Please Pause the Panicky Google Panda Pedantics!

Listen folks, I’ve got some bad news for some of you.  Despite what you’ve read, or heard, or been sold, or attempted to have been sold, there is no “recovering from Panda”.  I am tired of hearing about it, and if you’re still talking about Panda, or how Panda hurt your site, or how to recover from Panda- nearly a year later- I’m tuning it out.  See, the Panda update isn’t something you can recover from. I don’t mean to be so caustic, by the way- but I am seeing people be taken advantage of.

I played a moderately popular collectible card game about the time that The Phantom Menace came out, called “Young Jedi”.  For those of you that don’t already have kids, a collectible card game (CCG) works like baseball cards- you buy cards, 10 to 20 at a time for anywhere from $2 to $5.  There are a range of cards in each pack- you could get all crappy low-value cards or you could get several powerful, foil-enhanced, or otherwise unique or special cards.  People wade through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff, which is cards they can add to their decks to make them more powerful. Then they go to tournaments and trounce people 20 years younger than them while sporting a smug smile. Here’s a picture of my collection ( I don’t remember what I spent on this but it had to be 3 to 5 hundred dollars- it was ten years ago, give me a break!)


Young Jedi Trading Card Collection

Here’s what the three piles represent.  The tall, double-wide one on the right is all the extra stuff I had to wade through to get to the decent stuff.  The middle pile (in the plastic cases) are the cards that are pretty good and comprise a good deck to play with.  On the left are the elite cards- a foil Darth Maul’s lightsaber, for example, which looks bad ass and is very rare, along with the other foil/hologram/overpowered cards.

Look at those ratios! Look at how much crap I had to wade through to get to the good stuff! Google is all about User experience, right?  Well, Panda was about putting sites into piles.  The small pile is the Wikipedias of the world, elite sites with a ton of content and a massive amount of backlinks.  Trying to outrank these guys is really tough, especially for head terms.  The medium pile is the “generally very useful but not as authoritative” sites.  They are nice and serviceable and well organized and generally contain a lot of useful information, they simply don’t have the resources and reach that Wikipedia has.  The big double-wide pile is where probably 90% of sites on the Internet fit in- sites with thin or very little content, content that is wrapped wholesale in AdSense, sites that aren’t actually trying to serve the User anything but hope that maybe a shotgun approach to optimization will get them above the fold and they can scrape by on some AdSense affiliate income.

If you have been affected by Panda, your site is now in the third pile. Ask yourself honestly about the User experience on your site.  Are you really trying to provide value to the User- or are you in it for the clicks and affiliate income? Chances are if you answered the latter, you’re suffering from Panda- and here’s the depressing thing- no amount of massaging is going to bring your site back. Is anyone reporting a recovery from Panda? The 200 or 300 blogs a week I read haven’t come up with any real solid examples.

Here’s the thing: Google doesn’t want you to make money simply because their index exists. They are all about providing value to the User, and wrapping 40 different bullet-point list variations of “how to tie your shoes” up in AdSense and then throwing links at it might be great and easy for YOU, but it sucks for the User.  User experience is paramount, and that’s why if your whole business model is predicated on Google rankings I’m here to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Listen, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of people who’ve been affected by Panda.  My very first SEO job was for a site doing over 30k a month in AdSense revenue, until some bad decisions were made, hundreds of thousands of pages were de-indexed overnight, AdSense revenue dropped to 10 percent of what it was, and I found out on Christmas Eve that I wasn’t going to have a job as of New Year’s Day.  The lesson learned for me was “Google giveth, and Google taketh away”.  It’s their sandbox, no amount of whining is going to get them to change the rules, and you have to play their game if you want to leverage the incredible free resource they provide anyone in search.

Check out this complaint about Google I happened to read today:

“I was badly affected by Panda and still am. If my site is rubbish since 12th April so be it but I do get mightily sick of Google employees spouting the same old drivel, specifically:

“Panda is an algorithmic ranking change targeted at promoting high quality sites over low quality sites . . . focusing your efforts on improving your site so that it will be classified as high quality in the next Panda update. Amit Singhal had some great tips for how to improve your site . . . “

Now, let’s look at the website in question:

I know you’re not supposed to be critical of other people who didn’t ask for it when blogging, and my intent here is not to villify anyone but this time I’m gonna go ahead anyway, a little bit.  It’s trivial to look at that site and realize instantly at least 3 things wrong with it- the URL sucks, the directory structure is not optimal, and “click here” as an anchor text link shows this site simply isn’t that SEO savvy.  Trying to outrank 43.1 million other pages with the word “cooking” in the title might not even be a realistic goal.  But hey, it’s so much easier to bite the hand that feeds you, right? I haven’t seen a company people were so willing to villify since Microsoft in its heyday. Again, I don’t want to make anyone look bad, this is just one of what could have been a hundred examples of the same type of thing. But people, ya gotta move past it!

Compounding everything is the confusion as to “what Panda actually is”.  Panda is not like other Google updates in that it’s rolled out and becomes a permanent part of the algorithm- it’s a process that runs intermittently, about every 4 or 5 weeks, and does a wholesale re-sort of the web into piles- elite, useful, and crap.  Anyone claiming they know how to help you recover from Panda is just being opportunistic.  Build sites as you would want to use them, and don’t put a huge net out there hoping to gobble up all the little scraps.  Doing quality SEO is hard, and time consuming! People mistakenly assume that because it’s on a computer there’s some foolproof way to game the system so you can work 30 minutes a day. That becomes further away from reality every day.  Even that Tim Ferriss guy with his 4-hour workweek book probably spends about 60 hours a week promoting it!

Focus on white-hat SEO and best practices, concede that good organic SEO takes time, and you won’t have to worry about “the next Panda” ever again! Move on; no Pandas to see here.

5 Comments. Leave new

About freakin’ TIME someone said this. I’ve been saying it for months, and I love the visual you came up with.

I’ve had a site (not the one I linked to) that was affected by Panda…positively. Traffic tripled overnight. Revenues quadrupled overnight. Everything went well. So I guess it would fall in your 10% middle pile. It’s not Wikipedia, but it is useful to people, and Panda rewarded me well for it, or so it would appear. I’m the guy you never hear about because when things go well, it’s what I did, not what Google did.

On the other hand, all we hear is vested-interest complaining about how “my site was ruined by Panda and I had to fire 80% of my employees and Google is evil and they’re running a monopoly and screwing with people’s lives.” If you rely that much on something that you don’t pay for and that owes you absolutely nothing, you’re not marketing your site well enough as a whole and you deserve to get your butt handed to you.

By the way, I’m here because I saw your comments on the Stone Temple Consulting blog. You’re about the only other person who has actually had the stones (pardon the pun) to say anything like this. Good stuff.


Thank you for your comments, Adam. This came off a little meaner than what I usually write but I’m sick of people preying on those with just enough SEO knowledge to be dangerous. :) Thanks for reading!


I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m jaded and cynical, but I didn’t see it as mean at all. It’s not like you turned around and slapped every SEO’s mother in the face or something. You delivered the swift kick in the rear that most of the industry sorely needs right now.

Like you said, it’s a few self-anointed big fish preying upon those with little or no real SEO knowledge, and even less knowledge about the relationship that exists between SEO and good design. So mean? No. Way overdue? Yeah.


I would like to know how can SEO actually help ones site to improve their ranking in Google if noone knows google algorithm.

Isnt all the SEO professionals just a goup of people with opinions on how to help the sites but withut any real knowledge of how to actually do it?

Because frankly, you cannot fix an engine if you dont knwo how an engine is built in the first place.

Just my 2cent, but i am willing to cede my point granted i get a valid explanation.


Visitor: that’s actually a good point, although very slightly misguided. Your statement makes sense if we assume that SEO exists in a vacuum and that any practices designed to gain referral traffic from Google are independent practices.

However, this isn’t the case, and hasn’t been the case for several years. What Fran has quite rightly said is that there’s a very distinct correlation between things Google likes and things people like, and by building sites that people like and doing it properly, you’ll also cover off a very large percentage of SEO-related tasks without much, if any, additional effort.

You’re absolutely right about the clueless SEOs, though. There are so many “experts” who haven’t so much as coded a web page, never mind built a database or an entire site with any kind of interactivity. These guys absolutely slay me, because they can make themselves sound like magicians when all they really do is blow smoke up people’s asses. Unfortunately, this is the rule in the SEO world, not the exception.

So you’re not really fixing the “engine” at any point…if you possess knowledge of real SEO and you adopt SEO as a subset of a bigger marketing practice, you’ll fix your site to cater to both the engine’s needs and its users.


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