (Big Companies, like Amazon) and paid advertisers? It’s only the small business owners who need fear Panda; you know, those folks trying to stay afloat in the worst economy since the Great Depression. The ones who work from small storefronts or even their kitchen tables.

“Businesses that have been on the web for years can be destroyed overnight.”

Collateral damage.

Do no evil.

    Next: Part 2

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