By 3 years ago in Google SEO

Analysing the UK Panda / Farmer update

Since the Panda / Farmer update hit the UK earlier this week most people with a website have been monitoring visitor numbers very closely for changes. A lot of people were well prepared for the update having seen their US traffic drop on 25th February but it’s still a big shock to lose 50% of your non-brand SEO traffic overnight.

Panda in the UK

Rank tracking companies such as Sistrix and Search Metrics have performed some analysis of rankings with the big losers aggregated in league tables on their blogs. This data is a bit misleading as so much of the drop was in the long tail and rankings don’t do a very good job of monitoring trends for the extreme long tail.

ReviewCentre.com was a big loser and issued a blog post describing the effects:

Running a website that regularly receives over 4 million visits a month isn’t trivial, nor cheap. We need to monetise our content to pay the wages of the staff that help to maintain this service. People visit our website, more often than not from search engines (most likely Google), and some of those people will click on adverts on our site. That’s how we manage to maintain Review Centre.

On Monday of this week, the ongoing upkeep of Review Centre suddenly became a lot more difficult. Google rolled out a major algorithmic shift (nicknamed the Panda Update), that was apparently an attempt to remove low quality websites from its search index. It affected Review Centre, and has resulted in a significant drop to our Google traffic. We weren’t the only ones – apparently several other high profile consumer review sites have been effected – Ciao, Qype, Dooyoo, and Reevoo.

We knew that today was coming. Panda was released in the US in late February. We saw our US traffic drop, and we knew it was only a matter of weeks until it reached the UK. It’s too early to say precisely what kind of a drop we’ve seen in the UK, but it is likely to be on a par with what we’ve seen in the US.

You can see just how big this drop was at the chart below.

Reviewcentre Panda traffic

When the US update was rolled out most of the biggest losers were what can safely be described as low value content. Exactly the sort of sites that we would expect to be hit with this sort of algorithm. A couple of weeks ago we posted about the fact that this update was likely to have a big effect on ecommerce sites when it hit the UK which was exactly right, the only thing we didn’t expect was the impact on tech blogs and voucher sites as shown in the Searchmetrics and Sistrix data.

Our Experience

We have looked at quite a few sites negatively affected by this update. Aside from the content farms, below are some of the more interesting cases.

  • The first client is an ecommerce client with US site and a UK site. They have a forum on both sites which contains the exact same threads and having two separate forums makes no sense in this situation. The forum on the US site was hit in the US panda update but only in that specific folder – this wasn’t a sitewide issue. The UK site was also unaffected.
  • The second client is a voucher site which is listed as a very big loser on the Searchmetrics list. All their content apart from the actual vouchers themselves is unique (in line with most voucher sites) but the have only lost around 50 visits per day out of 1000. Interestingly Doug from Discount Vouchers.co.uk commented that he was on the list of losers but saw no impact as did Duke from Voucher Seeker.
  • The third client to be hit was a very well known travel client who has been on the web since 2000 with 3000 linking domains and thousands of pages of quality, unique content. The only potential issue is that their holiday descriptions are pulled from the tour operator but they do add descriptions themselves so the content on those pages is 50% unique (or 50% duplicate, depending how you look at it).

Interestingly there are a lot of ecommerce sites we have seen that contain 100% duplicate content pulled from feeds or copied from competitors & manufacturers that are doing fine after Panda.

A final interesting point is that blogspot sites and very small sites which struggle to monetise themselves all seem to be winning here. This means that Google is probably getting more traffic to Google sites and making a lot more from Adsense after this.

Our thoughts

The US version of the Panda update was designed to kill content farms. Now that the algorithm has changed and been rolled out in the UK we are seeing some very interesting things. It appears that the new algorithm is a mixture of a number of different mini-algorithms which look at different factors to downgrade sites, pages and entire directories.

One of the really impressive things about the update is the ability Google now has to detect duplicate content. The fact they are downgrading tech blogs which are posting about the same stories as hundreds of other sites is interesting as the content is technically unique but has no real value if hundreds of other sites say the same thing. How many times do we need to hear about the fact a new gadget has launched?

Also, for Google to use the Panda algorithm to remove traffic from a forum which is full of user generated content just shows how broad this update was in it’s scope.

Another thought is that this update started at 12% and has moved to 14%. I’m convinced that this algorithm will roll out across everything within 12 months. Google is basically saying that for the last few years their algorithm has been ranking the wrong type of sites and this is their way of redressing the balance in order to deliver a more positive user experience.

We are seeing an entirely new version of Google here.

Fixing things & how we can help

Google has been very clever recently and has removed the ability for webmasters to submit reconsideration requests for algorithmic penalties. This means that their inboxes won’t be cluttered up with the thousands of webmasters complaining about Panda. It also means that a lot of sites are going to struggle to get around this.

We have taken on a number of sites this week with the specific aim of helping them recover their traffic levels. Branded3 does a lot of SEO analysis work and are asked to “fix” around 10-20 major penalties every year so this is nothing new.

Our advice to all sites is:

  • Find & fix any low quality or duplicate content (using Analytics data to fix the worst pages first)
  • Find ways to make your site appear more legitimate. Remove ads, affiliate links, do a new design, get some social media interaction going etc
  • Improve user experience
  • Work to build a wide range of traffic sources to all pages on your site
  • Figure out how to make your site more valuable than the rest of the sites in your sector

The points above sound really vague and the sort of stuff that every SEO has been preaching about for years. They are also pretty hard to do unless you are a very nimble business.

As of this week the points above are no longer an option, they are a requirement. Google has laid down a new algorithm here and even if you haven’t been affected yet then you need to read the writing on the wall and get started before this algorithm gets bigger.

The good news from all this is that there is still the same amount of traffic to go around it’s just being shared by a different set of sites. For every big loser in this there are thousands of winners.

Bounce rate & engagement metrics

With Google taking away 50% of a sites traffic you might assume that the 50% of traffic being lost was junk traffic with high bounce rates, low conversions and low engagement in general.

We’ve been looking through a number of sites this week (full analysis here) and have not seen any evidence to show that the traffic lost was in any way different to the traffic that stayed.

Panda update bounce rate

Please email me patrick @ branded3.com if you want any help fixing your site. We’re offering free help & advice.

By Patrick Altoft. at 5:55PM on Thursday, 14 Apr 2011

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events. Follow Patrick Altoft on Twitter.

comments

52 Responses to “Analysing the UK Panda / Farmer update”

  1. Rankpanel says:

    About your comment regarding findings of these tool provider’s studies being way off in terms of estimating the traffic reduction, I guess this really is a function of long tail. For one, the size of their panels is limited in terms of cost/value, so they won’t capture the “stable” rankings for those. Second, in the long tail there is a scarcity of depth of content. Say if you only got 5 halfway decent items, it won’t do you any good if you kick out 3 of those for panda reasons. Only where there is depth, panda will probably bite.

  2. Data panel analyses adverse Panda impact in UK | RankPanel says:

    [...] a domain experiences within the search algorithms. While this approach does have its flaws as pointed out by Patrick over at Branded3 in terms of measuring actual organic traffic, i.e. the poor reflection of the long [...]

  3. Mikael Rieck says:

    @Patrick

    I have two questions. First I am not sure I understand this comment

    A final interesting point is that blogspot sites and very small sites which struggle to monetise themselves all seem to be winning here. This means that Google is probably getting more traffic to Google sites and making a lot more from Adsense after this.

    Are you saying that sites using Adsense (struggle to monetise) are actually benefiting from this update?

    Secondly, once the above mentioned requirements are implemented, do you suggest filing for a re-inclusion or do we just have to wait it out until Google sees that we’ve become more appealing and social?

    Thanks
    Mikael

    • Mikael my feeling is that a lot of smaller sites that are perhaps making less than $500 per month will not have the big ad sales and affiliate skills to monetise with things other than Adsense. It’s these smaller sites (not the really big content sites) that are doing well from this update.

      There is no point filing for reinclusion as this is an algorithm and not a manual penalty.

  4. Darren says:

    Huge winner on both of my sites, traffic up 18% on travel blog and 34% on a local guide, which is primarily because of sites like qype.co.uk being affected. Had many pages on pg2 but have moved to pg1 so for me the changes can stay. .

  5. Ian Miller says:

    One thing we’re seeing is a big increase for exact match domains for a whole range of competitive queries. Often they are ad laden with the very poor user experience this sort of update is meant to fight.

  6. Mikael Rieck says:

    Thank you for clarifying Patrick. Appreciate it!

    /Mikael

  7. Patrick, Doug has posted on our blog as well, stating he has seen no drop in traffic from discountvouchers.co.uk – http://www.further.co.uk/blog/The-fall-of-low-quality-voucher-price-comparison-sites-in-the-UK-328

  8. Daniel says:

    I partially agree with what you say about the techblog example. Having hundred of sites say largely the same thing is not necessary, but at the same time, depending on what you are looking to buy, you are likely to want to see a balanced view on reviews, and not necessarily just from the big media/publishing house owned sites that seem to have come out strong from this.

    It would be interesting to know if the consensus amongst non-website owners is that search results have become more relevant and that it takes them less time to find what they are looking for.

  9. iamaceo says:

    The entire idea of different algorithm changes in Google is basically to increase their revenue. Already the Google market is declining in US. The Panda updates is basically a disguise to the Google customers by saying they are advocates of customers they cares more. But the truth is the algorithm is just mere implementation to generate more revenue to Google.

    Who can define quality of content and sites? Only the subscribers of the sites can define quality not Google. Google can do it if there is a message exchange mechanism between customers are Google servers. They are trying to achieve it using Google +1 but unfortunately the innovation is a poorly managed way to do. They are reinventing the wheel, they should have consider more importance of content from Social sites like Facebook and twitter for better results rather than creating a new echo system Google +1.

  10. Robert Kirk says:

    Nice Post Patrick…

    Like you mention, I defenetly agree their is more to this update that just duplicate content, we have seen many ecommerce stores that are still holding strong positions and all their product descriptions are duplicated.

    “touch wood” We have also seen on some of our own websites a few increases in some highly competitive keywords, so with bit more work hoping we might have a few winners out this. :)

  11. WebCriticUK says:

    Thanks for the overview, Patrick.
    There are winners and losers as usual. Content farms were always doomed…it was just a question of time and common sense.

  12. phill ohren says:

    I greatly appreciate your insights here. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I said in a rather abrupt tweet directed at this post that I believe sites seeing decreases “had it coming” – And I feel it’s down to bad historical off-site practices & / or shoddy on-site upkeep & maintenance.

    But, as you quite rightly mentioned, fixing some of the simple on-site issues may make a world of difference. I posted on what I think Google’s Panda is looking to “eat” here: http://phill.co/google/google-panda-a-win-those-who-invested-wisely-in-seo – Keen for your feedback Patrick.

    Great pickup on the removal of the Google re-inclusion-form – Maybe G is confident they’re right this time?

    • Phill I have spent all week looking at some very good quality sites that have been hit by this updates. Legitimate, useful sites with 100% natural links and unique content have lost 50% of traffic.

  13. sean says:

    One reason some voucher code sites have not been effect is the sneaky links they have from national newspapers like the Mirror and the Express.

    Look at this pages about Wheelchairs:
    http://mobility.mirror.co.uk/
    http://mobilitycompare.express.co.uk/

    Look at the bottom left of the page. There are links to other mobility resource, but every other link, links to promocodes.co.uk – a voucher code site.

  14. phill ohren says:

    Ok, great. Are the any of the sites seeing decreases brands? If so, how established are they? What percentage of their traffic is search compared to other channels?

  15. sean says:

    I would love to see seo traffic from GA for both voucherseeker and discountvouchers, so how I dont believe “we saw no impact”, yeh right.

    Also why have you inserted a link to voucherseeker into your post after it was posted? Are they a client by any chance?

    • Sean I inserted the link to dougs comment after I did the post because I didn’t see it until later on. Then voucherseeker emailed me to show me their Analytics and I posted that comment too. I have personally looked at both of their analytics code and can verify that they have not been hit.

      I’ve been helping (free of charge) a number of people this week and if somebody gives me some information then it’s reasonable for me to give them a link.

  16. Sean, the owner of discoutvouchers.co.uk has sent us an analytics screenshot which is on our blog. Shows a small dip in traffic but doesn’t seem like a 60% reduction in visibility.

  17. WebCriticUK says:

    I had a random thought. Pandas are black and white like print.
    I don’t suppose G can determine if readability is good or bad for visitors? Patrick alluded to something in his early post about this.

    A tiny note on my site.
    http://www.webcritic.co.uk/2011/04/15/why-call-it-panda/

  18. lee says:

    One reason some voucher code sites have not been effect is the sneaky links they have from national newspapers like the Mirror and the Express.

    Look at this pages about Wheelchairs:
    http://mobility.mirror.co.uk/
    http://mobilitycompare.express.co.uk/

    Look at the bottom left of the page. There are links to other mobility resource, but every other link, links to promocodes.co.uk – a voucher code site.

    I don’t see any links like that in the source code, although maybe they had to clean them up after you outed them on an seo blog…

  19. [...] post: Analysing the UK Panda / Farmer update Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookBuzz it upTip on HyvesShare on [...]

  20. David Jones says:

    The figures you are showing for the review centre are scary. Having seen the comments from Doug and others that they were not hit anywhere like what was originally reported i was starting to believe the few complaining about the panda updates were maybe overstating the effect of it. But now having seen the traffic drop for the reviewcentre, it should be a wake up call for all website owners currently relying on google search traffic.

  21. [...] longer content with less links Further information available on a fab blog I follow – blog storm Share this [...]

  22. John says:

    thank you very much now we have to more carefull about the unique content of our site.

  23. CashAddict says:

    Interesting article, I didn’t realise Panda had had such an impact on review sites, but I’m sure Google will make a few tweaks as all the data comes in. Google always rolls something out and then rolls it back a little later.

  24. [...] been slow. So in this situation what do you do? Well apart from sitting around moaning about the panda updates you have to try new things. We are regular users of Twitter and Facebook and we couldn’t use [...]

  25. Craig Jones says:

    Patrick, it would be great if you could post a follow-up to this, perhaps a month after? I get the sense that Google continue to tweak the Panda update, it wasn’t a “one shot” change

  26. Google Panda Farm Update: How Do I Fix Our Site? says:

    [...] and make it a lot better for our readers. I have read great articles from Search Engine Land and BlogStorm, made a lot of changes to Crenk, but with no affect on our rankings. Im more than happy to make [...]

  27. Dom says:

    Just a thought regarding something like the voucher sites not being hit by Panda. This to me makes sense, although the pages have low unique content (but still unique enough to be indexed), the content is not duplicated from another site.

    Traffic wouldn’t dip that much because there aren’t enough unique sources (such as latest individual forum or blog posts) to compete with.

  28. I guess quality content with hardly any advertising wins the day. Its a shame they are picking on affiliate sites because its thanks to a lot of them that they have all this content to serve up to people searching in the first place.

  29. Tanvir says:

    I have always asked website owners to look at their content rather than becoming dependent on dodgy link building technique.

    Hopefully this time the term “unique” would be given preference by so-called SEO consultants.

  30. GaryR says:

    I hate google sometimes! I just had my site on track, with a good average none paid traffic flow (I run a small business and cannot afford adwords) and now with this update that traffic has gone down. Hmm thanks google.

  31. Lån penge says:

    No doubt, that the Panda sure made some big changes. And almost to all kind of sites. It demands us to think in a new way when making websites.

  32. The Panda was a huge update in the Algo. It has definately changed the SEO and the online marketing. But it is definately gameable if yuo do it the right way.

  33. SEO Manchester says:

    The panda update was painful for so many reasons for us, we have multiple clients who site dropped by 25% in traffic, it just seems that google wants you to buy their adword service to maintain traffic! but then again some of our other clients did benefit and saw a 50% increase in traffic! The wonders on google, eh?
    Thanks for posting
    Danny

  34. Kim says:

    This is for sure one of the best blogposts I’ve read about the Farmer update -Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  35. Umbraco says:

    Hmm….looks lige my previous comment wasn’t registered by your blog :(
    Well, I just wanted to say a thank you for your post and that I think great content the way forward – as it has actually always been ;)

    Anyway have a nice weekend Patrick.

  36. It’s allways interesting to read blog posts about Panda update. We are still looking to see what the aftermath will be on the danish market.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • @Michael
      Agree with you, I think we’re yet to find out what Panda will do for the small danish corner of the internet.

      But seeing all those interesting cases from other countries we’ve got every opportunity to prepare our site(s) for when Panda hits bigtime – because it will eventually :-)

      • Mikael Rieck says:

        The Panda update DID hit the Danish market, but due to the lack of competition (that is my guess at least), nobody really noticed as the loss in rank was merely a couple of places and not 10, 20 or more places.

        My guess is that even future Panda updates will never really impact the Danish market in a BIG way.

        That being said, even drops of 2-3 places can be felt if you have enough of them :)

        /Mikael

  37. friv says:

    Ok..Panda was update..and there are a lot of changes in SERP.But is possible as local google search(like google.co.uk or google.ca etc)have their own algorithm?

  38. Kat says:

    Thanks for sharing Patrick!

  39. Y8 says:

    Great, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject.

  40. Y8 says:

    I hope you keep writing about this. There were some things I didn’t understand.

  41. Camilla says:

    There is also some things i don’t understand, so please write more about this :) But great article anyway

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