Panda is the gift that keeps on giving for SEOs. Those of us who are tasked with helping clients recover have an endless source of clients and income provided by Google’s quest for quality content. Unfortunately, it starts to wear thin after a while. Even when we love what we do, there are only so many times we can give the same advice before it wears on the nerves.
Rather than try to hide any recovery secrets – which wouldn’t be effective regardless, given the wealth of available information – it’s better to let those clients who can help themselves, do so. Panda is a complex algorithm, but fixing a penalty can be astonishingly simple. Use this guide to audit your site. As a bonus, some of these tips help with Penguin as well.
The first thing you need to look into is your content, in terms of quality, variety and focus. Panda is hugely determined by your content, almost above all else.
Is your content sufficiently long? Anything under 300 words is in a high risk zone. Ideally, blog posts should never be under 600-700 words. The longer the better, as long as you can maintain a high quality level.
Is your content sufficiently valuable? You can write a 10,000 word blog post, but if it’s drivel no one cares about, you’re going to be hammered. Panda has rudimentary qualitative analysis, ensuring that robot content and spun content won’t pass.
Do you have too many keywords? A high keyword density tells Google that you’re trying to write for the search engines rather than for users. This is particularly obvious with a high density of long-tail keywords. Honestly, you should abandon the idea of keyword density altogether; use them a few times and focus your piece around the concept in general, and you’re good to go.
Is your content duplicated anywhere else online? If someone else stole your content, it won’t hurt you. Google goes by the date your content was indexed, and stolen content has a later indexed date. If, however, you pulled content for your use, it might be hurting you. This is particularly prevalent in companies scraping product descriptions from manufacturer pages, and similar issues.
Is your content duplicated on your site? Sometimes, particularly when you have a dynamic URL scheme or when you store session data in the URL, multiple URLs will point to the same page. This looks like duplicate content to Google. Use canonicalization to solve this issue.
Both Panda and Penguin pay attention to your links. Penguin deals more with your link profile and your off-site links, while Panda is more concerned about on-site links and your use of anchor text.
Do you have too few links? You’re not producing content in a vacuum. You need to take advantage of the resources already available and link to them, both on and off-site, to show that you acknowledge the rest of your industry and aren’t copying content.
Are you linking to spam sites? Linking to bad sites, particularly if your links are followed, can indicate that you’re part of a black hat link scheme of some kind. It’s best to avoid linking to spam sites at all, even as bad examples.
Is your internal structure cross-linked enough? Every page should have at least one link pointing to it, so Google bots can crawl it and find your pages. You should also endeavor to link to any relevant posts from within individual posts. Your sitemap doesn’t count, though you should have one as well; more on that in a moment.
Are your anchors too optimized? Panda and Penguin both look at the anchor text you use for your links. Again, Panda looks at them on your site, to see if you’re optimizing too much when you link to other pages. Keyword anchors can also appear like part of a link scheme. Penguin checks the anchors of links pointing to you, again to see if you bought links.
Do you have a site map? Google likes you to have a sitemap, preferably in XML format, with the link to the page and the most recent change date. It’s very easy to generate a sitemap, even for a large site, using automated tools. As an added benefit, a sitemap will help keep Google up to date when you release a new post or edit an old one; your index time will be much faster.
Security and User Experience
Panda is mostly focused on content, but it also looks at some basic security and functionality aspects of your site. If Panda notices that you’ve been infected with malware, it’s going to penalize you.
Does your site have lingering signs of a malware infection? Even if you’ve cleaned up a malware infection before, some hooks may still be visible in places like your .htaccess file. You need to clean these up as thoroughly as possible, to avoid any form of penalty related to a malicious site.
Do your pages load slowly? You need a quick load time or else your users will bounce, and Panda doesn’t like a high bounce rate. Slow loading pages can also be a sign of too many plugins, scripts running inefficiently, memory leaks in your code or other issues.
Do you have broken scripts on your page? A broken script can cause page elements to fail to load. It can cause the entire page to load slowly or not at all. It may block off features you consider otherwise essential. It might even just be an old plugin you failed to completely remove. In any instance of broken scripts, you need to remove them to avoid a penalty.
Do you have a high bounce rate? Panda is willing to overlook some minor issues with your page if you display high engagement rates. On the other hand, Panda will be harsher with you if you have issues that are causing a higher bounce rate. You need to do everything you can to find your bounce rate, figure out why users are leaving and fix the problems.
Do you have a high ad density? This one is sort of a legacy issue that modern algorithms still check for. If you have a high density of ads, particularly above the fold where they load when the user first visits, you may encounter further penalties. In general, keep your ads small and limited to a sidebar, don’t lace them throughout your site and position them intrusively.