Google PandalizedSince Dave mentioned it on his recent post (my lost big-winning site), and because I suck at updating my blog now that I’m in full on recovery mode from Google Panda 2.2, I wanted to weigh in on how my site is doing now, and what PageRank has to do with my story.

Google Panda Pandalized Me

Pandalized – I didn’t coin it but forget where I read that from, but that’s what happened to my big money-earner, the “passive income and life-changing, happy times” website that proved beyond a doubt that SEO and solid content means money. I ranked my website – all 10 or so pages of it – and got #1 rankings across every keyword I tried to rank for, and then some.

I did this across 40 or so keywords, all longtail and product-specific.

The result was making enough money to get super lazy and enjoy two vacations (when previously it had been about 4 or 5 years). Taking your 7 kids and wife on 2 vacations out of the blue is a changed life style.

I say all that because as Dave rightly points out in his recent post, I “made it” from one website into the history books as having a 100% passive income from a single 10-pager niche website.

Woot freaking woot. Really though. My reaction to that reality was:

Put yo’ hands up in the errr…wave ‘em like you just don’t kerrr…

Orangutan

Google decided to run Panda (which is manually run, like when PageRank updates) 4 times this year so far.

I wasn’t affected until the May 10th release (officially Panda 2.1 was released then), source:

http://searchengineland.com/why-google-panda-is-more-a-ranking-factor-than-algorithm-update-82564

Google Panda Releases for 2011

Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011
Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011 (about 7 weeks later)
Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011 (about 4 weeks later)
Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)

So what happened? Basically my rankings mysteriously plummeted and I, forthwith, moaned about it here.

I suspected foul play, it looks a lot *less* like that and a lot *more* like what Leo Dimilo told me in a private email: Google Panda and tripping some new filter, vs. a backlinking issue or sabotage.

Filtering search results is the point of the Panda update, in case you’re keeping score – and it is defined as a quality check designed to filter out thin content-scraping, fluffy sites. That’s the official word, paraphrased.
Google Panda
The timing is perfect according to my dip in rankings and Panda 2.2. My site was Pandalized.

Recovering From Pandalization

I actually did some of what Leo and my gut instinct told me to do, I improved my site.

Text To Ad Ratio

I removed some of the links from the site, not entirely but from the sidebar (no Amazon widgets, cut back on a lot of text aff links), the homepage now is mainly deep-linking to other inner pages without selling a thing…

Increased Outbound Links

I actually put in a few more outbound links to solid authority sites in the niche. I didn’t go crazy and it was all contextual. Anything that helped a reader find what information they were after, even if it means some will leave my site.

Removed Tag Cloud Widget

Face it, the tag cloud widget is a game for increasing your on-page relevance to a set of keywords – it’s a cheap way to contextualize your site for a set of keywords, nothing more. I removed it all the same, not wanting to throw any dupe content filters or whatnot. It looks much cleaner without a tag cloud, anyhow.

Note On Quality

I’m not into PPC yet, but I know from my writing as a freelancer that Google has a “quality score” metric for AdWords clients. If you want to pay bottom-dollar for your ads, you improve your quality score.

I know Panda wasn’t an AdWords update of any sort, but the idea behind it was to improve search quality as a whole, so they hit what they viewed as low-content sites (article directories were the first targets). Scraped content sites, sites that were low quality…

What did they mean by quality? Read what Google said officially on defining quality. Everything else is circumspect; it is, after all, their index that matters most for search traffic.

What I did was to try to improve the quality of my site by removing some ads, and I still need to make some changes:

Proposed Changes to Improve On-Page Quality

Everyone has their opinions on it, I’d really recommend you read Google’s take and go from there. What I’m proposing to do for myself includes the following…

More Support Articles

Without affiliate links. Maybe monetized with PPC ads like Chitika (if they ever get back to me!), AdSense or whatever. But these will be to a minimum.

Support articles don’t sell – they do 3 things mainly (in my plan anyway):

  1. Answer a reader’s questions about X topic.
  2. Get search traffic for X keyword phrases.
  3. Direct your traffic to deeper pages where you do make the sale / opt-in / call to action of choice.

Right now I have more review articles (money pages) than support articles, and honestly the support articles don’t follow any plan other than, “Wow! That looks good in Micro Niche Finder.”

Develop a Reader-Focused Content Strategy

At the time I built this site (my first, BTW), I was following the advice of the X-Factor AdSense model, and little premium was paid for the reader’s needs or content planning as a whole. You simply targeted keywords that had good cost-per-click (CPC) and that you could rank for, traffic wasn’t even the main issue.

Actually the comment about “Wow! That looks good in Micro Niche Finder” about sums up the “content strategy.” It was all focused on rankings, and getting da monies from AdSense.

The end result is that my site has a hodge-podge of articles designed for rankings, and later I wrote to make sales, rather than looking at the needs of the market in question.

But to do that, I had to learn a bit about market research, and taking time to answer sensible questions my readers may be asking to arrive at my site.

A content planning strategy is key for a quality site, and something on my to-do list for this “pandalized” site.

I’m employing this type of strategy for a site I’m writing up content for presently, with a view to the readers first and rankings second, with long-range, tough keywords also being implemented.

Informative Mailing List

I’ve just purchased quality PLR from a firesale Ruth told me about. Whatever your thoughts on PLR and junkie mailing lists – throw it out of your mind, it’s not what I want to do (a junk list I mean).

On this site in particular, I’ll be putting together information suited for the niche and link to quality products that won’t hurt the brand of the site – which I want to keep at a professional level. My audience there has money to spend, and I plan to keep them as customers – so a Clickbank ebook with a cheesy, hyped up and intelligence-insulting sales page just won’t cut it.

Don’t get me wrong – that might work in some niches, but not this site. That’s something you need to assess by knowing your audience.

More on the mailing list plans later as I have something to report – it’s on the To-Do list.

User-Generated Content

Say what?

Well, for SEO purposes and building trust, having a site with user-generated reviews (think: Amazon, eBay – what, it’s not good enough for your site, too?) is top-notch.

Yes, it means spam will be a problem and that’s OK with the right plugins (Akismet, G.A.S.P., WP Spam Free just to name some good ones). Or a plugin to utilize Faceook comments (I recommend Peter Maxwell’s MaxFBSEO, but check the WP directory for freebies), or perhaps “Intense Debate” would help – I’m undecided.

No matter the solution, the fact is that user-generated content on a review site (especially if they can star their own reviews, there’s a few free plugins for that, too) is a trust factor for readers.

If it wasn’t a good idea, Amazon wouldn’t have it, and I take notes from them all day long – they just might know what it means to lead the world in online sales.

So that’s something I’m planning on doing – I’m already using a “Leave Your Review” type of plugin that allows for starred ratings on a new site of mine, and here’s the other benefit of that:

It uses RDFa markup language which shows up in Google and other search engines as a ‘review’ of sorts, with your ratings. Want to know if this is a big deal? Check out Google Products. They aggregate reviews with this markup language, and they also (with Bing) are trying to codify reviews and other types of content with their Schema.org library of code…

All that’s just a bit over my head – I always look for plugins to address these issues myself, but all the same – it’s something I’m already implementing.

Check the SERPs next time you search for a product. You’ll see starred reviews pop up – and don’t ask if it helps you rank higher. I don’t know or care, I just want to give people a place they trust.

Social Factors and Personalized Search

Leo Dimilo and plenty of others have covered an important trend in search – social factors being one of them (like the Google +1 button and Facebook Likes), same with personal search.

Google thinks so highly of personal search they’ve launched (are launching) 5 modules in the Google + Project: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Mobile and Huddle.

I won’t dive into all that here since the post is already long in the tooth, but the idea is that personal searches from those in your inner circle already skew results when you use Google search. This doesn’t just happen for you – it happens for your readers, too.

Same with Facebook, Twitter, etc. – these are all social signals Google uses as a ranking factor for websites – so here’s what I’m thinking as far as improving site quality:

  • Utilize Social Media
  • Give Readers an Incentive To Share
  • Produce Websites People Want To Refer People To
  • Create a Facebook Fanpage

I don’t want to spell it all out – there’s a plugin for just about all I’ve mentioned (I prefer Peter Maxwell’s WP4FB Fanpage plugin for fanpages to anything else I’ve tried, BTW – and his MaxFBSEO plugin marks up your content with Facebook’s “OpenGraph” meta data, which I use already) – but the gist of what I’m saying is to actually make a site that people want to share.

In my “early days” I listened to people making ugly websites and cashing in…I’m done with that though. Here’s why:

Blocking Websites as a Ranking Factor

This is according to SearchEngineLand.com’s article explaining their “Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors” and other places where I’ve read:

Blocking is a new class of ranking signal. This is where searchers themselves may decide they don’t like pages from a particular web site, even if those web sites don’t violate any traditional spam rules.

Blocking has a big impact on what the individual who blocks sees, but it also has an impact on what every searcher sees.

Who does the blocking? There are various ways to do it in Google Chrome, interestingly enough.

Hm…wonder what they do with all that data?…

Google also allows public blocking of websites in their search results.  Just try searching next time for something, then hit your ‘back’ button really quickly, for that same search you’ll see a “block all example.com results” – and this is what they used to confirm Panda did its thing.  When Panda first rolled out, they saw that 84% of the affected sites matched the “block” results from users.

Source: http://searchengineland.com/google-brings-back-blocking-sites-in-search-results-67723.

How much does that matter? Not sure – but it matters enough to SEO’s dealing with this on a daily basis that I’ll take notes and take action.

What action? Build assets, not websites.

I want to make websites that people actually return to – or recommend without reservation. If I look at the web design of the site from day one – it was ugly. Now it’s less ugly.

On new sites, my web “design” if you can call it that is improving – and it’s more than aesthetics. It’s the layout, the usability, the content and the quality of products I’m pushing.

It’s also inviting a conversation – which was unheard of when I started building sites.

What if someone leaves a horrid review?

That’s OK – it provides a way to defend your position and interact, at the very least you know someone took the time to bother.

There’s also word that time spent on a site may be a ranking factor – but I’d rather not hunt down where I read that. The point is the same nonetheless, if you build a quality site that’s not hideous and provides what the searcher intended to find, you’re all good.

PageRank and Ranking Increases

Here’s the verdict on the site so far. It went from nowhere to the top of Google, then Panda took a swipe in May and I plummeted. Panda in June rewarded my site – but then I dropped just a bit.

Still first page, but things weren’t back 100%…

Then something magical happened. My PageRank increased from a PR0 to PR2 (Google just updated PageRank, looks like they’ll run Panda before a PR update)…

So now I’m back on top, stronger than before.

Suckaaaaaaas.

How did I do it?

I suspect taking Leo’s advice no doubt helped me with the PR, and if you don’t follow him on all his talk about branding sites, you’d still do well to follow his SEO advice – the guy knows what he’s on about. BTW, Dave’s “Amalgam” post at Zenduck.me is also a solid piece on increasing your on-page SEO.

I think using the SEO Ultimate WP plugin from SEO Design Solutions (free) sure helped, as well as reading (devouring) their SEO tips at their blog this past year sealed my fate.

Yes, I also use SEOPressor and Market Samurai to name a few tools that didn’t hurt me any. Getting links like a fiend (Majestic SEO records over 3,000) may have helped just a wee bit. :)

Anyhow, my point in sharing all this was simply to check in and say: OK, things are back to normal. Except now it’s time to step my game up.

Google: Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em?

I’m in a constant love/hate relationship with Google – I love their traffic but I hate losing my rankings.

Despite my ups and downs recently, I’ll always use SEO for traffic. It doesn’t mean I won’t diversify traffic streams (working on that), but it does mean that rather than blaming Google, giving them what they want has paid off big time.

Overall, on the surface of things – they clamor for quality. OK, then: you make a higher quality site.

Is that going to hurt your ability to make sales?

Will you suffer the consequences of actually kicking your competition to the curb because you’re building assets while they churn out half-baked websites?

Are your site visitors going to complain that your site was, “Too thorough, well-written and pretty,” while they hit “block site” in their Chrome browsers?

No, I don’t think so.

I think depending ONLY on SEO is going to bite you in the biscuits if you only have one website that gets over 80% of its traffic from Google – that’s what I learned the hard way and I’m still madly working to rectify that – but overall SEO traffic is the holy grail of visitors to your money-pages.

It converts if you give your readers what they were looking for – and that’s where many miss the boat.

I’m done with this post – I think I’ve satisfied my itch for what I had to say.

Take it for what it’s worth – I’m building more quality in my sites from now on, from assessing market value to planning content strategies to site architecture for maximum SEO.

Free SEO Resources

Read my “Blogs That Flip My Lid” section in the sidebar. I have really solid peeps in there, they know what they’re on about – same with my blogroll at top. And if you need a primer on SEO, check out:

Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors (and the explanatory articles it links to)

SEO Design Solutions Blog

SEO Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Wordtracker’s Academy (They have a great newsletter on Keywords.)

Thanks for readin’.

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