Don't Do This If You've Been Hit By Google's Panda Update

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Google's Panda update has been around since February 2011 and continues to wreak havoc on websites when it finds content issues. Sometimes it's not clear that the site suffering Panda's wrath actually deserved to be algorithmically penalized. Either way, some sites have been hit really hard by it over the years, and one tactic that has sometimes been employed has been to delete content. Don't do that.

Do you think deleting content is a good idea when you're trying to recover from Panda? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Perhaps the most famous victim of Panda over the years has been Demand Media - particularly its eHow property. The site was largely considered to be a content farm, which is precisely the type of site expected to be targeted by the algorithm update. Even though eHow escaped Panda when it first launched, the algorithm eventually caught up to it in a big way. In an effort to recover its Google traffic, Demand Media redesigned the site and deleted a ton of content of questionable quality. In 2012, it looked like things were looking good again for the site, but that didn't last. The company has since had to become less reliant on Google as such a big chunk of its traffic.

These days, you can Google "how to fix a toilet," which would be a prime example of the type of query you might legitimately expect eHow to rank for, and eHow is nowhere in the top results.

Google is now flat out saying that you might not want to delete content in response to Panda. Google's Gary Illyes said on Twitter, "We don't recommend removing content in general for Panda, rather add more highQ stuff."

SEO Barry Schwartz, who first reported on Illyes' comments, says, "Now Gary is saying generally it does not make sense to remove content. Generally you should improve your site. But the sites that are hit badly by Panda, often have serious structural issues with the site where they can consolidate content and remove a lot of the pages. I'd say generally, removing or consolidating content is the approach most SEOs take to tackle Panda issues. But Gary is saying otherwise."

Illyes went on in a series of tweets to say, "We see way too many people cut the good [content]. Careful what you trim...use search analytics: look for pages that don't satisfy users' information need for the queries they rank for...Thin content: make it better, make it...thick and ADD more highQ stuff....Don't remove content someone might find useful...What you really need is content created with care for the users, that's it."

In other words, just avoid getting rid of stuff and focus on improving the stuff you already have. Depending on how big your site is, that could be easier said than done, but that is the guidance you're getting right from Google itself.

Illyes did have additional advice at PubCon. Jennifer Slegg reports (via Search Engine Roundtable):

While responding, Illyes did make an interesting recommendation for those who are removing thin content for Panda reasons. Rather than simply use a 404 or a 410, he strongly recommends that webmasters should use noindex on those pages, ensure those pages are listed in the sitemap or add them to the sitemap and then submit the sitemap to Google.

Of course Google has a list of 23 questions to ask yourself about your site and content when it comes to high quality versus thin:

1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?

2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

9. How much quality control is done on content?

10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?

11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?

16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

These have been around for years, but it never hurts to take a look again to remind yourself just what Google is looking for when it evaluates quality.

The latest Panda refresh is still rolling out. Illyes appeared at SMX East last week and said this is the case. Google always said it would be a slow roll-out, and it wasn't kidding. It began in mid-July. If you were waiting to recover after being hit by a previous Panda update/refresh, you may still have a shot (assuming that you’ve taken steps to fix the problems that got you hit by the update in the first place).

Penguin is expected to return before the end of the year.

After seeing these comments from Google, do you still think there's a case for removing content to recover from Panda? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.