I'm noticing a disturbing pattern among some SEO marketers. Anytime their search rankings fluctuate, they blame it on "the Panda update" that Google made to its search ranking algorithm. Now, lots of pixels have been spilled on Panda, with most angles addressing the crackdown on content farming and other low-quality content that has been increasingly populating the top results. And a lot of the changes in search results can be directly attributable to this algorithm change. But not everything.

I've spoken to two savvy SEO marketers in the past week that swore to me that their sites have plummeted in the rankings since Panda, but more than that is going on in both cases.

In the first case, a quick check of Google Webmaster tools revealed several warnings on spam violations. While it is possible that somehow the Panda update toughened up spam checking, this particular violation normally has nothing to do with duplicate or low-quality content.

The second company bewailed their fates after Panda, but some questioning quickly showed that the rankings had dipped in Bing also. They still are not sure what is happening, but it's clear that it is more than just Google's Panda update.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Both of these examples point out something that we often overlook in our horse-race reporting of every time Google sneezes. Search algorithms change all the time, and not just big changes. But even when the algorithms aren't changing, many other things are, especially with your competitors for those precious search rankings.

Sometimes, just because someone has held a certain search ranking for the last three years, we treat as some kind of divine right, when it might be far more ephemeral than we'd like to admit. We convince ourselves that we've had the ranking for so long that it will just stay that way.

And if a big change does occur, it's extremely important that we take actions based on the facts, and based on long-term best practices, rather than throwing up our hands and moaning about the anger of the Google gods. There is no fool-proof way to guarantee that your search rankings will hold fast. Instead, accept that it is a difficult game that has no surefire way to win. Winning isn't about holding a particular ranking--it is about constantly striving to provide searchers with the best information you can, so that they will find and (more importantly) buy from you.

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June 6, 2011

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


I agree - there are ALWAYS other factors - especially in SEO. And the fact that Bing has also downrated the site is a clear pointer. In my experience, we always get client ranking better on Bing first. We have also just this week put a client onto page one for their key words - all executed during the Panda update.

I've been watching closely my sites and my client's site to see how Panda has effected our/their rankings in the SERP for the targeted KW phrase (long tail and other wise) and thus far all is OK. I suspect this is due to the fact that we built our link wheel strategy using top tier web 2.0 properties an directories v. the mass PR0 and PR1 sites that so many other pedestrian SEO shops tend to use. I would add that using VSEO has helped us maintain our SERP ranking in a big way as well.

Very well stated. It's too easy to blame a Website's issues on a major algorithmic change. We have to be careful to assess possible conflicts with known Webmaster Guidelines. If resolving those conflicts produce immediate or near-immediate recovery, then even if the site dropped on a "Panda Date" it probably means the drop was not due to the Panda technology.

People are getting panicky.

I think it is easy for some to simply push the blame onto the recent search updates but the reality is the search engines are evolving everyday. Their are changes that occur to the algorithm that we do not even hear about. I think if you follow the rules and take a nice quality approach you will be fine.

Ranking are the wrong metric to look at because personalized search means there's no such thing as a single objective ranking number. The 'top query' report in Google Webmaster Tools, however, does give objective "average" rankings, but I'm not enough of a statistics person to figure out how to devise a reliable test and I think GW lacks the necessary historical data anyway.

Instead, Mark Nunney of Wordtracker argues that the best metric is traffic (visitors) and he describe how you can use Google Analytics to tells if a drop in visitors coincides with a Panda release date -- see: http://www.wordtracker.com/academy/google-panda-farmer.

Remember, there's been a couple of Panda roll outs so check each date.

If a site has known problems with duplicate/shallow content and a drop in traffic occurs right after a roll out, unless there's some other obvious explanation, Panda may be the culprit.

the competition is tough and if you are not improving you will go back. the only respective measure that you can count on is traffic, if you are getting more visits you are doing well!!!

now that the panda 2.2 is going live the focus goes completely on original high quality and useful content.

investing in good UI and surfer engagement objects on your site is whats going to count in the end. the days of SEO content or mass link building is slowly fading out.

Like your article -- as it's the first I read that stated my initial claim... "I do what Panda is supposed to target and haven't been affected". Your findings that "other stuff was brewing" is completely founded, as the Panda-only pentalties seem to have really only affected the big guys. Small seo practitioners such as myself -- I've heard no major complaints.

Am i the only one affected by panda2.2? my site dropped to 10% of traffic.
the competition is tough , and google algo's change each day, the stronger survives.

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