Today’s case study is truly heartbreaking. A tale of hard work and determination dashed and devastated by the recent dreaded Google Panda search results algorithm updates. A (true) tale of how progress can be a steamroller.
Ok, that’s a little melodramatic. Ok, a lot dramatic. I’m speaking of a small portion of my own freelance writing. Articles that I wrote for a large website. Here’s the story.
First, if you have been smacked by Panda, don’t fret. This post provides some answers and ways that your sports-related site can recover. If you haven’t been hit, then it will provide you with the things you can do as you go forward.
Google Panda Updates Explained
I say updates, because their have been multiple updates since the first of these adjustments to the Google search algorithm in March.
A site called SEOmoz.com, well-known in the SEO world, has produced the best description I’ve seen yet about what Panda actually means for the future of SEO and site development. I’ll summarize Panda according to the SEOmoz.com video and then you can see for yourself in the video embedded below.
In a nutshell, “Panda” is named after the programmer that came up with the algorithm. Enough backstory.
Effectively, what occurred is that Google quality raters from across the universe formerly (and continuing, as I understand it) grouped websites into those they liked more and those they liked less. They then took the results they compiled and applied a variety of user and usage metrics to them, establishing a machine learning algorithm. Panda allowed Google to scale upward their machine learning. They find and upgrade the sites people like more, find and downgrade the sites they feel people like less.
The website for which I was writing until recently took an enormous hit from Panda. At least, that’s what I can tell from my own page views and revenue, and from the writer forums on the site.
Case Study: Me
From 2007 to 2010, I was the Golf Feature Writer for Suite101.com. During ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09, I wrote regularly. I remain a contributor, but I haven’t been active for many months, due to other obligations and overall “moving on.” I love the site and hope it recovers, because it is a fantastic place for writers to learn and even earn a decent recurring income.
Articles submitted by Suite 101 writers, which at my last count was approaching 1,000 writers in dozens of subject areas, are all subjected to editorial reviews and relatively high standards. I wrote for the site because of it’s long history, over 10 years online when I began, ability to rank articles quickly, and its standards.
During the years I was most active, I wrote over 150 articles. Approximately 30 of the articles I wrote enjoyed good search rankings and several were on the first page and/or first position for their keyword phrases. Income from the articles is based upon Google Adwords revenue.
I was seeing between 5,000 and 10,000 page views per week, largely from that group of 30 or so articles. My monthly recurring income from the articles was between $70 and $100.
The Panda update had a deep impact on my income from that site. Fortunately for me, my Suite 101 income is simply a nice little check I put into my kids’ piggy banks. I’m sorry for their luck now.
My page views in the last seven days, and this is representative of the past several months, sits at 597. A far cry from 5,000 per week.
My income for May was the lowest ever, $8.17. Down from $70 or so.
I feel badly for the many Suite 101 writers who have diligently and skillfully written hundreds of articles, building a nice monthly income, only to see it disappear. Of course, I can’t speak for them. Some may not have been affected, but it appears to have been a site-wide problem. I don’t know why the site was stricken, because they set up quality controls that some other sites did not have, yet those sites were not as deeply impacted.
Mine, and that of Suite 101, is just one example. There are many broken hearts and pocket books all around the world as a result of the Panda update. There are likely some success stories, too.
If you’ve felt the sting, have a look at the video from SEOmoz.com. It has been touted as one of the most important you’ll see this year, and with good reason. My summary of the video suggestions is below the player.
In summary, if you’ve been affected, here are some aspects of your site you can review, and things for you to consider, to improve things going forward:
No longer does great links and great content ensure a good search ranking, now we have to think about our whole site experience. In short, an outstanding visitor experience.
Specific things we can do:
- Focus efforts on design and user experience, they no longer have a secondary impact on search results.
- Low quality individual pages have to be improved, because they can drag down your site rating
- Unique, useful, grammattically correct content is good but not good enough. Content has to make everyone want to share and say wow! Photos, videos, usage/user metrics like time on site/page, bounce rate, browse rate, click through ratio (CTR) from SERPs (search engine results pages), all have to be improved.
- Diversity of branded search and direct traffic is important.
If you have a Panda story or suggestion, please share it with us, good or bad, in the comments below.
Panda image courtesy Kevin Dooley.