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Recovering From Panda 4 – How To Guide

The recent rollout of Panda 4.1 shook up the Internet, but it’s just one more in a long, long line of algorithmic updates pushing websites in a more usable, reliable direction.  As with any change in rules, there are people who strive to stay ahead of the curve and others who barely keep on the good side.  Sooner or later, if you don’t make the leap, Panda will catch up.  When it does, it’s time to play the recovery game.  What steps do you need to take to recover from a Panda penalty now that 4.1 is here?

First, a little about how Panda works.  Some time ago, Panda was rolled into the main Google algorithm.  What we call Panda updates are in fact Google Algorithm updates, focused on the core of the code that Panda became.  This is a live change, as opposed to previously, where Panda ran on an archived version of the Index and made changes to the live Index only after review.

Every website receives a quality score when it is indexed.  This score is partially determined by the Panda algorithm.  New sites are at a bit of a disadvantage, because telltale drops in historic traffic are harder or impossible to see, with no history to view.  Older sites, meanwhile, may suffer due to outdated layouts and a poor user experience.

At the core, you can boil down the rest of this article into a few basic tips.

Your site must be usable, with minimal roadblocks between a user and their desired content.
• Your site must be unique, with minimal overlap with similar sites.
• Your site must be valuable, with minimal superficial content.
• Your site must be modern, with minimal use of deprecated code and outdated technologies.

Follow those points and keep away from techniques that game the system and you can stay well out of the way of the roving Panda.

Panda Recovery

First, take a look at the static elements on your page.  These are the four major pages that provide information that rarely changes, but is important to the usability and privacy of your site.  They are the privacy policy, the contact page, the about us page and the terms of service.  Your site doesn’t necessarily need all four of them, or it might benefit from having additional static elements like a shipping information page or affiliate disclosure page.

Your static elements should be as unique as possible.  Sure, it’s hard to write a unique privacy policy, but it can be done.  Just write something simple, in plain English.

Second, check into your code quality.  Bad HTML, bad CSS, broken DIV tags, PHP errors, Flash elements, outdated code – it’s all a .  If you learned to design websites a decade ago and haven’t kept up with your skills, you’re probably going to be used deprecated code.  This is particularly true if you’re using HTML elements to define styles rather than CSS.

Next, check on your mobile compatibility.  A responsive design is very powerful.  If you have no mobile access, you’re hurting your page, though you’re not actively incurring a penalty.  If you’re designing static mobile pages using subdomains, you may run into compatibility issues with certain mobile devices.  It’s a good idea to invest in a responsive design instead.

User Experience Issues

Panda cares a lot about the user experience.  Unfortunately, as a robot, it can only compare your site to a set of established templates flagged as “good” or “bad” and make a judgment from there.  Here are some ways you can estimate your user experience in Panda’s eyes.

How is your navigation? If a user wants to find a particular piece of information, how many clicks does it take? Can they search your site or do they need to click through categories? Are those categories intuitive?
How much of your content are your users consuming? Do they read a single post and bounce, or do they click around? Do they watch more than the first 30 seconds of videos you post? Do they listen to your podcasts?
How is your return traffic? Are your users bouncing and blacklisting your page, or are they coming back repeatedly?
How long are users staying on your site? Is it because your site is hard to use, or because you offer a deep coverage depth for your content?
How long does it take your site to load? Does the user have to wait more than 1-2 seconds for a page to appear? Can you speed up your site?
How do users view your site? Is it a trusted resource, or is it secondary to another, better resource? Do they get the impression that your content is copied or spun?

Panda loves a smooth user experience.  Fast load times, easy navigation, a custom site search, an intuitive structure and a long time spent on site are all good goalposts.

Panda’s Relationship with Content

In the past, Panda has focused a lot on thin and low quality content.  This continues, but is not quite the core focus it has been.  Still, by improving the quality of the content on your site, you can immunize yourself against future Panda penalties.

First, keep your content up to date and recent.  If you have a popular guide or instructional article, keep that guide up to date.  Even if all you do is clarify some wording, make sure Google knows that content has been updated.  This is particularly useful for evergreen guides; news articles don’t benefit from a persistent refresh.

Second, invest in a community.  Building a community in your comments can help show that there are people invested in your content.  Nothing is quite so depressing as a popular site with open comments and no one saying anything.  Invite comments, respond to them and strike up discussions.  Once the community is self-sustaining, you can leverage their power to keep yourself afloat.

Third, find ways to keep users on your site.  Lace every post with links to other relevant posts on your site.  Include related article widgets on the sidebar or the footer of your site, though avoid using both locations.  Keep a ticker with recently posted articles available, and make sure the user is never more than 2-3 clicks away from something else they may want to see.  Investigate the phenomenon of Wikiwalking and try to make it possible on your page.

Fourth, though not the least for its late place, make sure your content is of the highest possible quality.  Dig deep into issues and draw conclusions.  Present actionable advice, whenever possible.  You’re looking for less “huh.” reactions and more “cool, I can do that!” Get your users to take something away, so they come back to see what else they can learn.

Credits: John Boitnott

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